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Consultation on teaching council

The teacher unions will be pressurising the Government to allow them a direct role in selecting members of the General Teaching Council, proposed in a consultation document published this week.

The document, Teaching: High Status, High Standards, gives the date of 2000 for the setting up of an independent council which will act largely in an advisory role to such bodies as the Department for Education and Employment and Teacher Training Agency and will have a role in barring people from the profession. It will be funded by teachers who will pay #163;10 to be placed on its register before they can enter the profession.

In its manifesto the Labour party promised teachers their own body, giving them a similar cachet to doctors and lawyers who already have their own professional councils.

Stephen Byers, education ministers, says: "The new body should be a General Teaching Council rather than a General Teachers' Council. We would expect the organisatio n to reflect the interests of not only teachers and headteachers but also teacher trainers, parents and governors, business and industry, local education authorities, the churches, other education professionals and the wider community" (see Platform, page 15).

The remit and role proposed appears, from initial reaction, to be favourable. But the crunch will be deciding the exact composition. Stories had been placed in news-papers implying that unions will not be involved. The consultation paper suggests a compromise.

"We believe that it is right for serving teachers to form a significant part of the membership of the council so that it can be seen to speak for the profession . . . it would be wrong for teacher representatives simply to be nominated through their union or professional bodies, but there may be a case for a limited number of nominations by . . . unions," it says.

It proposes that heads and teachers should be elected by national or regional ballots of the profession, possibly divided in terms of primary, secondary and special education. There would be nominations by other groups, for example the churches and employers and appointments made by the Secretary of State.

The document does not suggest how many seats there should be.

Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "When ministers want consultatio n with teachers they come to the unions, they don't search the highways and byways to find a teacher to talk to. We do have reservations .. . perhaps when it comes to the nitty gritty the difficulties will be revealed. "

The National Union of Teachers takes a more positive view, and John Bangs,head of education, believes the proposed model is largely acceptable: "It looks as if the Government is taking a pragmatic and sensible attitude to reach consensus, but it has not answered the critical issue of accountability. " Consultation closes on October 17.

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