Officials suspected Inveralmond High teacher was unqualified for six years


A SCOTTISH teacher was allowed to take classes for six years – despite education officials suspecting he was unqualified.

Billy Russell mirrored the movie antics of Jack Black by taking a music teacher post in West Lothian without having the proper credentials.

Mr Russell failed to produce proof of his teaching qualifications when asked but was still able to teach children at Inveralmond Community High, Livingston, from 2006 to 2012.

His suspension last spring created headlines because of the similarity to the movie School of Rock, in which rocker Black plays a musician who tricks his way into a school and uses rock to become a hero to the children.

Mr Russell, seen here performing at a school concert, died during the investigation of "natural causes"
Mr Russell, seen here performing at a school concert, died during the investigation of “natural causes”


The West Lothian Council inquiry has established that Mr Russell was twice asked for proof of his qualifications to teach children but failed to provide them.

Despite that, it took an astonishing six years before council officials finally realised he was only registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) to teach adults in further education colleges.

The discovery was described by politicians yesterday as a matter of “considerable concern” and has raised fears that other unqualified teachers may be working in Scottish schools.

It has also emerged that Mr Russell – who was thought to be in his 50s – died while the inquiry was still underway of what an insider described as natural causes.

The council’s inquiry findings, which have been released following a Freedom of Information request, show he started work at the school in 2006 to provide maternity cover.

The council revealed that officials “wrote to Mr Russell on 22 June 2006 reminding him of the requirement to provide the appropriate evidence of registration enabling him to teach in Secondary Education, as soon as possible.”

They added: “On 26 February 2007, Mr Russell accepted a permanent post as a music teacher at which time the council wrote again to him advising that in terms of the information in the council’s possession, his registration covered only Further Education.

“According to GTCS records he still had to submit copies of certain qualifications pertaining to the teaching of Music.”

Despite suspecting he was unqualified, Mr Russell was not suspended until April 2012.

West Lothian said officials decided to check the registration status of all teaching staff and “one other teacher was found to have an incomplete registration details held on file”.

“Appropriate action was taken by the council, in conjunction with the GTCS, to remedy the matter,” said the council.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “If a teacher is found not to have the correct qualifications or registration then this is a matter of considerable concern, for parents and fellow teachers alike.

“There now needs to be an investigation into why this has happened twice in the same local authority.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “This is a highly unusual case, but demonstrates why Councils must have effective systems in place for reviewing relevant documentation for teachers.

“Parents and pupils alike must have confidence that their teaching staff are properly qualified for the job.”

Even though he was not qualified to teach children, Mr Russell, like Black’s character Ned Schneebly, was a huge hit with pupils.

After his suspension, youngsters and teachers alike posted supportive comments online.

A video was posted on YouTube of guitar-playing Mr Russell performing at a charity rock gig.

He could be seen playing the same rock classic Jack Black taught his students in School of Rock, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.

And at one point Mr Russell was filmed playing his guitar as he held behind his head.

Following the teacher’s suspension, a parent wrote online: “I have known Mr Russell for over 25 years, he is an excellent musician and has taught young bands and up-and-coming musicians how to play guitar and other musical instruments since I was a wee boy.

“My daughter is a pupil in Billy’s class and she said he is the best teacher in the school.

“The council should concentrate on helping Mr Russell back into the classroom first, and then find out who is to blame for the error.

“After working six years he must be up to the job even if he is missing a bit of paper to prove his eligibility.”

A pupil posted in a forum:  “Without this man I would never have passed my music exam.

“He is also the reason I’m currently training to be a teacher myself. He is a natural-born teacher.

“Music grades at Inveralmond will suffer without him. Hope he’s back in the classroom soon.”

A spokesman for Midlothian Council said they had introduced more “robust” procedures as a result of the inquiry.

“The council currently reviews the registration status and qualifications of every teacher prior to their employment.”

A GTCS spokesman said they worked closely with local authorities to make sure teachers were properly qualified for the roles they performed.

The spokesman added: “We were sad to hear of Mr Russell’s death and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.”

No-one from Mr Russell’s family could be contacted for comment.