Hugh Reilly: Driving out rotten apples bears fruit

Hugh Reilly
Hugh Reilly
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LAST week, Anthony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS), announced the welcome news that job opportunities for newly-qualified teachers had increased dramatically.

According to the GTCS, 35 per cent of probationers secured full-time permanent appointments, compared with a measly 21 per cent in the previous year. Rather modestly, Mr Finn denied that his organisation had been instrumental in the upsurge in teaching vacancies.

However, I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Mr Finn has been able to kick-start the careers of some young teachers by kicking out existing classroom teachers. Recently, in just ten days, five dominies bit the chalk dust.

Much of the GTCS task of outing undesirables is done for it by the country’s legal system. Teaching has a tiny minority of members who break the law; in recent times, pedagogues have been hit with P45s for kerb crawling, violence and sexual offences against children. For many reasons, the overall trend has been for more teachers to face the classroom axe; in 2010, 17 chalkies did the walk of shame, nearly three times the number recorded a decade ago.

One reason for the rise is that, in 2006, the GTCS was handed the power to deregister a teacher on grounds of incompetence. Despite anecdotal evidence that would suggest otherwise, examples of teacher incompetence are rare. By the end of session 2010-11, only seven feckless teachers had been dismissed over the five-year period. Not bad, for a professional body with about 60,000 members.

Schools management, at the behest of politicians and parents, appear to be more proactive in pushing classroom duds out of harm’s way.

Today, headteachers and line mangers are motivated to gather the necessary proof to bring a case against a teacher who is letting pupils down. In a recent instance, a school manager sitting in on a lesson watched in disbelief as a teacher ignored youngsters engaged in impromptu arm wrestling; shockingly, the teacher praised the pupils for their efforts at the end of the period.

This represents a classic example of unconscious incompetence whereby a practitioner believes he is doing a good job. I recall popping into the room of a hopeless RE teacher who tried to talk above the din of what seemed to be pupils acting out Armageddon.

“If it becomes too noisy,” he said, “I invite the Holy Spirit to enter the room and bring calm.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit was making ghost appearances elsewhere.

Thankfully, there is less willingness to recycle a problem teacher. In times of teacher shortage, it was not unusual for an unsatisfactory teacher to resign from one local authority and be almost immediately rehired by another council.

To my certain knowledge, at least one local education directorate held a list of teachers under the heading DNA – Do Not Appoint.

Procedures have been tightened to ensure a teacher who has been deemed unfit does not pop up in a classroom. When I was teaching in Glasgow in the Nineties, a long-term temporary Modern Studies teacher arrived. After some weeks, he suddenly disappeared. It transpired that, years earlier, he had been struck off for threatening a female colleague, sending her menacing letters. A short time after the hearing, he had simply applied for a supply post and been unwittingly welcomed back into the teaching game. Frighteningly, his charade would have continued had he not been spotted by his victim when she visited the school for in-service training.

Disciplinary hearings are held at GTCS headquarters and, unfortunately, those up before the teaching beaks are forced to run the gauntlet of paparazzi eager to get a snap of the accused. To avoid public humiliation, transgressors who have abandoned all hope of remaining on the register can opt for a so-called consensual resolution. This usually entails the sinner falling on his own sharpened HB pencil and, in absentia, throwing himself on the mercy of the court.

The GTCS is to be praised for not hesitating to implement the ultimate sanction when the integrity of national qualifications is at stake. Corrupt teachers who fiddle NAB results, alter grades or give pupils advance warning of prelim questions do so in the knowledge that, if they are caught it will mean the end of their livelihood. Good teachers have nothing to fear from the GTCS’s determination to root out those who shame the profession.