The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Teaching Scotland Magazine

To mark the 50th anniversary of GTC Scotland’s formation, Ian Matheson was commissioned to write a book chronicling its key developments. Teaching Scotland magazine published excerpts from the book over the course of the anniversary year.

Issue 59: Council is born

The Council’s formative years in the 1960s

The idea of a teaching council actually came from teachers. Frustrated at the apparent decline in the status of the profession and the employment of over 2,000 uncertificated teachers, in 1961 teachers in Glasgow went on strike. Two of them, David Lambie and Arthur Houston, expected about 40 people to attend a meeting in the Central Halls in Bath Street to discuss the concept. More than a thousand crammed in, with 200 more turned away. Those present supported the argument that a Council would give teachers similar control over their profession to that of equivalent bodies in medicine and accountancy. Four years later, following the recommendations of the Wheatley Commission, the Teaching Council (Scotland) Act created the new body. Lord Hughes of Hawkhill, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, welcomed its creation: “With the new Council in being, the teachers in Scotland will have what can fairly be called a unique measure of selfgovernment. This, as the profession itself acknowledges, involves new responsibilities, as well as new status and privileges.” The first election for the 25 teacher representatives attracted 236 nominations, with competition being most intense in the secondary sector. When the new Council met on 11 March 1966 it elected David Lees as its Chairman.
The infant Council ran straight into controversy. Some teachers expected that its very existence would lead rapidly to the removal of uncertificated teachers from schools. They became frustrated when it seemed the Council was not only powerless to achieve this but was also more interested in demanding that registration be compulsory, even for teachers already holding the Secretary of State’s “parchment”, the certificate of competence which was granted for life following probation. Of course, without compulsory registration the influence of the Council would have been much weaker and it would have had no reliable source of funding to sustain its work.
The result was a rash of newspaper headlines about teachers refusing to register and criticism of its apparent failure to deal with the issue of uncertificated teachers. The Council defended its position in a circular sent to all teachers in February 1968 which said: “The problems associated with the employment of uncertificated men and women in schools have increased during the last 20 years despite all the efforts of the teachers’ organisations ... It seems unreasonable to expect a newly created Council to solve completely in two years a problem which has proved intractable for 20”.
By 1972 the Council had actually worked with the government to remove uncertificated teachers from schools, but the bad feeling engendered in the early days took time to fade. Perhaps the first Council’s greatest achievement was its own survival of what one of its members, James Inglis, called a “perilous” infancy, able to pass on to its successor prospects for a more stable future both for the Council and for the teaching profession.

The 1960s

  • The elections for teacher membership of the first Council attracted 236 nominations
  • Britain had three Prime Ministers – Harold Macmillan (1957-63), Alec Douglas-Hume (1963-64) and Harold Wilson (1964-70)
  • 1961: first person in space
  • 1962: audio cassette invented
  • 1963: Beatles rise to fame with Please, Please Me
  • 1964: BBC 2 went on air
  • At the first Council meeting in 1966, George Gray, Secretary of the Scottish Council for the Training of Teachers, was invited by the Council to become Registrar
  • By December 1968 47,118 teachers had registered with the Council

Issue 60: the 1970s

A decade of recommendations, routine and a refusal to stop talking

The second, third and fourth Councils devoted much time to reviewing entry requirements for teacher education courses, making recommendations to the Secretary of State for Scotland on teacher supply and maintaining the register.
They also set up working parties to investigate issues and inform policy recommendations. The most significant of these was the Brunton committee of 1971-1972 on postgraduate teacher education in secondary education. This committee made the radical recommendation to adopt a "sandwich" pattern of teacher education with attendance at college from September to April, followed by a period of "probationary training" until the following spring and then a return to college. The idea, to integrate more fully probationary experience and college learning, with probationers receiving a lighter timetable and discussions with a mentor, carried hints of the future Teacher Induction Scheme. However, it was in advance of its time and was felt to cause too many difficulties, so it was never implemented.
Responding to evidence of lack of teacher knowledge of and interest in the work of the Council, they began to hold open meetings for teachers on evenings before meetings, moving the venues for these around Scotland. Such meetings took place in Ayr, Inverness, Dundee, Hamilton, Lennoxtown and Perth, some being reported as very lively.
Though much Council work was now relatively routine, there was still controversy, with Jack Malloch featuring again, this time as an elected member. His cause now was his belief that all those involved in training teachers should be registered and experienced in the classroom. The Council had actually passed a motion supporting the registration of college lecturers, but Malloch was frustrated at the slow progress.
When the Council proposed compromises that would allow some lecturers without teaching experience to become registered, he began a vociferous campaign which turned into a personal battle with the then Chairman James Scotland, Principal of Aberdeen College of Education. Malloch proceeded to disrupt Council meetings, causing the March 1977 meeting to be abandoned when he refused to stop speaking. The following year he resigned, stating that "the Council tolerated and supported deception of students, teachers and the public in the field of teacher training".
By the late 1970s the Council's regulatory powers and procedures were well established, but it was still vulnerable to claims that it was too cautious and too slow to progress issues. There had been some solid progress, but much work remained to be done.

