A touch of TLC from the GTC

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Tough-talking she may be, but Carol Adams understands that teachers need to be taken good care of. She explains her philosophy to Jill Parkin

When you first meet Carol Adams, the resemblance is simply physical.

After a little while, in her company, it's becomes perceptible. The chief executive of the General Teaching Council seems much like the late Labour party firebrand Barbara Castle. There's the same determination to use ideas to practical ends; the same humanity with a tough manner; an impression of someone holding herself back from frightening the horses .

"We would have a much better education system if we could put into teacher development some of the time spent on over-elaborate assessment processes and some of the energy spent on tasks that teachers feel are fruitless and imposed upon them," she says, fixing my notebook with a glare.

Less assessment and more development. It comes after we have been talking for an hour, this glimpse of a political animal behind the teacher-turned-chief executive. It's the sort of thing that plays better in the staffroom and the columns of The TES than in No 10 and the Daily Mail.

The council is a hybrid: it exists to speak for teachers and to try their misdemeanours through disciplinary panels. Its ambiguity is repaid by teachers' ambivalence towards it. Many wonder what they will be getting in return for their compulsory fee. One answer is Carol Adams and her commitment to professional development. But whether that is enough will depend on whether the council - not yet quite financially independent of government - comes out fighting for teachers.

"The profession needs the resources to be employee-friendly. Schools are very intent on serving pupils. Time and time again resources are used to improve the environment of the pupils. But who is looking after the teachers? That's not being indulgent: it will make for better performance," she says.

It sounds good, but so did "education, education, education". The council has a pressed membership, some of it very sceptical about initiatives and the rest of the government jelly that you couldn't keep on a plate, let alone pin on a blackboard. So, defend your independent professional body and its pet project, Ms Adams.

"An entitlement to professional development for all teachers is a major aim of the GTC. It is not another imposition. This is about liberating teachers to realise their very great potential and aspirations for their pupils. It will require resources and a cultural change.

"Development is absolutely essential to raising achievement. because teaching has to be informed by learning. It's not a bolt-on or a luxury: it's part and parcel of being a teacher. We can't expect teachers to raise standards if they don't have access to rich experience which enables them to improve. It's particularly important for young teachers because they are coming into a job that is so much more demanding and challenging than it was. We are losing one in three in the first five years: we have to do something right at the beginning of their careers to prepare them better."

Carol Adams started teaching 30 years ago in an inner-London comprehensive.

A mother of two teenagers, she went on to become county education officer in Shropshire. She has ridden the educational rollercoaster of the past few decades and believes that if we are to attract and keep teachers we need to look after them better than we have done.

"Professional development is the key to solving problems of recruitment and retention," she says. "The GTC is arguing for the same development entitlement that doctors and lawyers have. That must apply to teachers at all stages of their careers. Far too many take early retirement once they reach 50. With development advice, they might find they want to downshift, go part-time or return to a purely classroom role either at their present school or at another. People don't want the same work-life balance for 40 years. That kind of attention to older teachers' development would cut the numbers leaving early.

"At the moment, new teachers are effectively cast adrift unless the school has the resources to give them additional support. Any profession in which you are not expected or allowed to grow is not an attractive competitive option, and until we rectify this situation, teaching will continue to lose out to other professions."

So we need professional development, but we have in-service days and what more could you want? The odd course perhaps? This makes Adams pop with exasperation.

"This is not about sitting on your own with a textbook: it's about things like time to do classroom observation followed by feedback, about networking and sharing best practice. There was a time when development seemed to be about doing your own thing, perhaps studying something obscure which wasn't supporting educational improvement. Now there's a sense of it being about giving teachers time and opportunity to determine how they can work together to improve their own practice as part of their own school's effectiveness.

"Obviously, that means sometimes people make choices and move on, that's part of improving the whole profession's effectiveness. Teacher retention isn't about staying in the same school all your life.

"A lot of teachers' development needs come down to human contact: time to reflect and exchange ideas and effective practice. The GTC can help by networking across subjects, phases and schools. Teachers need the means to progress, whether that's going on an accredited course or whether it's watching a video of the way someone does it in a school elsewhere."

Newspaper reporters work in an industry where professional development is a new notebook. Hit over the head long enough with phrases such as "shared best practice" and "performance management", we begin to wonder why on earth teachers need all this.

