Critics fear teaching councils are a soft touch

Disciplinary bodies in England and Wales ban fewer from the profession than nurses' and doctors' organisations.Warwick Mansell and Adi Bloom report

ONLY three people have been barred from the classroom since England's General Teaching Council began hearing complaints into teachers' conduct a year ago.

In Wales, not a single disciplinary hearing has been held.

The figures are far lower than for comparable bodies covering nurses or doctors and will give fresh ammunition to critics.

They argue that the GTCE, which has an annual budget of more than pound;13 million, has failed to establish clarity of purpose since it was set up in September 2000, as it has struggled to reconcile its roles as campaigning organisation and disciplinary body.

Earlier this month it was involved in a MORI poll with the Guardian which showed that one in three teachers wanted to quit in the next five years (see story, right).

Since the GTCE assumed disciplinary powers in June 2001, just 311 teachers have been referred to it by local authorities or the Government. It was not until January 2002 that it heard its first disciplinary case and only 15 cases have gone to a formal hearing.

Among the cases heard by the GTCE include an English teacher who feigned illness at one school to teach at another and a department head found guilty of "false accounting" for pound;4,750 of school trip funds. Both remain on the register. A science teacher who masqueraded as a priest was told he could continue teaching so long as he got psychiatric help. And a deputy head was not barred, despite saying special needs pupils should be left to "rot".

The Welsh GTC was granted power to consider disciplinary cases in June 2001 and has received 19 referrals. All were dismissed at preliminary committee stage.

They included a drink-driving case, in which the teacher was stopped by police late at night, on the last day of term. Another involved shoplifting.

GTCW chief executive Gary Brace said the fact the council had heard no cases was "not surprising", given that Wales has a 10th of the teaching force of England.

England's GTC will this year spend pound;1.2m on its disciplinary functions and the Welsh GTC is to spend pound;54,588, but the number of cases heard by the two councils is very small considering that all the 495,000 teachers who work in state schools have to register.

By contrast, the Nursing and Midwifery Council - with 644,000 members - has considered 900 complaints since its inception last April. Some 225 went to a hearing, of which 142, or 63 per cent, resulted in the nurse being barred for life.

The General Medical Council struck off 36 doctors in 2001, after receiving 4,500 complaints.

The GMC and NMC consider complaints from patients directly. The GTCE is considering giving parents the right to complain in cases of alleged serious misconduct. But official GTCE papers suggest the move may not amount to much.

If a parent complains but the employer does not investigate or consider the offence worthy of sacking, "no investigation by the council is appropriate", say the papers.

Carol Adams, GTCE chief executive, said the council should not be compared to the GMC or NMC which were far more established. GTC disciplinary panel members took their jobs extremely seriously, she added.

Graham Brady, Conservative education spokesman, said: "The GTC has been hampered from the start by its closeness to Government. We think it should concentrate on its regulatory function. Other matters, such as raising the status of the profession, would then flow from that."

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