Opposite ends of the professional spectrum

What kind of professional is it who laughs at a colleague's stammer or talks of people with dyslexia as having "neanderthalic brains"; who tells a teacher with mental health problems to "snap out of it" or fails to understand the debilitating effects of a colleague's diabetes?

It's certainly not the kind Graham Donaldson has in mind when he writes about the essence of individual professionalism being dedication, learning, trust and responsibilities (page 33).

The professional teacher is a recurrent theme in this week's issue. News Focus reports on the difficulties faced by teachers with disabilities. It reveals some of the achievements by those with physical handicaps and the prejudices others encounter from their less-than-professional colleagues in the staffroom (page 12).

It shows how far the Scottish education system and some schools have come in supporting staff with conditions such as muscular dystrophy with whatever resources they require: most of the teachers surveyed were generally positive about their experiences. But it also exposes the fears that drive teachers with "invisible" disabilities such as clinical depression or dyslexia to hide their conditions from employers and colleagues.

These are all individuals who are striving - against the odds - to be good teachers. At the other end of the professional scale are those, with no disabilities, who let down their employers, colleagues and pupils and are difficult to dismiss.

It has taken four years for the General Teaching Council for Scotland to strike maths teacher Michael Barile off its register (page 7). His case involved two schools, eight charges and eight victims of aggressive and threatening behaviour. Yet despite being found guilty of assaulting pupils, he received an absolute discharge from appeal judges on grounds of provocation. Last year it emerged he was facing 10 other charges. The GTCS has been determined to get him out and has finally succeeded.

Quite what will happen to cases like Mr Barile's south of the border remains to be seen, as the GTC in England is soon to be disbanded. What is clear, though, is that the English education secretary, Michael Gove, will have no truck with incompetent teachers and a system that takes over a year to dismiss them. He proposes to introduce measures that will see them sacked within a term (page 10). A consultation will ask what information about disciplinary hearings should be disclosed to future employers - a crucial question if they seek work here.

At the heart of all these cases lies the importance of disclosure, and if there is one lesson, it is that openness generally pays - whether it's teachers with disabilities seeking support to become the best they can be, or incompetent teachers seeking help to improve. Professionalism is, as Professor Donaldson concludes, about behaviour.

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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