Changes to the registration of teachers at independent schools could mean hundreds of staff are unable to work in the classroom and even put some schools at risk of closure, it has emerged.
Government plans to force independent schools to register their teachers with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) would affect 732 staff - around one in five members of the teaching workforce not currently listed with the regulatory body, according to Scottish government figures.
While many of the teachers would be eligible for registration, more than 240 do not hold the necessary academic qualifications. A number of those affected are teachers from England who have taken training routes not recognised by the GTCS. These include Teach First, the former Graduate Teacher Programme and courses at the private University of Buckingham. The figure also includes teachers of subjects that do not fall into the GTCS registration categories, such as history of art. The teachers involved may have to take new qualifications in order to remain in the classroom.
Aberdeen International School, which recruits most of its teachers from overseas, said the plans would damage the institution. "If we were to have to hire only GTCS-registered teachers it would be impossible to fill all the positions needed to deliver our unique curriculum," a spokesperson said.
The Scottish government has argued that its proposal to force independent schools to register teaching staff with the GTCS would "support high-quality teaching and learning for all".
The requirement for independent and grant-aided schools to employ only registered teachers is part of the Education (Scotland) Bill making its way through the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Council for Independent Schools (SCIS) said the move was "not a terrible shock to the system"; the sector has been heading in that direction for more than a decade, according to director John Edward.
Ken Muir, chief executive of the GTCS, insisted that the plans would not make it difficult for teachers in the independent sector to continue working.
The body recently validated a one-year course at the University of Northampton designed to make it easier for teachers in England to become registered in Scotland. It is also close to accrediting the University of Buckingham's initial teacher education programmes, which are favoured by independent schools. And discussions are under way about establishing a top-up course at a Scottish university to help teachers from England gain qualified teacher status north of the border.
The GTCS would be open to creating new categories of registration to keep the teachers affected by the changes in work in the short to medium term, Mr Muir said.
"In an ideal world everyone will gain full registration," he added. "But, as an interim measure, we might introduce new categories of registration to allow teachers to continue teaching in the school they are in or in the independent sector.
"It wouldn't be the ideal situation, particularly for young teachers who might want to migrate to the state sector, and ultimately we would want to look at ways we can facilitate that, but the GTCS is not going to be a drag anchor on teachers in the independent sector continuing their employment."
If the requirement is introduced, independent schools will have about two years to get their staff registered with the GTCS, Scottish government officials have said.
`Rigorous selection procedures'
Mr Edward said that regardless of their registered status, teachers at independent schools were already "required to go through rigorous selection procedures". They also benefited from CPD and comprehensive child protection policies, he added.
"A school's processes are monitored and subject to scrutiny through inspections by Education Scotland and the Care Inspectorate," Mr Edward explained. "This is all testament to the professionalism of the independent sector."
The impact on Scotland's eight grant-aided schools, which include the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh and Donaldson's School for hearing-impaired children in Linlithgow, will be minimal; only two members of staff across the schools will be affected, according to official figures.
At Aspire Education, a special school for children with behavioural issues in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, the changes would also have little impact - all of the teachers at the 25-pupil school already have GTCS registration.
But virtually all teachers at Aberdeen International School come from overseas. The institution provides day education for 531 pupils aged 5-18, most of whom come from families working in the oil and gas industry.
Compulsory GTCS registration could be "devastating", the school's spokesperson said: "It could have a very detrimental impact and could harm or eliminate our school in the future." To hire only GTCS-registered teachers would make recruitment from overseas "very difficult", they added.
`We need a staged introduction'
St Leonards in St Andrews is an independent boarding school offering the International Baccalaureate.
Headteacher Michael Carslaw says it has 519 pupils from 30 different countries on its roll, so employs several part-time teachers to deliver high-level literature and language lessons to pupils in their native tongues. These employees are not registered with the GTCS; nor is the school's head of sixth form.
"A staged introduction [of the new rules] would be essential, coupled with a broadening of the range of experiences and qualifications that would enable GTCS registration," Mr Carslaw says.