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GTC risks birth defect

THE ELECTION for the new General Teaching Council won't (thank goodness) offer the thrills and spills of the election for London Mayor. But it is already generating controversy. Independent hopefuls are complaining that they can't compete with well-publicised union "slates" of preferred candidates. (see page 6 and letters, page 19).

There is a real dilemma here, and one that is insoluble if long Scots experience is anything to go by. Teachers, quite rightly, have a majority on the Scottish GTC. The big single union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, runs a slate. That slate always gets elected. Not for want of trying, no-one in Scotland has managed to come up with a feasible scheme for preventing the union from sponsoring candidates.

There is wide agreement that this has limited the council's influence.

Governments have been able to discount its policy advice, and to refuse to extend its powers, because they can write it off, not as the voice of teachers, but as a mouthpiece of the EIS.

A Scottish correspondent to The TES (Letters, February 18) has said that the English GTC is now heading down the same route of union dominance and diminished gvernment respect - "and it is a cul de sac".

The English GTC has some advantages. It is brand new, and starts with a high profile chair, David Puttnam. There are six unions, not just one. There is everything to play for: the council starts with limited powers, but the Government has made it clear that education secretaries can extend them. In a sane world, everyone should realise that the crucial need for the council's founder-members is to establish its credibility as an independent voice in policy advice. In this light, the current row in England may be very useful. Carol Adams, the GTC's chief executive, has said, with commendable optimism, that the candidates on the union slates have been chosen for their professional expertise and success as teachers, not their political affiliations. Let us hope that they visibly behave that way, and that the unions - particularly the two biggest, who will probably dominate - let them get on with it, following their own professional judgment and not the union line. If they don't, experience north of the border shows that the potential influence and importance of the English GTC may be severely curtailed at birth.

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