Profile - 'I have a very high regard for teachers'

6th December 2013 at 00:00
It's all about professionalism for new GTCS head Ken Muir

Many teachers see the General Teaching Council for Scotland simply as the body that issues a magazine five times a year and hits the headlines when a teacher is taken off the register.

But Ken Muir, the GTCS' new chief executive, wants to change all that. "Independence has enhanced the role of the GTCS very significantly," he said.

The former geography teacher, who was until recently head of inspection at Education Scotland, added: "There is greater scope than there maybe was in the past to engage in activities that better support teachers and their professionalism."

Mr Muir paid tribute to his predecessor, Anthony Finn, for getting the new professional standards and Professional Update - the five-yearly, MOT-style reaccreditation process for teachers - to the starting line. Now it was his job to embed them, he said.

Some critics have said that Professional Update could be in danger of becoming a tick-box exercise, given the lack of time and money to implement it. One senior figure in Scottish education told TESS that delivering the scheme in a form that the profession found acceptable, while also genuinely delivering improvements and not just "a pedagogic paperchase", was one of the toughest challenges he faced.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Muir has a different view. "Teachers are probably some of the most reflective, self-evaluative people out there. But Professional Update creates the infrastructure for that to be enhanced and for that professional reflection to be taking place on an ongoing basis," he said.

The scheme was also a means of demonstrating to the public that teachers were constantly honing their skills, he said. "Part of Professional Update is about public reassurance. If you're going into hospital for an operation, you don't want it performed by someone who last studied 20 years ago. The same applies to teachers."

Better engagement with parents and school and college students would be a future focus for the GTCS, he added.

Mr Muir said that only three jobs could have tempted him away from the inspectorate after 18 years: heading education at Inverclyde or Argyll and Bute Council, or his new role at the GTCS. "I wanted the job because I have a very high regard for teachers," Mr Muir said. "All inspectors do because they know it's a difficult job."

The demise of the General Teaching Council in England had led to unqualified staff being employed and the current concerns over free schools, Mr Muir argued. A Muslim free school in Derby was labelled "dysfunctional" by Ofsted in October. The report said that teachers were inexperienced and had not received proper training.

"I thank my lucky stars I'm working in Scotland and I think a lot of teachers here will feel the same way," Mr Muir said.

According to colleagues, Mr Muir - a keen orienteer - has "a can-do attitude", is "held in high regard" and is honest and frank.

Ken Greer, director of education and learning in Fife, who has known Mr Muir for 20 years, said: "Ken is incredibly hard-working and, while empathetic and understanding of classroom realities, is tough in prioritising pupils' best interests."

Meanwhile, Graham Donaldson, former head of the schools inspectorate and Mr Muir's former boss, said: "Ken will be a huge asset to the GTCS at a time when its role is changing from not just a regulator but to a leader of professional growth."

'Can-do' custodian

Ken Muir

Born: 1955, Dunoon

Education: Kirn Primary and Dunoon Grammar, Argyll and Bute; University of Glasgow; Jordanhill College of Education

Career: Joined the profession in 1978 as a geography teacher at Auchenharvie Academy in North Ayrshire. Progressed through the ranks before becoming a social subjects adviser at Fife Council and, in 1995, joining the inspectorate as the sole geography HMI. He spent 18 years at the inspectorate, most recently as head of inspection at Education Scotland.

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