No accounting for the GTC

8th December 2006 at 00:00
Don't you resent it when you perceive that the General Teaching Council for Scotland seems to be setting itself up as a body above contradiction?

I read, with anxiety, the remarks reported in The TESS of November 24 by Matthew MacIver, the council's chief executive, regarding the problems of recruiting headteachers. There is undoubtedly a crisis. More than 2,000 new heads require to be appointed over the next 10 years. Who would want to be a headteacher?

The unreasonable demands of stakeholders, the impotence of the political parties to develop desirable policies for our schools, the increasing failure of parents to nurture their offspring and society's collective inability to value education have all conspired to give headteachers a poisoned chalice.

Mr MacIver's gripe, then? Apparently, he's annoyed that the new, more flexible route to the Standard for Headship is policed, not by the professional body of the GTC but by a new leadership board set up by the Scottish Executive.

I am irritated by this because it implies a smug intellectual superiority that only the GTC has the qualifications and discernment to detect good candidates for headship. There is no explanation of how the council has come to possess the required Solomon's wisdom to make sure that future headteachers are of excellent calibre. Forgive me for failing to applaud the chief executive of the GTC. Far from inspiring me with confidence, the idea of it controlling headteachers of the future arouses fear.

Of course, I readily admit that I'm not in a position to comment on all aspects of the council's remit. However, I have two major concerns. The GTC moves but slowly. Evidence of this can be seen by looking at the convoluted way it deals with new subjects in the secondary school curriculum.

Philosophy and psychology are two such subjects. Surely new subjects should be offered at the teacher training institutions. It should be encouraging and ensuring that this is happening, but it is not. You can't, for instance, complete joint honours in philosophy and psychology and then opt to teach these subjects. You would have to offer another subject first, preferably one which has been on the slate since the days of Noah. It's crazy.

My second area of anxiety concerns the protocol of the GTC regarding newly-qualified teachers who have failed their probationary year. They can appeal. This is fair enough. At the appeal hearing, the newly qualified teacher is present, along with his or her union rep. Is there any representation from the local authority or the school in which the NQT taught? Apparently not. This is not democratic or professional.

So there's enough evidence to suggest that the development of Scotland's teaching subjects is not necessarily in safe hands when left to the General Teaching Council of Scotland.

It is also the case that too many hopeless trainee teachers slip through the net of the training institutions, are failed by schools and are granted extensions by the GTC in what seems like a kangaroo court.

In light of these weaknesses, how can I support a call for the council to defend the faith when it comes to candidates for headship? I always worry about organisations which police themselves. My colleagues and I have to be accountable to all kinds of internal and external agencies. To whom or to what is the GTC accountable? I await the answer with interest.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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