Minister caps 'unfair' fee

Complaints of political interference as GTCW's registration cost is kept level with England

A proposed "unfair" fee hike for annual registration to the General Teaching Council for Wales has been blocked, it emerged this week. Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, has refused to sanction a rise that would see teachers paying pound;3 more than colleagues in England. But she has agreed to an extra pound;1 from April which will put the fee on a par with over the border.

In a letter to Mal Davies, chairman of the GTCW, Ms Davidson said she could not agree to a rise unless he proved its popularity with teachers. "This would result in teachers being put at a financial disadvantage compared with their colleagues in England," she added.

But the council has hit back say ing they should not be tied to what is happening over the border. Members also say costs are higher here, especially with the growth of bilingualism. Gary Brace, council chief executive, said members had overwhelmingly agreed to a fee hike from pound;32 to pound;36 for 2007-08 and 2008-09. He said this was to pay for ambitious programmes.

"The GTCW is concerned at the minister's decision to reject the fee and cap it at pound;33, said Mr Brace. "Such intervention will adversely affect the council's independence."

Ms Davidson's decision marks the first time that the budgeted increase has been denied by the Assembly government. But it is another in a series of recent rows between the minister and the council over alleged interference.

Last week TES Cymru reported that senior council members had accused the minister of backtracking after she linked the council's new chartered teacher scheme with pay. The GTCW is keen to divorce the new professional qualification from the eventuality of a pay rise for teachers taking it. This is unlike Scotland, where becoming a chartered teacher guarantees a salary increase.

At the council's quarterly meeting in Swansea last month, Mr Davies claimed a letter received by the minister over the direction of the scheme had been greatly different from verbal discussions they had held with her last year.

Ms Davidson has since said that officials will soon be in contact with the council over arrangements to cover costs of the chartered teacher pilot programme. If the minister had approved the fee rise, it would have created a disparity between the registration fees of teachers in Wales and the level of reimbursement laid down by the School Teachers' Review Body - a move she appears to have found unacceptable.

The council has made repeated requests to the STRB to raise its reimbursement to pound;40, but the review body has maintained an apparent link between its payment and the fee set down by the GTC in England. During last month's meeting, Mr Brace said: "It seems the (GTCW) programme will be constrained by what is happening in England."

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