For more than 30 years the General Teaching Council for Scotland has played a role in Scottish education: it has been central, essential but until now not always visible.
Every spring, the pound;30 annual fee that allows teachers to remain registered and continue to practise their profession has been deducted from their salaries. At other times, the impact of the GTC on the consciousness of many teachers has been slight.
"In the past, the General Teaching Council was seen as the regulatory body and nothing else," says Matthew MacIver, the registrar. "We had a role in probation but after that we never touched the professional life of a teacher."
All this is set to change with the formation of its continuing professional development unit and especially with the enhancement of the GTC website.
The site's new functions will make it one of the online locations that all teachers, irrespective of subject or seniority, will want to visit regularly.
On the site, teachers will soon be able to track their progress in professional development.
"Each time a teacher undertakes a module within the chartered teacher programme, they will log which module they are undertaking, who the provider is, and when they hope to complete the module," says Mr MacIver.
"The database which sits behind the logbook will automatically insert the module learning outcomes and the competencies that it addresses.
"On completion of the module, the teacher will insert what they feel they have achieved in it and how it links to other modules in their programme of study."
Following this, the GTC will verify with the providers that the teacher has completed the module satisfactorily. The information will then be transferred to a secure section on the main register of teachers and passed on to the teacher's employer to adjust their salary upward to the appropriate point on the chartered teacher scale.
"Once the 12 modules have been completed, the teacher will then present the completed logbook formally to the National Board of Assessors so that they can be considered for the professional award of chartered teacher," says Mr MacIver.
While the website will provide teachers with the means and motivation to keep their records up to date, it will do much more than this. It already features information about the chartered teacher programme and from July will give details of accredited course providers. In January, the Scottish Executive confirmed that the GTC would be the accrediting body for all programmes leading to the award of chartered teacher or of headship and the website already contains a list of the criteria against which providers, and the courses, are being judged.
The website says: "Not all CPD will need to be approved, only that which is intended to form part of an award-bearing programme. However, all CPD, whether intended for an approved programme or not, will be expected to share similar features", which it lists.
"There may be around 30,000 teachers in Scotland who are eligible to apply for chartered teacher status," says Mr MacIver. "But there are 80,000 who will need continuing professional development throughout their teaching career."
The website includes a copy of the leaflet Taking the First Steps to Becoming a Chartered Teacher, which explains who is eligible for chartered teacher status and summarises the timetable to embark on the first module of the standard for chartered teachers in August.
Teachers interested in this should register with the GTC by the end of May.
Once their eligibility has been checked, they will receive in late June a certificate of eligibility and a pack that includes a password allowing access to secure areas of the GTC website available only to those on the chartered teacher programme.
"This will allow teachers to talk to each other and post problems and ideas nationally, enabling them to share concerns and successes," says Mr MacIver. "The discussion groups will also allow supporters allocated to teachers, as well as their assessors, to comment and help with queries."
The chartered teacher leaflet describes the two routes that can be followed after the compulsory self-evaluation module: the programme and accreditation routes. Information on how prior learning can be accredited, which allows a faster route to chartered teacher status, and advice on completing the portfolio, will be posted on the website in June.
Mr MacIver says that planning all the enhancements to the site has given the GTC the impetus to think "in much more radical terms" about communications with teachers. In future, these will be more lively, regular and responsive than ever before and, through its website, the council will henceforth be much more visible to all teachers.
"The General Teaching Council for Scotland will become part of their professional lives," he says.
The GTC Scotland website can be found at www.gtcs.org.uk