Guilty of bad teaching

28th November 2008 at 00:00
Susan Barnard is the first teacher in Scotland to go before a GTCS competency hearing

Clerwood House, the General Teaching Council of Scotland headquarters, is in a sleepy setting. Half a mile from Edinburgh's Corstorphine Road sits the Victorian mansion at the end of a winding driveway, protected by lofty, coniferous greenery. Here, the minutiae of educational policy and practice is pored over by earnest defenders of teaching excellence, their esoteric deliberations rarely exposed to public glare.

Last Friday, it was more like Glasgow High Court for the sentencing of a drugs baron. Photographers staked out side exits, while a media pack milled around taking calls from impatient news desks. Middle-aged men with briefcases arrived every so often, ignoring the cameras whirring and clicking into life on the steps outside.

Some 45 minutes later than planned, a panel of stern adjudicators faced the journalists' quarry; she had managed to slip in undetected. Grandiloquent legalese described her alleged misdemeanours and made clear that, if proven, she could expect the thudding certitude of a "guilty" verdict.

Susan Barnard, 55, had not killed, stolen or defrauded: she was accused of teaching incompetently in three Perth and Kinross primary schools.

The GTCS was granted powers in July 2006 to consider the cases of teachers sacked by their employers for incompetence, or who had left before a decision on alleged incompetence was reached. Mrs Barnard was the first teacher in Scotland to go before a GTCS competency hearing, and faces the possibility of losing her registration.

Scheduled to run from 10am-4pm, it was over in five minutes. Mrs Barnard sat impassively, bolt upright, and did not speak. Through her solicitor, she pled guilty to three failures to meet the GTCS code of practice: between November 2003 and December 2006, she did not plan adequate lessons, communicate with pupils, or control behaviour.

The disciplinary sub-committee will reconvene on December 3. The GTCS and Mrs Barnard have to agree on the chain of events that led to her sacking by Perth and Kinross Council following unsuccessful permanent posts at Coupar Angus, Comrie and Arngask primaries. The sub-committee can either take no action, or remove her from the register.

The implications are drastic. Mrs Barnard, who was born near Manchester, would have to give up the supply work she has found in Stirling (the council removed her from the supply list pending the outcome of the hearing), and would not be able to seek registration anywhere in the UK.

An hour after the hearing's close, her solicitor emerged. Andrew Gibb, who represents members of the Educational Institute of Scotland, revelled in his chance to hold forth amid a media throng. Mrs Barnard, he said, was "extremely concerned" about her future but thought she had been treated fairly. She had qualified in New Zealand in the 1970s, and, after moving to Scotland in the 1980s, had only returned to teaching a few years ago at a special school in Edinburgh following a long period away from the classroom. He took on the wider ramifications of events, and opined that teachers and training both needed to improve.

Later, Mrs Barnard emerged and was followed to her car by television cameras. That night, Scottish Television and BBC Scotland's news bulletins led with the story.

Another case of alleged incompetence is due to come before the disciplinary sub-committee; another two may do so soon afterwards. Many will rejoice that bad teachers can no longer stumble from post to post with impunity. Others will shift uncomfortably watching the public shame heaped on a woman who admitted only that, for three years, her teaching was not up to scratch.

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