Spare the rod and spoil the teacher?

16th May 2008 at 01:00
The topic of teacher incompetence has been fuelling a debate south of the border
The topic of teacher incompetence has been fuelling a debate south of the border. In Scotland, the General Teaching Council assumed powers to deregister a teacher for incompetence in July 2006, but it is only now that the first two competency cases are being considered. The outcome of these hearings will be determined by the disciplinary sub-committee of the GTCS in the forthcoming months.

The Teaching Council (Scotland) Act 1965 empowered the council's members to regulate the profession in the public interest. From 1966-2006, the GTCS could only remove a teacher from the register for professional misconduct or a serious criminal offence. Now it has the power to strike off a teacher if he or she is found guilty of professional incompetence.

But what are the implications of dismissal? Should the GTCS be harsh or lenient in deregistering incompetent teachers?

While the GTCS's power to withdraw the right to teach may be acceptable to efficient and law-abiding practitioners, less effective teachers fear their deficiencies will be shown up and their livelihood taken away.

Surveys suggest over half the teachers in Scotland are in favour of the GTCS's role being extended to cover teacher competence. Feedback from the GTC in England is rather dated, but shows that teachers south of the border think the weeding out of incompetent teachers takes too long. So there does seem to be a consensus.

Keith Bartley, chief executive of the GTCE, is recommending a stricter course of action but he also proposes that poor teachers removed from classrooms should be cushioned. He argues they could be sent for retraining and allowed to set themselves up again in a new school.

The GTCS would be wise to consider the range of options available, perhaps to take a leaf out of Bartley's book, and consider measures that soften the blow to teachers regarded as having failed to make the grade.

Richard Willis, Centre for Research in Educational Policy and Professionalism, Roehampton University, and author of 'The Struggle of the General Teaching Council'.

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