Continental shift

8th December 2006 at 00:00
The threat of a drop in salary led a Scottish teacher to take on a German education authority

a jordanhill-trained secondary teacher has become the first Scot to have his qualifications recognised by the German state of Saxony.

Although a European Union directive says mutual recognition must be given to the professional qualifications of people in member states, Iain McKay has had to fight a 12-month battle with the regional education authorities in Saxony, eastern Germany, to have his qualifications given equal status with his German teaching colleagues.

"The difference between EU directives (not law) and the reality of life on the continent is huge," Mr McKay said. "My experience in Saxony, and speaking to teachers with experience in other parts of Germany, is that the education authorities use EU directives when it suits them."

The catalyst for his fight was the prospect of a drop in salary after he moved off campus from the school where he has been teaching for three years - a boarding school for highly-gifted pupils in Meissen. "I decided to apply to get my qualifications recognised," said Mr McKay, who took a three-year MA in English and history at Glasgow University, followed by the postgraduate secondary certificate at Jordanhill.

The risk in taking his case to law was that, if he lost and was relegated to a lower pay scale, he would have had to pay back the salary difference.

However, Mr McKay has been successful, chiefly because of his teaching experience and membership of examination boards. In addition to his job, which includes setting and marking school leaving exams in English, he has taught at a private school in Switzerland, overseeing university entrance qualifications in English and German.

Saxony, 17 years after German reunification, is a state that "took the art of bureaucracy to another level during its communist years", Mr McKay said.

At a time when all teachers in Saxony have had their hours cut to 75-83 per cent, due to falling rolls, recognition of foreign teachers has a low priority, he added.

The main stumbling block for Mr McKay was the difference in length of study between Scotland and Germany: a three-year degree plus one year's teacher training in his case, versus four to five years' study and two years'

teacher training for Germans qualified to teach two subjects at secondary level.

"The difference in length of study, including the number of major subjects covered, are the areas scrutinised most closely," said Friederike Oelmann from the Central Office for Foreign Education, an official body that co-operates with the 16 different state education ministries when it comes to evaluating foreign teacher qualifications. "Candidates can compensate for the shorter study period by amassing professional experience."

In Mr McKay's case, he was spared having to acquire a "German language skills diploma", normally a prerequisite in recognising foreign teaching qualifications since, according to his official letter, he had proved himself "more than adept at expressing himself in German through his dealings with the authorities".

Mr McKay is happy to provide information for Scottish teachers who want to work in Saxony:

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