'Powerful sanction but less damaging than others and therefore more appropriate for certain cases'.
THE General Teaching Council wants to be allowed to fine teachers found guilty of professional misconduct as an alternative to striking them from the register.
In its response to the Scottish Executive's consultation on its future, the council states: "The imposition of fines would be a powerful sanction but would be less damaging than certain others and therefore more appropriate for certain cases."
The radical suggestion came from the convener's committee, which is chaired by Norma Anne Watson, a past president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, and has six other EIS members. The move was backed by the full council at its meeting in Peebles on Wednesday.
At present the GTC can only strike a teacher's name from the register, throw the case out or delay a decision for up to two years. The Government is canvassing views on adding another three sanctions - temporary suspension from the register, conditional registration, which would restrict teachers to certain age-groups or sectors, and a written warning.
Arguing for fines to be yet another weapon in its armoury, Ivor Sutherland, the council's registrar, said a range of intermediate measures would allow cases to be dealt with more appropriately. A one-off fine would be preferable to a permanent loss of livelihood.
Barbara Clark, assistant general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the union had not yet finalised its view on the GTC reforms. It was more concerned at the implications for teachers' employment of temporary suspension from the register.
Although the GTC has inevitably welcomed the proposed extension of its powers, it decided on Wednesday to dispatch its draft response back to the convener's committee to clarify the demarcation lines between the education authority employers and the council over the dismissal of incompetent teachers.
The Government, anxious to support the management role of education authorities while giving the GTC more teeth, says the council should only intervene after a teacher has first been dismissed by an authority for incompetence.
Tony Finn, the GTC's education convener, led the argument for clearer definitions and closer collaboration with the authorities. The greater burden of proof of incompetence required of a judicial body like the GTC, Mr Finn said, could mean that "a teacher dismissed by North Lanarkshire might be found not to be incompetent by the GTC and then get a job in South Lanarkshire".
The council accepts "management's right to manage". But its officials were ordered to redraft the GTC response to make it clear that they wanted discussions with the authorities on how incompetence can be defined and what support teachers ought to be given before dismissal.
The Scottish Executive's plans also envisage that only education authorities will be allowed to pass cases of incompetence to the GTC, whereas allegations of misconduct can be relayed from other sources such as parents or a head or other teachers.
Dr Sutherland acknowledged that in widening the referral process beyond education authorities care would have to be taken to avoid witch-hunts against teachers. "But I believe the council has accumulated sufficient experience and common sense to be able to sift frivolous from serious allegations of incompetence, as it already does in cases of misconduct," he commented.