The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is an organisation with a good reputation.
Its job is to promote and regulate the profession in Scotland and among teachers, parents and ministers it is generally seen as an effective and reasonable body, which makes its latest move on the regulation of teachers all the more baffling.
The organisation's proposal is that teachers from overseas who want to work in Scottish schools should no longer be required to provide criminal record checks. Under the current system, all applicants from abroad have to provide a suitable records check from their resident country before they can work here. This is not a problem in cases where the foreign country has a similar system to Scotland's, but in other cases it is not so straightforward. Some countries do not hold criminal records, for example; it might also be that the teacher is an asylum-seeker and is fleeing a life-threatening, chaotic situation in which records are not available.
The GTCS says it is concerned about this situation and believes sticking to the rules in such circumstances could be disadvantageous to good teachers who have a lot to offer Scotland. It is therefore proposing that the requirement for checks be removed, meaning that teachers from abroad would effectively be allowed to work in Scotland without any checks being done.
The idea, perhaps predictably, has not been welcomed by parent groups. The National Parent Forum of Scotland, for example, says checks should be as robust as possible for every single teacher and no-one should be exempt. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council has also expressed concerns: Eileen Prior, its executive director, says parents would be surprised that some teachers coming from abroad would not be asked to provide criminal record checks.
This is an entirely reasonable response. The GTCS is right to be concerned that good teachers are being discouraged from working in Scotland, but removing the requirement for criminal checks seems an over-reaction. How would the guardians of the teaching profession at the GTCS feel if they changed the rules - only for an unsuitable teacher to be allowed into Scottish schools?
The numbers involved are also likely to be small. Around 100 teachers come to work in Scotland every year and among them there will be some who have trained abroad and others who trained in Scotland, lived abroad and want to return. Whatever their circumstances, all of them have to meet the required standards - a reference from their last employer, suitable qualifications (some will have to complete some retraining) and the required criminal record checks - and that remains the correct approach.
Obviously, every case should be looked at individually and there may be some mileage in exploring what the Educational Institute of Scotland union calls an exceptional admissions procedure for teachers coming to Scotland from countries that lack a suitable background checks system. But the criminal checks system is there for a reason - to protect children - and it provides a standard of care that should not be diluted.
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