Since our first editorial in 1910 The TES has argued in favour of a professional body speaking for teachers and guaranteeing professional standards. So in our centre pages this week we are particularly happy to publish a four-page guide to the General Teaching Council for England, which held its first public session last Wednesday.
No one is pretending, least of all the council itself, that it does not have a long way to go to achieve its variety of noble aims. But the potential is there. In the long run the GTC could prove to be a positive step towards regaining the public trust and respect teachers once enjoyed and which they still do in Scotland (though not simply because they have had a teaching council of their own since 1966).
Long though the council has been in coming, it may have arrived just in the nick of time. For never has the status of the profession assumed such strategic importance as it does today. Global competition and rapid change make it imperative that every child grows up properly educated. And yet recruitment to the profession that is supposed to ensure this is approaching what David Blunkett called "meltdown" while any in teaching feel beset, demoralised and undervalued.
If the GTC is to play a part in rectifying this it needs to move rapidly to establish both its independence from the Government that set it up and its credibility with the professionals expected to pay for it from next year. Public esteem may take a while longer to cultivate. So the council needs to show quickly that it can make governments listen, improve opportunities for professional development and influence those decisions that have previously been imposed with little genuine consultation.
To speak for teachers it also has to listen to them, however, and to be open and accountable in its work. Chief executive Carol Adams's energy in spreading the message cannot be faulted, nor the passionate advocacy of its chairman, Lord Puttnam. But teachers are not encouraged to contact members directly. The council does not even divulge the schools members teach in. And most of its discussions so far have taken place in private. Members may not be delegates. But they are representatives and those who nominate or elect them are entitled to know what they do or say on their behalf.