There could be bother coming over the border

1st July 2011 at 01:00

At the same time as the General Teaching Council for England is due to be abolished under sweeping reforms by Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove, its sister organisation in Scotland will gain independent status and enhanced powers. The unhappy coincidence illustrates the extent of the fault-line emerging between education systems north and south of the border under two governments of very different persuasions.

That England embraces a market approach to "free" schools and academies set up outwith local authority control is more than of passing interest to most Scottish teachers. The Coalition's reforms now threaten to have a cross-border impact that few might have anticipated (page 5).

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has been pursuing its concerns over deregulation of the English teaching profession for some time. Now, however, with its fears unallayed that unsuitable teachers will be able to slip through the safety-net and present themselves for jobs in Scotland, the Scottish regulatory body is speaking out.

It has a long tradition of demanding a higher standard of qualifications from its teachers than required in England, but the opening up of various non-traditional routes into teaching south of the border has raised the stakes. The GTCS most emphatically does not want unqualified teachers from the wave of "free" schools in England taking charge of Scottish state school classrooms. And it is arguably even less willing to put Scottish pupils under the care and protection of a teacher from England who has resigned before being disciplined or escaped prosecution for misconduct through lack of evidence. While we would applaud its adoption of the precautionary principle, we must also point out that an inevitable consequence of introducing tougher checks may be the loss of some of the more talented teachers seeking to move north. A price worth paying? An equivocal yes.

Cross-border refugees of a different sort may also be stopped in their tracks. The Education Secretary, Michael Russell, announced this week plans to charge UK students from outside Scotland fees of between pound;1,800 and pound;9,000 to study in Scottish universities - although he expects annual fees to average pound;6,375, keeping the charge significantly below the maximum fee that more than half of England's universities plan to charge (page 5).

The move is part of his plan to keep higher education free for Scots while buoying up the finances of Scottish universities. Doubts persist, however, whether Mr Russell's sums add up: will English students emigrate north in the same numbers if they face higher tuition charges? And if so, would that not leave a hole in the Scottish higher education coffers? As the competitive forces are unleashed in HE south of the border, Scotland must ensure that cheaper does not equal poorer, either in terms of resources or quality.

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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