The gatekeeper to the profession should be given the power to be a driving force for excellence, says Gordon Kirk
LAST DECEMBER, Helen Liddell intimated a review of "the role, structure and effectiveness of the GTC". By using the word "in-depth", the Education Minister implied that it would be rigorous, comprehensive and perhaps even radical, possibly in anticipation of the significant extension of its role which the council has been seeking for many years.
In keeping with the principle that such a review should be independent and free to report with impunity, the contract has been placed, after competitive tendering, with Deloitte Touche. Commendably, the reviewers are seeking the views of the educational and wider community. This article is a contribution to the debate the review should engender.
While the reviewers may find much to commend in the council's careful and systematic scrutiny of credentials at the point of entry to the profession, its effectiveness in raising entry standards is limited by its inability to control aspects of professional preparation and induction that take place in schools. Currently, and in line with practice internationally, significant proportions of initial teacher education programmes take place in schools, as does the whole of the probationary period.
The council has been active on both fronts for many years. It has vigorously championed the cause of partnership on behalf of students, most recently in its 1997 report, Partnership in Initial Teacher Education; and it has developed a comprehensive set of materials to support teachers during their probationary period.
The central weakness of existing arrangements is that the GTC is not in a position to enforce appropriate quality standards in the training environment provided by schools. The council has a statutory right to undertake visits to colleges of education, and, in exercising that right, it exerts a form of professional control. No corresponding control can be exercised in relation to schools. That cannot be satisfactory.
It is predictable, particularly in view of the minister's reference to the possible extension of the GTC's powers, that the review will concern itself with its role in regard to continuing professional development. The council began to consider this matter in 1984 and it is disappointing that, to date, nothing has come from representations to successive ministers.
As has been repeatedly urged over the years, on the analogy of its role in initial teacher education, the GTC ought to be regarded as the Secretary of State's key adviser on in-service provision; it ought to have the authority to accredit programmes and other types of professional development provision; and it ought to be involved in the discussion of the professional requirements for key roles in the educational service.
An integral feature of the council's responsibility for professional development would be the authority to remove teachers from the register, not simply, as now, on grounds of professional misconduct, but also on grounds of professional incompetence.
It cannot be right to allow a teacher who has been dismissed for incompetence from one authority to obtain employment in another. The nation's pupils are entitled to the protection that is given by the sanction of removal from the register.
The review is also expected to consider "the role of the GTC in raising standards and enhancing professionalism". Tightening up standards of initial teacher education and the conduct of probation will contribute to that end, as will the council's involvement in professional development.
However, these measures are not by themselves sufficient. The GTC's commitment to the ideal of a vigorously developing profession calls for the introduction of a new category of registration, one that recognises advanced levels of professional performance. Relevant criteria might include a successful period of experience as a teacher; accomplishment as a classroom practitioner, as evidenced by, for example, evaluation of teaching, innovation in teaching, learning and assessment; a portfolio of curriculum development activities; and completion of a programme of advanced study.
It would be essential to ensure that they covered two key aspects of advanced professional performance: significant accomplishment in the classroom; and evidence of sustained professional development. Both of these might issue in the award of a degree of master of teaching and that, in turn, might be a requirement to be registered as an advanced professional teacher.
The new award could confer an entitlement to enhancement of salary; and all of those aspiring to key roles in the education service might be expected to be registered as advanced professional teachers. Indeed, as the profession's most accomplished practitioners, advanced professional teachers would be well placed to participate in the enhancement of the quality of teaching and learning in schools, in curriculum development and assessment, in teacher education, in educational research and in leadership roles in schools and elsewhere.
The review is also expected to report on the council's composition and the scope for modernising its rules, procedures and working arrangements. It is to be hoped that the review does not allow itself to be sidetracked by these considerations. It is crucially important to establish the functions of the GTC: functions then govern composition and procedures.
While there must continue to be room on the council for non-teacher members, the majority will be teachers. An unelected quango would be disastrous, as experience elsewhere suggests. However, why not stipulate that a majority of those elected should be advanced professional teachers?
Gordon Kirk is dean of the faculty of education at Edinburgh University and vice-convener of the GTC.