What is a teacher? That seemingly simple question can, in fact, be a philosophical conundrum. And it’s one that’s at the heart of the debate about a proposed body for education professionals.
The plan is to establish an Education Workforce Council for Scotland (EWCS) to reflect a broader mix of people in education than the existing General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). The GTCS, which would be replaced by the new body, is fine with the idea in principle – but warns that the Education Bill on the table goes way too far.
GTCS chief executive Ken Muir says “a case could be made” for college lecturers and instrumental music instructors, for example, to be subject to the same system of registration and regulation as teachers because, crucially, they are “directly involved in learning and teaching”.
But he says a “big question mark” hangs over the case for school librarians. Educational psychologists and home-school link workers are similarly “not as directly involved in the learning and teaching process”, he adds.
The situation in Wales provides a salutary lesson, Muir says. There, a GTC was replaced by an EWC that covered a “huge” range of community learning and development professionals, making the registration process particularly difficult. Tes Scotland has reported concerns that the Welsh experience highlights the logistical difficulties involved in setting up an EWCS (“Scotland’s teacher-regulation plans could take seven years to set up, government warned”, 7 March).
Muir would prefer to see a “pragmatic, more incremental” expansion of the GTCS rather than the sudden change of an EWCS, in which, he fears, “the professionalism of teachers could be diluted”.
The Scottish government recently published an analysis of nearly 900 responses to a consultation on the Education Bill, including views on its proposed aims for the EWCS. More respondents backed these than did not, but factoring in those who did not express an opinion, only about a quarter of respondents lent their support. Common concerns included the “dilution of professional teaching standards”, the “dumbing down” of the concept of professionalism and the loss of professional identity for teachers.
Muir describes the analysis as “disappointing”, saying that it “doesn’t really shed light on the direction of travel” and even includes “a number of statements that are a bit misleading”.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, is more emphatic in his criticism of the EWCS plans, in particular the prospect of teachers no longer forming the majority of those represented, as is the case with the GTCS. Flanagan describes the move as “a power grab”.
He stresses that the EIS supports professional standards across the education workforce, but says “it is not a one-size-fits-all approach”, and bodies such as the Scottish Social Services Council already exist to monitor the standards of non-teaching education professionals.
Flanagan adds: “Organic growth of the GTCS, without Scottish government interference, is the best solution.”
A spokesman says the Scottish government has “received a wide range of views on the proposed Education Workforce Council”, and there is “broad acknowledgement of the benefits of registration, regulation and professional learning”. He adds: “We are considering carefully feedback we have received about the potential impact of our reforms on professional standards.”