When the General Teaching Council for Scotland decided that Gillian Scott was unfit to teach last month, the headline-writers all focused on the same aspect of the Perth teacher’s practice: her “boring” lessons.
I’m sure my initial reaction was the same as many other teachers: “How awful. Imagine delivering boring lessons! My classes are always engaged.” The heavy coverage of the case allowed us to indulge in social-desirability bias – the feeling of quiet superiority you get when you hear someone has not performed as well as you believe you do at a particular task, be it parenting, driving, working or teaching.
Then I read further. The class would read from the same book for days in a row; she got them to copy out learning outcomes from the board without explaining them; and – shock, horror – she dictated notes on the film Jurassic Park (see picture, above). The more I thought about it, the more I realised you’d be hard pushed to find a teacher who hasn’t been guilty of at least one of the complaints levelled against Ms Scott.
While I’m not criticising the GTCS’ decision to bar her from teaching, as I am sure there were deeper issues that affected her ability to do her work beyond those picked up by the media, it seems extreme to be exposed simply for not being very good at your job.
When other professionals are struck off by their regulatory bodies, such as the General Medical Council or the Law Society, there tends to be more at stake – such as a scalpel left inside a patient or the theft of thousands of pounds. Nobody died because of Ms Scott’s teaching and neither is there mention of pupils’ attainment being affected. This makes her misdemeanours seems minor by comparison. However, being boring has to be one of the biggest social crimes one can commit and, unsurprisingly, attracted the prurient interest of editors.
The GTCS justifies the public shaming of incompetent teachers as this maintains public confidence not only in teachers and the profession but also in the GTCS itself. But our regulator should have a duty of care – even for teachers they want to disbar from the profession – and give them anonymity.
The whole scenario has got me thinking about Lucy Meadows, who in 2012 was harassed by the press after her decision to return to the Lancashire primary school in which she had taught previously as a man – and who later took her own life.
Does it benefit anyone to throw individual teachers into the merciless glare of public opinion every few months, so that they can feel confident a regulatory body is doing its job?
The GTCS should think carefully before naming another teacher who has been deemed unfit to teach.
Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher in Glasgow