Retaining Public and Political Trust: Teacher Education in Scotland

Nov. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 40, No. 5, 569–587, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present article traces the key periods, players and events which have contributed to the shaping of the current landscape of teacher education in Scotland.
The authors examine ebb and flow amongst General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), government, colleges of education and universities.

The 1960s was a transformative decade for Scottish education. At the beginning of this period, Scotland’s six teacher training colleges were renamed Colleges of Education and given much more autonomy over their own affairs, subject only to decisions of government through the Scottish Education Department (SED).

However in the early 1960s, there was a major breakdown in relations between government and Scottish teachers. Poor salaries, a perceived lowering of status due to the continuing employment of uncertificated and unqualified teachers, and a desire for a professional body for teachers analogous to the bodies for lawyers and doctors, all led to such unrest that government felt obliged to set up a committee of enquiry in 1961 under the eminent judge, Lord Wheatley.
The Wheatley report published in 1963 and it recommended on the setting up of a professional body to be entitled ‘The General Teaching Council’ which would register all teachers and which would recommend the standards to be met by all entrants to the teaching profession. The Teaching Council (Scotland) Act was passed in 1965 and the GTC commenced its work in 1966 with a series of responsibilities, which, from the outset, impacted on the teacher education continuum.

Following its own trajectory, Scottish Education resisted and rejected policies emanating from an ‘English’ ideology, capitalized on respect for and influence of the GTCS, and successfully moved teacher education’s base from autonomous colleges to high-status universities. At the core of teacher education in Scotland is the continuing desire for partnership-working amongst key stakeholders: local and national government, GTCS, schools, teacher education institutions, teaching unions, parents and pupils

Government and governance

There were, nevertheless, three sources of potential difficulty for the colleges in terms of protecting their authority, namely the government, the GTC and the universities, and hints of the difficulty which each could cause were already emerging in the 1960s and 1970s. The government had absolute control over intakes to courses of teacher education; had to approve any new or changed course in a college; and more important still, could close colleges just as easily as it had opened them. The GTC had the right to visit colleges, however innocuous these visits initially were, make reports on the content and arrangement of courses, and make recommendations to the Secretary of State on all matters relating to the education and training of teachers.
The universities, for their part, controlled any future degree programme which the colleges wished to create.

Little changed throughout the 1970s, and the priorities for most stakeholders were first the massive increase in demand for teachers. The 1970s saw a reduction in college autonomy, some of which was accepted by the colleges as leading to improvements in the quality of provision.

However, by the 1990s, more dissatisfaction was being expressed even by teacher educators regarding partnership for a number of reasons, including that higher education and school participants duplicated each other’s roles.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, there was a drift in the relationship between the Council and the colleges of education. The policy trend was for colleges of education to come under closer scrutiny with the government being prescriptive over course approval, entry to courses and the nature of course content and outcomes, and with the GTC being expected to play a role in supporting the government on these matters. That same era saw another indication of the GTC’s authority being enhanced. For various reasons, college of education lecturers had escaped the compulsory registration requirements, possibly because they were not employed by local authorities.

The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act in 1992 and then the return of a Labour Government in 1997 led to greater distance emerging between teacher education and the GTC.
A series of consultations were conducted over matters such as the role of the Council itself, over career development of teachers (CPD), and over partnership in teacher education, each resulting in reports which favoured increases in the power of GTC over the teacher education institutions (TEI).
Early in the new Century, therefore, a General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) was reconstituted under the 2000 legislation. Amongst its new powers were an oversight of the career development of teachers (CPD) and the duty of removing registration from any teachers whom it found to be incompetent

2009 to 2014; where are we going?

In 2009, the Scottish Government announced two initiatives which have significantly changed the connections among the government, universities and schools with regard to teacher education.
In April 2009, the government launched a consultation on the future status of the GTCS on the grounds that the Council was well respected, had a good track record and had a significant influence in many areas of education.
Then, in November 2009, the Cabinet Secretary for Education announced that there would be a review of teacher education.
Both cases demonstrated the climate of trust which existed between politicians and other stakeholders in Scotland, a very different climate to the one of fear and suspicion which existed at this time in England.


The authors conclude that the rate of change in Scotland is often glacial, with two major factors contributing to that, the conservatism of the teacher unions and indirectly of the GTCS on which these unions have a majority. There has been little political will for significant innovation, except occasionally when a major review (e.g. The Donaldson Report) catches the mood of the stakeholders, and thus, critics cite the nation’s failure to rise higher in international league tables of pupil attainment.
On entering the profession they receive a paid, full-time induction programme which is the envy of many other countries. Scotland is also now committed to a career-long process of professional learning with periodic review of individual teacher progress and is moving towards a profession which is qualified to postgraduate Master’s level. In all of this, the teacher education faculties in universities play a part, in partnership with schools and local authorities.

Updated: Jan. 18, 2017