Will it be probation without an end?

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Labour and the Conservativeshave both backed plans to givethe GTC new powers todismiss incompetent teachers. David Henderson reports. When Michael Forsyth was deep in his legislative reforms as education minister in early 1989 he received a note from Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council. "As you will be aware," Mr Sutherland wrote, "the raison d'etre of the General Teaching Council is the protection and, where possible, the enhancement of professional standards in Scottish schools, a responsibility which it has exercised over the years with considerable vigour and no little success. "

He argued that the council had no powers once teachers had been through initial training and their probationary period, other than to strike from the register any teacher guilty of gross professional misconduct, the kind of behaviour normally reserved for the court reports in the daily papers. On average only five per year are struck off.

Mr Sutherland advised Mr Forsyth to give the council a statutory role in accrediting in-service courses and staff development and in "the assessment of continuing professional competence". Eight years on, Mr Forsyth has promised to bestow such powers on the council if his administration is returned, having changed his mind about the GTC being the poodle of the Educational Institute of Scotland and other teacher unions. Poodles can bite, too.

Both Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, and Helen Liddell, Labour's, minister-in-waiting, have been involved in talks with the council about extending its role and it seems certain that a future education Bill under either party will include the necessary legislation.

Such a "breakthrough", as Mary Rose Caden, the council's convener, calls it, is being replicated in other professions. From September the General Medical Council will have new powers under which doctors identified as deficient will be put through a rehabilitation programme. Some may be asked to retrain or work in a supervised capacity.

Ms Caden, a past EIS president, says: "We are talking about penny numbers. As in any profession, there are some people who should not be where they are but for many there is nobody to help them." She accepts the Government's view that employers have not been up to the task, despite recent legislation ending teachers' right to be dismissed only by a two-thirds majority of the relevant local authority education committee.

Ms Caden, principal teacher of guidance at St Augustine's High, Edinburgh, is also anxious about the signals emanating from the parties' manifestos and the emphasis on getting tough with teachers. "Our concern is not 'let's get rid of incompetent teachers' but how much support is being offered to teachers throughout their careers. It is a similar concern to the level of support teachers have in their probationary period. If the right kind of staff development is available, appraisal is not necessary. It is the ongoing development of the teacher that matters."

She believes professional competences for assessing probationers could be extended and that staff development should take place throughout the 40 years of a teacher's career. What counts is "getting in there early enough". How such ideas would translate into practice is unclear and would require further detailed discussion but the council would have to take on extra staff. It is already considering moving to larger offices.

Any appraisal system the Government insisted on, Ms Caden points out, would bring considerable extra costs - one reason why authorities have tucked it away on the backburner - and more intensive staff training would equally incur substantial costs. "This does not come cheaply."

The education forum of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities last week challenged the Government's decision to extend the council's powers. A paper asked: "Is the Government proposing to introduce a capability procedure and is this procedure to be linked to the appraisal process which is being proposed and will it be a compulsory part of a teacher's contract? Will the GTC be obliged to investigate complaints from parents where they regard a teacher's competence in the classroom to be in question?" Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross and one of Cosla's advisers, reaffirmed the opposition of the Association of Directors of Education to an unacceptable encroachment on the rights of employers. "It is removing local democratic accountability from the management of staff and handing it over to a central quango," he told Cosla. Directors fear that employment law would first have to be clarified. Teachers who feel they have been unfairly dismissed are entitled to go to an industrial tribunal and it would be the authorities that were summonsed, not the council.

Keir Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan remains equally hostile about proposals to remove incompetent teachers and "kitemark" in-service courses. Mr Bloomer, a past GTC vice-convener, argues: "The existence of GTC disciplinary powers has actually served as a protection for bad teachers. It cuts across the normal employer-employee relationship."

He accepts that few "bad" teachers have been removed by authorities under the current system but maintains that the new unitary councils are more likely to act once they have introduced new disciplinary codes. It is too early to prejudge their success in that, he says.

Giving the GTC muscle to remove bad teachers might make the process more difficult since the standard of proof might be higher, Mr Bloomer says.

The Government's proposals

Under improvements to teaching standards, spelt out in the White Paper, Raising the Standard, a statutory role for the GTC "in the area of professional development" would provide "a new opportunity to address issues related to incompetence".

The paper states: "As part of the renewed emphasis upon the provision of high-quality and tightly focused in-service training, we need to consider the position of those relatively few teachers who may be failing to meet even the basic standards of professional competence. At present there is a legitimate concern that employers may not always tackle this issue with the vigour required."

The GTC's new powers would also put the council in a stronger position to advise on standards of professional competence and development for teachers throughout their careers.

Compulsory appraisal is part of the package.

What Labour would do

Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokeswoman, is pursuing a more inclusive approach by inviting local authorities and teachers' associations to devise a way of dealing with incompetent teachers "rapidly and sensitively".

Although stressing the worth and value of teachers, Building Scotland's Future seeks to root out those who have "either taken the wrong career choice or who have become demotivated and no longer find themselves suited to the job they do."

Mrs Liddell says that the pursuit of excellence and the restoration of the status of the teaching profession should not be held back by "the demotivated or the unsuited". She promises talks with the council on teacher development.

Labour takes a softer approach to appraisal and has set up a working party on teacher education. The document states: "Staff development and appraisal will allow teachers to agree personal targets with their immediate supervisors and be guided towards the achievement of these targets. Where teachers are having difficulty, it will also allow their supervisors to identify means of helping them."

"Staff development profiles" will extend and fulfil the ambitions of every teacher.

A definition of competence

Subject and contentof teaching

* demonstrates a wide knowledge of curricular content * plans coherent teaching programmes and lessons within them * presents subject content appropriately The classroom

Communication * presents what is taught clearly and in a stimulating manner * questions effectively and supports discussion Methodology * employs a range of teaching strategies (whole class, group, pair, individual) * makes appropriate demands on pupils * identifies and responds to the special educational needs of all pupils * takes cultural differences into account * selects and uses a wide variety of resources Management * creates and maintains a purposeful, orderly and safe environment * manages pupil behaviour * sustains pupil interest Assessment * assesses the quality of pupils' learning against national standards * assesses and records pupil progress * provides regular feedback to pupils The school * adheres to policies in respect of administration and disciplinary procedures * can discuss pupil progress with parents * communicates effectively and collaborates with colleagues and others * is aware of and contributes to cross-curricular aspects of school work Professionalism * is aware of their pastoral and contractual responsibilities * is punctual and prepared at all times * maintains appropriate relationships with pupils, colleagues and other staff * is committed to the values of the profession * is committed to professional development * can evaluate their own professional progress From the GTC leafletWhat about probation?

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today