Pledge to support teachers
The general Teaching Council for Scotland moved this week to try and quash teachers' concerns over plans for their "re-accreditation", designed to make sure they are fit to continue in their job.
In a strong plea, Tony Finn, the council's chief executive, has written to teaching unions urging their members to help "seek consensus" on a suitable way forward for an issue which he acknowledged presented a "significant challenge".
The GTCS was "invited" by the Scottish Government in February to "develop and consult on proposals for a system of accreditation". It was a key part of ministers' plans to establish the council as an organisation fully independent of government.
At that time, Mr Finn pledged full consultation and distanced himself from the controversial "licence to teach" scheme in England - commitments he repeated this week.
But the timing of his letter now follows on from a bruising encounter he had at the annual conference of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association earlier in the month. This involved some highly personal invective directed at Mr Finn, thought to stem either from his background as an activist in the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) or as an education officer in Fife.
Mr Finn's letter strikes a notably conciliatory tone. Although it is headed "Re-accreditation - Consultation on Next Steps", it says the GTCS is "uncomfortable" with the continued use of the term "re-accreditation" which, he adds, "might suggest that teachers should be required to re- engage in the assessment of those basic skills which they acquired on qualification.
"We prefer to consider this initiative as an opportunity for teachers to refresh and develop their professional skills and to address their needs as they plan for the future in a profession which is constantly changing."
The EIS, which dominates the teachers' representation on the GTCS, has previously expressed "serious reservations" about re-accreditation. A spokesman told The TESS in January: "Before meaningful discussion can take place on this, significant improvements in PRD (professional review and development) and collegiality would be required."
Mr Finn's letter reflects that anxiety: "We recognise that teachers will have concerns about this concept, and that these will only be allayed if the emphasis of any new initiative is indeed supportive. This priority will therefore be central to our work".
The 2001 teachers' agreement made it clear that teachers should have "a right to support and entitlement to CPD activities which will help them to develop their skills", the letter states.
A carefully-worded passage says any new system "should offer opportunities, through an affirmative system of PRD, to assist teachers to identify areas in which they can develop more fully the skills they already demonstrate in the classroom".
Mr Finn emphasises that any re-accreditation system is not a means of dealing with teacher incompetence. "In Scotland, we already have an effective, and nationally agreed, system of handling cases in which there is an allegation of incompetence. However, some of the cases which reach GTC Scotland might have been prevented if teachers had a right and entitlement to regular, constructive support".
Although the Government did not spell out details of how it wanted any new scheme to work in its "invitation" to the council, the timeframe most commonly discussed was for teachers to renew their qualification to teach every five years.
The GTCS came in for strong criticism at the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association conference from president Peter Wright who regretted that the teacher members on the council did not greet the proposal to re-accredit teachers with "a degree of circumspection".
He singled out Mr Finn and also council convener David Drever, a former EIS president, who suggested the proposed changes "can only enhance the work that we already do and open new areas for the GTC Scotland to explore".
Mr Wright suggested the GTCS was "little more than an employers' stooge which does absolutely nothing for classroom teachers, other than lift pound;45 out of their pockets once a year".
The GTCS has friends in other places, however. The EIS is unlikely to upset its teacher members on the council too much at its forthcoming annual conference. And even the normally spiky teaching union NAS UWT agreed at its conference last week to work with the GTCS on developing a system of re-accreditation.