Tougher checks for cross-border teachers

1st July 2011 at 01:00
Education Bill could make it easier for incompetent teachers from England to cross the border to work in Scotland

Teachers who want to move from England to work in Scotland will face much tougher background checks as a result of Westminster Government plans to abolish the General Teaching Council for England.

Education secretary Michael Gove's flagship legislation, currently going through the House of Lords, could make it easier for teachers from England, who do not meet professional competence or conduct standards, to slip through the safety net, the head of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) has warned.

The Education Bill, which seeks to abolish the GTCE, will mean there is no longer a national regulation system for teachers' competence. Heads will no longer have a statutory duty to refer cases of professional misconduct; and instead of maintaining a comprehensive register of teachers, there will simply be a list of those who are barred.

As a result, GTCS will be forced to "take a harder look" at those applying from England in order to protect pupils and the public in Scotland, Anthony Finn, GTCS chief executive, told TESS.

Precautionary measures could include asking an applicant to declare whether he or she has been involved in misconduct or incompetence hearings, and contacting employers directly for greater detail about applicants' employment history.

"The vast majority of teachers coming from England are perfectly good teachers and have perfectly good performance and conduct," said Mr Finn.

The GTCS concern is that the new arrangements will make it easier for teachers facing disciplinary action to resign, go unreported and move elsewhere, with no record of their misconduct following them.

"The problem is the type of case where insufficient action has been taken by employers to establish just how serious an offence might be and those cases where a prosecutor might decide there was insufficient evidence to take the matter to court. In these cases, the legislation in England is devolving responsibility to the employer to decide whether to take the matter further," said Mr Finn.

The Education Bill is in the House of Lords and one of the peers involved in its scrutiny is Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, a former chief inspector of schools in England and former Principal of Edinburgh University.

He told TESS the Lords was trying to amend the Bill on a range of issues but he was unsure whether the second House would get anywhere.

The introduction of stricter checks might well be a disincentive for English teachers to move to Scotland, and this could lead to Scotland losing out on skilled teachers, he said.

A spokesman for the DfE told TESS that if a case raised child protection issues, it would in future, as now, be dealt with by the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk

GTCS'S MAIN CROSS-BORDER CONCERNS

There will be an increase in the number of teachers who do not meet Scottish standards because English "free" schools and "academies" will be able to employ unqualified teachers under the English reforms;

the Education Bill would remove a headteacher's statutory duty to refer cases of professional misconduct to the GTCE, replacing it with an obligation for heads to do no more than consider referrals to the replacement Teaching Agency;

it would replace the current register of teachers with a list of only those who are barred, largely because of criminal convictions.

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