GTCS: ‘A global success under government attack’

1st December 2017 at 00:00
Body’s vital CPD role jeopardised by ‘unwarranted interference’, union warns

A “global success story” of Scottish education is under attack from plans that risk putting years of progress on teacher professionalism into reverse, the government will be told today.

The EIS teaching union is concerned that proposals to replace the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) with a body also covering non-teaching jobs in education would diminish teachers’ influence while shifting power to central government.

The author of a seminal report on teacher education has also voiced concerns that the plans risk sending Scotland back to the days when the GTCS was more concerned with verifying teachers’ competence than driving their “professional growth”.

The EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, has shared with Tes Scotland views that it is publishing today in response to the government’s Education Bill, which includes plans for an Education Workforce Council for Scotland (EWCS) that echo a similar move in Wales. The union said that the GTCS was “internationally recognised as a success story” and that the government should not be “seeking to undermine and control it” by centralising power and the support that the GTCS provides for teacher CPD.

The union objects to plans for the teacher majority on the GTCS council to disappear, saying that the EWCS’ planned government-appointed board would resemble the Scottish Qualifications Authority – a body that a parliamentary committee this year said had lost the trust of teachers.

‘Hands off our council’

Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said: “Teachers fund the GTCS through our subscriptions and we have an elected majority on its ruling council. What right does Scottish government have to remove that democratic accountability to the profession?”

The EIS is not opposed to other education staff having a professional standards body – seeing room in the GTCS for college lecturers and instrumental-music teachers – but it does not want a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

The union said the government had not provided evidence to support the changes and it questioned the timing of “this attack on the GTCS” after it had been “resolute in upholding professional standards in the face of the Scottish government’s flirtation with Teach First” – the controversial teacher-training charity – and other fast-track routes into teaching.

Mr Flanagan said the union would defend the GTCS “in the face of this unwarranted interference by Scottish government on its independence”. He added that deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney “talks about empowering teachers – a useful first step would be to take his hands off our GTCS”.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, meanwhile, will table a motion to oppose “the end of the GTCS” at its council meeting tomorrow. General secretary Seamus Searson told Tes Scotland the EWCS would “weaken the voice of teachers” and “reduce standards”.

Professor Graham Donaldson, a former senior chief inspector, said that, since the publication of his highly influential 2011 report on teacher education, Teaching Scotland’s Future, the GTCS had gone from “an organisation making sure those in front of young people are competent and fit to do the job, to [one] taking a lead in relation to professional growth and development and career-long professional learning”.

But he added: “The risk is that a workforce council could see the GTCS revert to regulator, and the demands of regulating a very diverse workforce could overtake the developing role of the GTCS as a force in the leadership of professional growth and professional learning.”

However, this is “not inevitable”, Professor Donaldson said, and the idea of a body for all those working in education is “quite sensible”, but “we have to be very careful we don’t lose what we have got”.

The scene is now set for a potentially heated meeting of the GTCS council on 13 December, where teacher members will be able to voice the profession’s concerns.

‘Opportunity for coherence’

In June, responding to the government’s review of education governance, GTCS chief executive Ken Muir supported “extending registration and regulation to the wider education profession” as it “offers an opportunity for greater coherence across the education system” – a view “consistent” with a “carefully considered submission” from the GTCS council.

This week the GTCS said it had formed a group of officers and council members to consider “the range of legal, financial and operational issues and risks” in the changes, with its final consultation submission likely to be published in late January.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Education Workforce Council offers the opportunity to have a national system to ensure the full range of practitioners have the skills and expertise required to do their job effectively. A strategic working group has been established with relevant stakeholders from GTCS and the Standards Council for Community Learning and Development for Scotland to consider the implications of establishing the Education Workforce Council, including its impact on the GTCS.”

@Henry_Hepburn

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