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Justice at the hands of fellow teachers

Your classroom peers could be judging your conduct under the proposed General Teaching Council, reports Karen Thornton

A NEW disciplinary system run by the General Teaching Council would place teachers on a par with doctors, nurses and police officers. All face justice at the hands of their fellow professionals.

Under proposals published this week, the GTC would be responsible for investigating and deciding most cases of teacher misconduct and all allegations of incompetence.

But the consultative document proposes that ministers should be significantly more involved in the regulation of teachers' conduct than for other professionals.

In particular, accusations involving physical and sexual abuse of children would continue to be heard by Education Secretary David Blunkett, rather than the new GTC for England.

All allegations of misconduct will be reported first to the Department for Education and Employment to see if they are serious enough to be heard by the Secretary of State.

The main criteria would be whether cases involve children's safety and welfare. Health and Home Office ministers have no comparable involvement in the regulation of doctors' and police officers' conduct by the General Medical Council and Police Complaints Authority.

A departmental spokeswoman said ministers had decided to retain the Secretary of State's powers in serious cases to ensure consistency. "The Secretary of State has the power to bar any person from working with children. This goes wider than teachers. By definition, the GTC will only be able to de-register teachers," she said.

"Therefore it was decided all serious cases should continue to be dealt with by the Secretary of State to prevent possible fragmentation and inconsistency."

The GMC also requires higher standards of proof in cases of misconduct - "beyond reasonable doubt," the standard in criminal cases - than is proposed for teachers, who could lose their livelihood on "the balance of probabilities".

Changes made this month mean police officers are now subject to the lower, civil standard of proof which it is proposed will apply to teachers. But cases against police officers are heard in private, whereas doctors face a public ordeal - as will teachers.

All teachers in maintained primary and secondary schools and non-maintained special schools will have to register with the GTC. Registration will be automatic from September, and renewed each year for an annual fee - expected to be pound;20 in October 2001.

FE lecturers and teachers in independent schools may be eligible to become associate members of the GTC. But they will not be able to stand for election to the council, or vote in elections.

Charles Clarke, Letters, 18 Consultations close on June 21. Copies of The GTC for England: The Register of Teachers - A Consultation Paper can be obtained from DFEE publications centre, telephone 0845 6022260.

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