"The pace of educational change has been huge," says Adams. "Just keeping up to date with your subject and with educational assessment requires time out of the classroom. Teachers also need training in how to use the enormous amount of data now available about pupils. They need to learn how to work effectively with classroom assistants too. The culture of many pupils is at odds with the culture of schools, so we need well-qualified teachers who are flexible enough to understand that learning is a complicated and individual process."

There's a tension, of course, between what development a school needs its staff to have and an individual teacher's career plan. There's also a strain on the number of hours in the day, something made worse by the teacher losses of the 1990s, but Adams feels professional development is too important not to be resourced properly.

"Yes, it all takes time and people. The cuts of the 1990s resulted in a culture where there are very few supernumerary staff and little time to reflect and refresh. Generally speaking, there should be no problem in primary schools now because the birthrate has dropped and there is no primary-teacher shortage.

"Finding hours in a secondary school with shortages of subject teachers is much harder, but the fact is that it's a chicken and egg situation. Without proper professional development we won't attract secondary teachers and we won't keep them.

"Of course, now all the money is to be allocated to the schools instead of coming earmarked from the Standards Fund, there's going to be a seismic shift which will need smart and constructive thinking to make sure that enough is spent on professional development.

"Part of my vision is to have direct contact with the CPD (training) co-ordinator in every school, so there's a GTC presence in every staffroom.

Eventually we'll build that. We do believe that every headteacher should have a statutory responsibility to ensure staff development. We advised the School Teachers' Review Body on that before and our advice wasn't accepted.

We'll be pressing again in the light of budgetary changes. Everyone should share the cheque."

The council has been networking madly since its birth. Adams has travelled the country; pilot projects have been set up; letters written to every teacher; regional roadshows have been held. But Adams knows that not everyone is convinced.

"This has to be a long-term project. The teaching profession has had so much change imposed upon it that there's a tendency for people to say that anything beyond teaching the lesson is an imposition.

"Development portfolios are a case in point. Every teacher should have a portfolio of development which records what they have done, whether it's courses or in-school observation. And that portfolio should be accredited, perhaps by peer evaluation.

"Some schools have grasped this as a way of offering appraisal and mentoring. Others, I'm afraid, see it as a burden. It can help restore schools' confidence in developing their own effective system of performance management. We need every school finding it burdensome to learn from one finding it liberating."

Schools are increasingly in charge of their budgets. There has been a devolution of control from the centre and the infant GTC has to fight to be seen as relevant. It is doing so not with directives or with big money: it is not that kind of animal. Its credibility depends on its success with the issue of professional development.

"We are not a provider," says Adams. "But we are a catalyst. We work alongside other agencies such as the National College for School Leadership, Ofsted and the Teacher Training Agency, as well as the teaching unions. The GTC isn't going it alone: we see ourselves as the yeast in a big pudding."

We will have to wait some time for the proof. Sooner than that, though, in 2004, the GTC will be 100 per cent funded by teachers. Carol Adams will then have full control. It will be interesting to watch her.


* The General Teaching Council for England is an independent professional body set up in 2000 under the 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act.

* Its governing council is chaired by John Beattie, a practising secondary teacher for more than 35 years, nominated by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

* The GTC has a programme of teacher discussion forums. It presents teachers' views to government, but as a statutory advisory body, it is answerable to members rather than to government.

* The Government is required to listen to statutory advisory bodies.

* The GTC is a regulator with powers of suspension and prohibition in cases of misconduct.

* The governing council has 64 members, including 44 practising teachers, 25 of them elected by the profession. There are nine nominees from the teacher unions and associations; 17 from other interest groups such as the commissions for racial equality, disability rights and equal opportunities; and 13 appointed by the Secretary of State.

* If you want to be a GTC council member (requiring a minimum of 20 days a year on GTC work) you will need a nominator, a seconder and five supporters.

* Details of how to stand in the 2004 elections will be published in a few months (www.gtce.org.uk). All GTC-registered teachers can vote for representatives of their school category.

* In 2004 the teacher membership fee will be pound;30. This year 10 per cent of GTC funding still comes from the Government.

Wales and Scotland have their own teaching councils

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