Puttnam says GTC budget was 'a joke'

Chairman admits failing to sell council to teachers. Warwick Mansell reports

ENGLAND's General Teaching Council was launched under bad legislation, with little enthusiasm from civil servants and a prospective budget which was a "joke", outgoing chairman Lord Puttnam told The TES this week.

In a series of extraordinary admissions, the former film producer, who was appointed three years ago to be the public face of the GTC, also conceded he had failed to sell its virtues as well as he could.

He described the council's communications policy as confused, underfunded and lacklustre, and said the fact he had never been a teacher was a "limiting factor" when he visited schools.

And he claimed that teachers' morale was only now recovering from the damage created by the "massive insensitivity" of Labour's decision to renew former chief inspector Chris Woodhead's contract after it came to power.

The Labour peer said his time has been dominated by desperate attempts to persuade teachers to pay the GTC's registration fee, and a turf war with union leaders Nigel de Gruchy and Doug McAvoy, whom he also condemned this week.

Last spring, Lord Puttnam was forced to plead with ministers for a pound;3 million handout to slash the council's fees from pound;30 to pound;25. Only two months later, he had to ask for another pound;500,000 and cut the fee to pound;23, after the National Union of Teachers successfully argued that legally the GTC could only charge the profession for the work it does maintaining its register of those allowed to teach.

Then, only this spring, after a year seeking, largely unsuccessfully, to persuade professionals to pay the fees, the Government finally agreed to boost salaries. At the end of this, 58 per cent of teachers have still not agreed to pay and are having the charge deducted from their salaries.

Lord Puttnam said the Government should have funded the council fully for its first two years, and continued to support it for the following three, cutting the fee drastically.

He also admitted he should have persuaded ministers to increase teachers'

salaries to cover the fee's cost a year earlier.

He said: "I did not fully take on board - and on this, I admit, the NUT was right and I was wrong - that registration fees in most other professions are now paid by the employer."

He told the Commons education select committee earlier this week that these problems meant that he had spent his time "attending to the plumbing" of the organisation, which was set up in September 2000.

He could not give a figure as to the council's original proposed budget - it now stands at pound;13 million - but said that the Government had believed the organisation "could be done with about 30 staff in a room in Clerkenwell. It was a farcical underestimate". The council now employs 80 staff in Birmingham and London.

He said the council did have some successes, notably persuading ministers that every teacher should have a right to professional development. He had been "knocked sideways" by the quality of council members. But he said the GTC remained an "unproven opportunity".

Lord Puttnam, who is paid pound;37,440 for the two-day-a-week post, is to become president of UNICEF when he leaves the council.

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