ENGLAND's General Teaching Council was forced into an embarrassing climbdown this week, in the face of a threatened legal challenge from the largest teaching union.
The council is to cut its fees to teachers for a second time, following an objection from the National Union of Teachers that the proposed pound;25 charge was unlawful.
Originally, the fee was to have been pound;30, but was reduced to pound;25 after GTC chairman Lord Puttnam secured a last-gasp pound;3 million Government grant on the eve of the council's budget-setting meeting in February.
The further cut has been made possible by another cash grant from ministers. It comes as the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers revealed that a poll of 1,007 of its members showed that 53 per cent thought the pound;25 fee was unreasonable.
The NUT argued that the legislation which established the GTC only allowed it to deduct fees from teachers' salaries for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a register of teachers.
Yet the council's budget, approved at February's meeting, envisages that the fee should fund an extensive programme of advisory work.
The GTC rejected the NUT's claim at the budget-setting meeting. However, having consulted Government lawyers, GTC chief executive Carol Adams this week informed council mmbers that the current position "leaves the GTC at risk of a successful (legal) challenge".
As a result, the fee is to be cut, while ministers have agreed to fund the affected advisory work through a grant and to change the legislation so that this work will be paid for by fees in the future.
The level of the grant, and the extent of the fee reduction, are still being calculated by GTC staff. The council is to hold an emergency meeting to approve a final, revised fee on April 24.
The council expects that around 200 teachers a year will be investigated by its disciplinary committees on misconduct and incompetency charges, it said this week.
It has increased its staffing from 75, which was originally proposed in 1999, to 96. The council said the increase related partly to new responsibilities given to it by ministers.
The budget suggests that some pound;5m will be spent up to 2003-04 by the conduct and competence committee. For example, it is estimated that around pound;1m will be spent on travel and subsistence over the next three years by staff and members involved in conduct and competence casework.
Officials estimate that the bill for legal advice will be pound;377,000 this year, rising to pound;835,000 next year and more than pound;1m in 2003-04 The GTC will spend pound;190,000 this year developing a professional code for teachers and pound;400,000 for each of the next three years on its website.