Subject specialism threat

18th June 2010 at 01:00
GTC Scotland chief warns of serious risk to subject teachers if professional body is axed

The head of the General Teaching Council for Scotland has warned Scottish teachers to guard against moves in England to dilute teacher- training and subject specialism.

Tony Finn, GTCS chief executive, told the annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland, that teachers should be "very wary" in case what was happening in England spread north.

His remarks may be interpreted as a bid to bolster support from teachers and unions for the regulatory body in Scotland at a time when the GTC in England faces abolition and the GTC in Wales is coming under closer scrutiny (p8).

Mr Finn urged Scottish teachers to reflect on what would be lost if the Scottish Government decided there was no need for a professional body for teaching.

He went on to criticise the Westminster Government's support of Teach Now - an "on the job" fast-track training programme which parachutes people from other professions straight into the classroom.

And he held up as a warning to EIS delegates reported comments by Nick Gibb, the UK schools minister, who allegedly told his officials that he would rather have a "physics graduate from Oxbridge without a PGCE teaching in a school than a physics graduate from one of the rubbish universities with a PGCE".

His warnings on the threat to subject specialism may be timely. EIS delegates heard claims that some secondary teachers were facing mounting pressure to teach subjects they were not qualified to teach.

Mr Finn, who was made a Fellow of the Institute under its "special category", reminded delegates that, unlike the rest of the UK, in Scotland, every teacher had a degree, a teaching qualification and had gone through the induction scheme; and every teacher was qualified and registered in the stage or subject they were teaching.

"We do not have French teachers teaching physics and we don't have unqualified teachers teaching anywhere. Nor should we have, for subject specialism is the building block on which the motivation of our pupils is founded. And yet, Scotland's high standards are not equalled in other parts of these islands," said Mr Finn.

Cathy Grant, from Fife local association, warned in a conference debate that faculty structures were being rearranged to reflect curricular areas in Curriculum for Excellence. Collegiate time was being spent to create common courses for these curricular areas and teachers were being expected to teach subjects in areas which they were not qualified to teach, she said. "Business teachers are being asked to teach computing, history teachers are being asked to teach geography, and home economics teachers to teach social education."

Non-PE specialists were being asked to take short courses involving sports and outdoor activities, while senior management teams were employing the argument that it would be good for a teacher's CV to teach these courses.

"People are being asked in interview: `Are you prepared to teach another subject?' Who, desperate for a job, will say no?" she asked.

Aileen Barrie, from North Lanarkshire, said it was time to dispel the myth put forward by headteachers and local authorities that cross-curricular, interdisciplinary learning meant that teachers should teach subjects in which they held no qualifications.

She warned that schools were trying to cut back on staffing levels by asking teachers to teach subjects which were not their specialisms, while others were running "totally inappropriate" CPD (continuing professional development) by "getting one teacher to sit down and tell other teachers about their subject".

While the GTCS's role in overseeing the induction scheme for probationers and its defence of subject teachers continues to receive support, its plan for a re-accreditation scheme has come under sustained attack from teacher unions in recent weeks.

EIS delegates voted to oppose the concept at last weekend's annual general meeting and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association criticised the plan at its conference last month.

This week, Peter Wright, the SSTA's president, claims in The TESS (page 22) that recent events have undermined the credibility of the GTCS, highlighting the "less-than-cautious manner" with which its convener, David Drever, welcomed the Scottish Government's "invitation" to develop a system of re-accreditation for teachers.

Mr Finn, however, sought to reassure delegates that "GTCS will always speak up for teaching and will not try to impose on teachers any systems with which they are uncomfortable".

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