Here and happy

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Scotland is opening its arms wide in the hope of embracing 3,000 more teachers. Raymond Ross talks to three who have left their homeland

Teach in Scotland and benefit from house prices that are 35 per cent lower than the UK average. Teach in Scotland and you could benefit from a healthier environment.

As part of the Scottish Executive's commitment to increase the roll of teachers here from almost 50,000 to 53,000 by 2007, it has launched a pound;250,000 campaign to attract people from across the UK.

It contrasts the cost and standard of living in a London box room to a three-bedroom house in Scotland. It highlights better pay and conditions through the chartered teacher scheme; the guaranteed one-year probationary placement (which does not exist in England); the limits on class sizes and contact time; the provision of classroom assistants in secondary as well as primary schools and the 35 hours of continuing professional development annually.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has seen a steady increase of enquiries and a significant number of applications for registration from teachers in other countries.

"We need teachers from diverse backgrounds to reflect the diverse Scottish culture," the GTCS says on its website. "We also need people who can set high expectations for all pupils and respect their social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic backgrounds."

Over the past three months, the GTCS registered 253 teachers - 162 secondary and 91 primary - from outside Scotland, says John Adams, manager of the exceptional admissions department. The majority came from England, with most of the others coming from the Commonwealth countries of Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Ninety of those admissions were provisional (probation to be completed) and 13 were conditional upon completion of courses of study within one or two years.

"Our job is to find a route to registration as quickly as possible and a high percentage are dealt with successfully on a first assessment," says Mr Adams. "We sometimes have to go back to a candidate to ask for more information, but our staff are trained to use the UK National Recognition and Information Centre database, which is the official source of information and advice on the comparability of qualifications from over 180 countries worldwide with those in the UK."

One of the most frequently asked questions is: "How long does the registration process take?" The answer is 10 days to eight weeks, generally. Getting translations sometimes slows down the process. For immigration procedures and any attendant issues, candidates are referred to the Home Office.

Another frequently asked questions is: "Can the GTCS offer advice or guidance on employment opportunities?" No, is the answer; teachers should contact the education authorities.

The council's newly issued leaflet The Pathways to Teaching in Scotland answers many other questions. It also details websites concerning work permits and living and working in Scotland.

But how easy is it for teachers from outside Scotland to register with the GTCS, and how does teaching here compare with education systems in other countries?

Three teachers who chose to come to live in Edinburgh and who work at very different schools - James Gillespie's High, a school with a proud multi-cultural tradition which serves a relatively affluent area, Castlebrae High in the peripheral and relatively deprived area of Craigmillar, and Drummond High, an inner city multi-ethnic and multicultural school - had varying degrees of difficulty in registering but paint a very positive picture of teaching in Scotland.

Emily Connell, from the United States, teaches English at James Gillespie's High. "It's very hard to get a job in Scotland if you're not from the European Union or a Commonwealth country," she says.

"Although I wanted to come to Scotland, I had to go to England, which had opened its doors more.

"If I hadn't married a British subject I would still be waiting to become a resident, which takes five years, before I could teach here.

"It took GTC Scotland from September 2003 to January 2004 to say I'd been accepted and they gave me only probationary status, which was an outrage. I phoned them but they say they don't deal by phone, only letter. It took until March for me to be fully registered and by that time I'd lost a lot of job opportunities. (The GTCS says Ms Connell was fully registered on January 14, disclosure checks having taken seven weeks to complete.) "I taught in the USA for a year and in England for two. In England you teach for the exam much more. Scotland is more flexible.

"In the US I taught in a very conservative county in Maryland. I was doing the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet, where one character bites his thumb at the other. 'Just like giving the finger,' a pupil suggested. I agreed.

Next thing, a parent is on the phone complaining I'm teaching their children to give the finger.

"People are more open here. It's more flexible and creative, provided you get the folio work done. Anyway, I like the folio work.

"I wouldn't teach in the US again. I trained there and did extra training in England on my own account to increase my job prospects. I'd go back to England if I had to, but prefer it here. The money is better here, though I'm worried about the cost of the chartered teacher programme.

"It's a bit strange having done a four year degree and a master's (in Victorian literature) and having to pay pound;7,500 to do another master's. That's the only drawback I've come across in Scotland.

"A big problem in Britain - both Scotland and England - is truancy. I can't believe pupils get away with it. In the US you're held back a year if you miss too many classes. I think that's a good idea."

Victoria Green has come from England to teach chemistry at Castlebrae High. "I can't tell you how bad the GTCS is," she says.

"I got this job in October and applied for registration immediately but couldn't start until five days into this term. Why should it take a tried and trusted teacher 10 weeks to be registered?

(The GTCS says Ms Green's application was received on November 24, the offer of registration was given subject to references and a police check on November 25, the police disclosure form was sent off that day, the certificate was returned on January 6 and Ms Green was registered on January 7. That was a Friday, so she wasn't able to start work until January 10. In Edinburgh, term started on January 5.) "I'm in my fourth year of teaching and was GTC registered in England. Why could my registration not just be transferred?

"Within school you're treated much more professionally in Scotland. In England there's much, much more administrative work to do and many more meetings. At one school, we had five hours of meetings a week.

"In England the pupils are more confrontational. Here, bad behaviour is more diffuse and less personal. They are more likely to blank you than argue with you.

"In England I taught a lot of black students who'd sometimes confront you as a racist. They'd play the race card, say you were picking on them because they were black. Here I've had pupils say they think I will be prejudiced against them because the English are prejudiced against the Scots.

"School security is much better here. Colleagues in England often had to put up with ex-pupils barging into classes to fight or bully, as well as setting off fire alarms.

"You don't feel you're in the firing line so much here. If there's trouble, pupils tend to fight with each other rather than the teacher.

"A big difference is that people here see teaching as a worthwhile career.

In England they don't. My parents told me I was demeaning myself by becoming a teacher.

"I'd go back to England if I had to but I wouldn't be happy.

"I came because I had so many friends here. I love Edinburgh; well, except the council tax and the dark mornings."

France Dubanchet first came here from France to train as a teacher and now teaches French and German at Drummond High.

"I took my degree in France but trained at Moray House in 1998 before teaching in England for two years," she says. "I came back to Scotland in April 2001 because I missed Edinburgh. It was easy to transfer because I'd registered here during training.

"I trained here because I didn't want to teach in France. It's too centralised. You get told what school you're going to. You have no choice at the start of your career and it's often not a good school and difficult to move on.

"Training here is also much more hands-on. In France you do all the theory first.

"French education is more formal. There's a barrier between pupils and teachers. There's a better relationship here.

"I enjoyed teaching in Hartlepool but what made me leave was the lack of management support and the size of the school: 1,100 pupils. I like a smaller school.

"In England we also tended to follow one set of books. Here we work with different sets of books, more audio-visual materials, school booklets and worksheets.

"A major plus in Scotland, compared to both France and England, is the guidance system. We don't have it in France and although you have year heads in England, guidance is not as developed and effective as it is here.

"You get more support here, from your own and other departments, which I find helpful. Within two months I knew all the staff.

"I can't think of any drawbacks here. The money is much the same as in England but better than France.

"If I went back to France, I wouldn't teach. The atmosphere there is so different; more arguments and strikes.

"I wouldn't go back to teach in England either, though I might try elsewhere in Europe. But I'm really settled here."

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