The 1970s

  • 1970: The Beatles break up
  • 1972: The Watergate scandal begins
  • 1973: Britain enters the EU
  • 1973: The mobile telephone is invented
  • 1975: Vietnam war ends
  • 1976: Apple Computer is founded
  • 1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of Britain

Issue 61: the 1980s

Ian Matheson continues our history series exploring the evolving role of the Council

Having overcome the traumas of the first 15 years, Councils in the 1980s carried out their regulatory duties in a less highly charged atmosphere. During that decade, some key individuals also began to consider how the Council might develop in the longer term.
The first to express his thoughts was the retiring Chairman, James Scotland, who in 1978 had shared with Argyll teachers his view that the Council should seek to become “a repository of educational wisdom”. Five years later, Gordon Kirk of Moray House College gave another perspective on ways in which the Council might evolve, maintaining that the Council’s existing roles in registration and entry qualifications to the profession were “in a very important sense restricted” as they related only to the point of entry to the profession.
He doubted that the quality of the profession could be guaranteed only by regulating entry, because teachers would need professional development to enable them to respond to social, educational and technological change. In a vision that carried resonances of the development of Professional Update 30 years later, he recommended that the Council might be “assertive enough … to relate registration as a teacher to the undertaking of properly authenticated professional development activities”. Though the Council’s response to these proposals was painfully slow, they provided the seed for its aspiration to broaden its powers into the field of professional learning.
In the mid-1980s the new Registrar, Ivor Sutherland, took steps to raise the profile of the Council in the world of education. He inherited a strained relationship with the Scottish Education Department, with Council members feeling frustrated by the pace of progress on issues they raised with the Department. In future, the Council would respond to all educational consultations, whether directly linked to the Council’s remit or not.
Papers appeared on issues from the senior school curriculum to the educational implications of difficulties in teacher supply – the Council was especially concerned at the potential imbalance in the age structure of the teaching population – and parent involvement in schools. The Council also reacted strongly to the European directive on mutual recognition of higher education diplomas, which it saw as threatening the integrity of Scottish professional standards. The Registrar’s letter to the House of Lords committee on the issue was robust: “The members of the General Teaching Council for Scotland have always made it clear that… no lowering of professional standards will be tolerated.”
By the end of the 1980s, the Council was beginning to aspire to extending its powers, not just in professional learning, but also in the potentially contentious area of teacher appraisal. If this were to happen, the Council wanted to take the responsibility itself, stating firmly that it “must, if it is to be effective, be controlled by the profession itself”. This was to prove a marker for the future.

The 1980s

  • 1980: The Empire Strikes Back is released
  • 1982: Conflict in the Falklands Islands
  • 1983: First flight of Space Shuttle Challenger
  • 1984: The miners’ strike begins
  • 1985: The Sinclair C5 starts production
  • 1987: Channel Tunnel construction begins

