The General Teaching Council for Scotland is deeply worried about the UK Internal Market (UK IM) Bill. In its current guise, it not only undermines the devolved nature of education in Scotland, but poses a threat to the system that safeguards the quality of teachers in Scottish schools and ultimately to the future of our children and young people.
A separate Scottish education system has been recognised and preserved since the Act of Union. Scotland’s education system has evolved over 300 years, remaining distinct from the other three nations, with different teaching standards, curricula and examinations.
The UK Government’s plan to ensure that professional qualifications issued in one part of the UK are recognised across the whole of the country simply doesn’t work for education. It doesn’t work for education in exactly the same way that it doesn’t work for the legal system in Scotland.
But while the legal systems have been granted exemption from the scope of the UK IM Bill, education has not. The long-standing differences between the legal systems in each part of the UK have been honoured; the equally long-standing differences between the education systems in the UK have not.
Safeguarding teaching standards
Just as our Scottish examination system has developed and diverged over the years – Nationals 1- 5 instead of GCSEs; Highers instead of A Levels – so too have our requirements on teaching standards. All teachers in Scotland must have a degree (or equivalent) and a recognised teaching qualification. This isn’t the case in other parts of the UK.
We have always welcomed qualified teachers from the rest of the UK to register with GTC Scotland. We will continue to welcome them. Aside from registering teachers from Scotland, the next largest cohort of teachers we bring on to our Register every year comes from the rest of the UK, with over 600 teachers from England being registered on average in each of the past five years. GTC Scotland’s concerns about the UK IM Bill has, at times, been presented by some as being “anti-English”. Nothing could be further from the truth; our argument is about standards.
If the system of standards in Scotland is to be changed in the way that is proposed by the Bill, GTC Scotland fears it will lead to a dilution of teaching standards in Scottish schools as individuals who do not hold a recognised teaching qualification could be allowed to teach in Scotland. We are so deeply concerned about the potential implications of this that we took the unprecedented step of asking the 76,000+ teachers we have on our Register to raise this issue with their local MP.
GTC Scotland is an apolitical professional body, wholly independent of any government. Our actions at all times reflect this, which is why we have written to all Scottish MPs and have been briefing politicians of all hues, from a politically neutral stance, on what we believe are fundamental threats to the education system in Scotland posed by the Bill.
We have had reassuring briefings with politicians from both Houses who are willing to support amendments excluding the teaching profession and teaching services from the proposed Bill. We have, however, had some disheartening discussions with the UK Government, who consider that no exception is required. We have attempted to point to writers of the Bill the illogical and unworkable nature of what is being proposed but there seems little appetite for our concerns to be listened to. We have been told that education is covered by a public service exclusion and that the assessment provisions in the Bill will allow us to refuse registration where we consider this appropriate. We have pointed out that teaching is not solely carried out in a public service context (independent schools being one obvious example) and that GTCS does not control where teachers are employed so doubt is case as to how the exclusion would apply to teaching as a whole. Similarly, we do not agree that the legislation allows GTC Scotland to assess and refuse applications as is being portrayed by the UK Government.
The Internal Market Bill has far-reaching consequences across various sectors and even involves issues of international law. The impact could be far-reaching and detrimental, not only for our constitutional arrangements and teaching standards in Scotland, but ultimately for those whom the education system is meant to serve: our children and our young people.