Ministers to drop the stethoscope

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Medical checks for aspiring teachers are to be scrapped after being labelled discriminatory. Strong candidates for the profession may be dissuaded at a time when the need for staff is high, it is claimed.

Tests were introduced decades ago to prevent students passing on infectious diseases such as tuberculosis to pupils. Psychiatric conditions were a further risk that the checks were meant to identify.

Now the Scottish Executive, after pressure from the profession, is to abandon the medical standards that teachers had to pass before they could register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

The GTC has welcomed the initiative to remove the statutory checks and the fit to teach hurdle carried out by universities which run teacher training courses.

In a consultation launched this week, the Executive points out that doctors' checks across universities are inconsistent and inequalities emerge. Some students pay for the tests and others do not. Only students who want to be teachers have to submit themselves for the test and none of the other wide range of professionals who come into contact with children in school face similar barriers.

"Some universities conduct medical examinations during the course of the first term, which suggests that anyone found not to be medically fit to teach will have embarked on a course of study which they cannot complete," the Executive says.

Checks are less necessary now because "thankfully today very few people are carrying life-threatening infections that might be potentially dangerous".

The Executive also admits that medical examinations had not been very helpful in spotting psychiatric problems.

"A past history is very much more helpful. It often happens that mental health instability becomes evident during the course being undertaken, revealed by the pressure encountered in studying for a degree," it states.

In recent years the emphasis has moved away from blocking applicants to identifying those who might have a problem and offering them help. It is an employment issue, not a medical matter, how a blind student marks jotters.

"The medical profession and employers should be trying to assist all those who have an illness or disability to achieve their ambition as best they can rather than acting as a barrier," the Executive states.

It points out that access courses for mature students have no prior medical check and that it is not uncommon for university faculties to run common courses for all students in first year and sometimes in second year. There are no checks there either.

"The world of education, the world of teaching, the world of employment and the world of medicine have changed since the existing medical standards were devised. Now is the appropriate time to alter the current provisions," the Executive argues.

Matthew MacIver, the GTC's registrar, said the issue had emerged from a disability subgroup. "Medical standards are a hurdle for disabled people and I am pleased the Scottish Executive has responded so positively. There has been a perception among aspiring candidates that it sometimes has been used against them," Mr MacIver said.

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