Issue 62: the 1990s

When, in 1991, the Council celebrated its silver jubilee, it could reflect on a number of achievements: it had defended the profession against threats to dilute standards for entry emanating from changes in United Kingdom and European employment policies, gained influence for teachers in initial teacher education programmes and, most significantly, given Scotland an all-graduate profession. Mary Futrell, president of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession, told the conference held to mark the event that the Council was “a model across the world”.
In the decade that followed, successive Councils attempted again to raise their profile among Scottish teachers, resuscitating the practice of informal meetings with teachers in various locations, accepting invitations to address teachers’ groups and replacing the previous newsletter with Teaching Scotland. Internal restructuring saw the appointment of a team of Professional Officers to offer expertise in the areas of probation, communication and accreditation and review.
They also sought to enhance the profile of the Council more widely, continuing to respond to consultations and to make their voices heard on issues of importance from teacher appraisal to multi-cultural and anti-racist education. A paper prepared for the Convener’s Committee in 1997 discussed the prospect of a “truly self-regulating teaching profession” which would advise the Secretary of State on continuing professional development, accredit local authority in-service provision as well as pre-service education, and have powers to deal with issues of professional competence.
As the millennium approached, the Council decided to seek new premises, as the offices in Royal Terrace were no longer adequate. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, opened the new headquarters at Clerwood House on Corstorphine Hill on 1 September 1998.
By then, other massive changes to the Council and to the environment in which it operated were on the way. First, Helen Liddell commissioned Deloitte and Touche to undertake a review of the Council.
Then, on 12 May 1999, the Scottish Parliament met in Edinburgh for the first time since 1707, with the Scottish Executive taking over responsibility for educational policy. Almost immediately, Donald Dewar, now First Minister, launching a White Paper on educational reform, said that “the professional status of teachers must be restored … through a renewed commitment to the highest professional standards”.
Finally, Professor Gavin McCrone led a commission of enquiry into teachers’ professional conditions in an effort to address the crisis that had led to a breakdown in relations between teaching unions and employers.
Together, the outcomes of these initiatives would lead very rapidly to a transformation of the status and the authority of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

The 1990s

  • 1990: Nelson Mandela is freed
  • 1991: The World Wide Web becomes publicly available
  • 1994: Channel tunnel opens
  • 1996: Mad Cow Disease hits Britain
  • 1997: The first Harry Potter book is released
  • 1999: World’s population reached 6 billion

Issue 63: beyond the Millennium

The Council experienced radical changes between 2000 and 2002 as a result of the Deloitte and Touche and McCrone Committee reports, together with the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Act. The structure of the Council changed to reflect more widely both the teaching profession and specific groups in the wider community, notably parents and business. 
For the first time, the Act defined the aims of the Council: “to contribute to improving the quality of teaching and learning; and to maintain and improve teachers’ standards of professional competence”. The Act also made explicit the Council’s duty, in all of its functions, to “have regard to the interests of the public”. This was now no simple regulator, advising the government on entry requirements; it was a professional body with duties both towards teachers and towards the public.
Suddenly, the Council was involved in developing Standards for Initial Teacher Education, for Full Registration and, later, for the status of Chartered Teacher and for Headship, all of which were replaced in 2012 by a new suite of Standards intended to provide support for teachers’ professional development throughout their careers. Almost at the same time, the Council became responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Teacher Induction Scheme, which reformed the probation experience and made Scotland the envy of many countries across the world. Furthermore, it was now given the authority to remove teachers from the register for incompetence, an action which caused sensational publicity the first time it occurred in December 2008.
If these developments were dramatic, there was more to come. The election of a SNP minority government in 2007 created uncertainty as one of its manifesto commitments was to hold a “bonfire of the quangos”, so the Council’s existence might be at risk. However, on 30 January 2008 the First Minister, Alex Salmond, announced that the Council would instead become the first completely independent teaching regulator in the world. Even before that intention took effect, the existing Council had to deal with the recommendations of the Donaldson report of 2011, which laid a number of tasks regarding teacher professional development on the Council, and with the implications of a legal decision in England that meant that those who made policy (the Council members) could no longer sit on panels judging individuals’ fitness to teach, whether on grounds of competence or conduct.
Following a wide consultation, the new, smaller Council of 37 members became independent on 2 April 2012. The most obvious sign of the new role of Council was the introduction of Professional Update, bringing to pass the situation envisaged by Gordon Kirk 30 years before, with continued registration being linked to attested participation in professional development. Those who had demanded a General Teaching Council in 1961 would not have recognised the body of 50 years later, but they would surely have been delighted by the extent to which teachers now influenced the professional status and practice of their successors.

The 2000s

  • 2000: Olympic Games held in Sydney
  • 2001: World Trade Center terrorist attacks
  • 2003: The Human Genome Project is completed
  • 2004: The Mars Exploration Rover reaches the surface of Mars
  • 2009: More than 80% of the UK population has internet access