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Teaching's new chief eases into her hot seat

The head of the new regulatory body for teachers is not expecting an easy ride, reports Frances Rafferty.

SHE may be tiny, but she's very tough, says a former colleague of the new chief executive of the

General Teaching Council. And she needs to be.

Carol Adams, a former history teacher, inspector for the Inner London Education Authority and chief education officer for Wolverhampton and Shropshire, made it clear, during the first week, that she is under no illusion it will be plain sailing.

This week, schools were sent posters informing staff they have until December 15 to register to vote or to be nominated to serve on the council's ruling body. Ms Adams knows that she has just two years to convince the profession that the GTC is representing its views, is independent from Government and will raise the status and standing of teachers.

It has not been an auspicious start. The announcement of her appointment by the Department for Education and Employment seemed curiously low-key. And the attempt to collect teachers' addresses for its database resulted in a complaint, upheld by the regulatory body for data protection, from the National Union of Teachers. Already other teacher unions have been complaining their members will not want to pay the compulsory fee. Payable from Autumn 2001, this could be as much as pound;30.00.

Ms Adams brushed these irritations aside. The lack of razzmatazz about her appointment was put down to unfortunate timing. And the other hiccups will be nothing compared to the task of making the 64-member council work smoothly.

Teachers will have a majority and be represented by appointees from the unions and from direct election. But they will sit among representatives of the churches, employers, industry, governors, higher education, private schools and others. Eliciting a united voice from such a disparate group could be difficult.

The powers of the GTC are not wide-reaching. Indeed, the Government needed bullying during the passage of the legislation to beef up its role.

Ms Adams sees it as an influential rather than a powerful body. Its function is two-fold - to represent the profession and to discipline it, upholding professional standards. She said: "The power as such is limited, but the opportunity to provide advice to members and to reflect their voice is immense.

"I hope the database will be used to provide a picture of the profession that will inform issues including equal opportunities, ethnicity and regional differences. It will be a powerful tool for recruitment and enable it to influence government policy."

All teachers will have to be registered with the council which will have a disciplinary committee

to consider cases of professional misconduct. Such cases will include financial misdemeanours, incompetence and individuals claiming false qualifications. The Secretary of State will deal with child protection cases. How the cases will be referred is still to determined. The consultation document says the disciplinary proceedings should be held in public. A DFEE spokesman said this was in line with the regulatory bodies for doctors and nurses.

But as governing bodies already have procedures to deal with incompetent staff, it will be interesting to see where the GTC is involved. Its power to deregister teachers would, in practice, prevent them from having a job in schools ever again.

Ms Adams is against having public disciplinary sessions. "My personal view is if we are to command respect and manage these sessions with dignity, they should not be carried out under the gaze of the public."

She also wants to avoid being seen by teachers as just another government initiative. "It has got to be two-way communication. I will be advertising for teachers to become part of a grass-roots advisory body. I will also suggest we hold council meetings at various locations in the regions."

The chair, to be announced next month, must be a charismatic character, she says, who will be the public face of the profession and command respect. Once established, the GTC will nominate the chair. The DFEE is funding the council - with 70-plus staff - for two years, after which time it will be financed from fees.

By then Ms Adams hopes teachers will be firmly on board.

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