Independent schools are warning that Scotland’s teaching watchdog is failing on its promise to register teachers within a few months, storing up recruitment problems for the future.
By October, all new teachers hired by private schools will have to register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
However, the body that represents the bulk of schools in the private sector is warning that the GTCS is failing to live up to a commitment to process applications from independent school teachers within three months.
A potentially offputting process
John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said that he was aware of an application that had been pending for more than 12 months – although the GTCS disputes this.
He warned that the problems could ultimately put people off from applying for jobs in Scotland’s private schools.
Assurances have been given that no private school teacher will be left out of work because of the new obligation for them to register – introduced by the government as part of the Education (Scotland) Act 2016 – but Mr Edward suggested that if the process was protracted, some teachers might decide it was more trouble than it was worth and quit.
“Anyone teaching weekly in a classroom – be they a head of department or depute or an appointed head – who is told, ‘You are not eligible to be a teacher in our eyes,’ might take that quite personally,” Mr Edward said.
However, Ellen Doherty, the GTCS’ director of education, registration and professional learning said that the body had boosted staff numbers in its registration department and “significantly” increased the speed with which it processed registration applications.
In the first four months of this year, from January to April, 144 “longstanding” cases were resolved and 569 applications were cleared, she said. The body had no case dating back further than January.
From September, the GTCS will begin phasing in an online registration service.
Registering teachers for independent schools tended to be more complicated because they were more likely to have gained qualifications in England or overseas, said Ms Doherty.
Problems 'yet to be resolved'
However, there were warnings as far back as 2015 that independent school teachers came from a broader range of backgrounds and that the registration process would therefore take longer than for state school teachers.
And the problems are yet to be fully resolved, according to the head of one of Scotland’s most prestigious independent schools.
The vast majority of private school teachers – 3,270 – are already registered with the GTCS. But it is estimated that around 700 are not registered and that around 240 do not hold the necessary qualifications.
In March, draft registration guidance was published by the government which stated that, from 1 October, any new teacher employed by a private school will have to be registered with the GTCS. Teachers currently working in the sector will have until October 2020 to register.
The GTCS is planning to introduce a new headteachers’ category to allow private school heads without a background in education to be registered; the GTCS hopes this will be available in roughly a year’s time.
Last year, businesswoman Lisa Kerr became the first non-teacher to lead a Scottish independent school when she was appointed principal of Gordonstoun in Moray.
There is a feeling that other private schools are opening the door to appointing non-teachers to lead them by moving away from the title “headteacher” in favour of “principal”.
Meanwhile, a second new registration category has now been approved, allowing teachers to register and stay in their current job but barring them to work in other Scottish schools without taking further qualifications.
This category will be open to just a handful of teachers currently employed in the private sector and will not be available to new recruits, Ms Doherty said.