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Tricky question of who can teach

There is more to be being a teacher than qualifications.

As the former headteacher Doug Marr wrote in The Herald recently, graduates with first-class honours degrees can sometimes end up being the weakest teachers and there is no inevitable correlation between an academic high-flyer and a top-class teacher. "The best degrees," he wrote, "are not necessarily reliable predictors of teaching ability."

However, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), which has the job of establishing and keeping under review the standards of education and training required to be a teacher, has always maintained the minimum requirement is a degree and a relevant teaching qualification. It is now reviewing that policy after it lost a case at the Court of Session in Edinburgh concerning a science teacher from England called Derek Sturridge.

Mr Sturridge went to court after the GTCS prevented him from working in Scotland because he did not have a degree. He argued he had worked as a teacher in England, and that his ­qualifications - including a ­professional qualification from the Royal Society of Chemistry - meant he had equivalent to a degree and should be allowed to teach.

In the end, the Court of Session agreed with him, which, according to the GTCS, has caused concern as well as creating an opportunity. The concern is that the decision is a step away from the concept of ­teaching as a graduate profession - and that concern is supported by the ­Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which says retaining an all-graduate profession is important to maintaining high standards in schools.

It is creditable that the GTCS and EIS should defend standards in this way - they are standards that have helped create an impressive cohort of teachers. The council is also right to be worried about any serious step away from the principle that anyone who teaches should be thoroughly qualified. This is why the Teach First scheme, which put graduates into English schools after just six weeks, has not been welcome in Scotland.

However, as the GTCS has ­acknowledged, there is also an ­opportunity in the aftermath of the court ruling - an opportunity to look at whether it should be more flexible in judging whether someone who wishes to teach in Scotland has met its standards. Eileen Prior of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council says she believes parents are concerned about whether teachers are qualified and experienced to an appropriate level rather than the specifics of those ­qualifications - and Mr Sturridge had certainly established his experience in English schools as a science teacher.

After losing the case to Mr Sturridge the GTCS does not have to abandon its standards, but it is right to accept that a combination of experience and ­qualifications can be equivalent to a degree - what it must do now is be explicit about what constitutes "degree-level". As the GTCS admits, the world of education is rapidly changing; it is only natural the rules governing those who work in that world sometimes have to change too.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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