As axe falls on GTC, its Welsh arm is set to expand
In England, the next few months will see the winding up of the much-maligned General Teaching Council (GTC) until its eventual closure in the spring - another victim of the Government's "bonfire of the quangos".
But in Wales, educationalists will spend the same period debating the future of the GTC's Welsh counterpart, the GTCW, as new proposals pave the way for its powers to be considerably strengthened with the registration of up to 30,000 more staff who currently escape its reach.
Last week, education minister Leighton Andrews set out the plans to change the professional registration of the education workforce as part of his crusade to raise standards. Rather than setting alarm bells ringing among the council members in Wales, the proposals have been greeted with sighs of relief.
Mr Andrews' announcement not only rules out the GTCW's "worst-case scenario" of closure, but agrees with a major policy for increased registration, which the council has been pursuing for a number of years.
Last year, it pushed for the registration of up to 30,000 extra staff who come into regular contact with pupils, such as the learning-support assistants working with pupils in early-years settings as part of the play-led foundation phase. It also wants college lecturers who are teaching school pupils as part of vocational 14-19 courses to be forced to sign up.
Mr Andrews sees the logic; the minister is now planning to widen the registration requirement to further education, work-based learning, teaching assistants and possibly youth workers and other support staff. He said the move would help to reassure the public that all education professionals held similar high standards of conduct and competence.
It is quite a result for the GTCW. Ever since Michael Gove announced the abolition of the GTC in one of his first acts as education secretary, the GTCW has been holding its breath, fearful that it too could face the axe. Already unpopular with certain sections of the teaching fraternity in Wales thanks to its controversial registration fee and public disciplinary hearings, it would not have been a surprise for the council to have encountered the same fate.
GTCW chief executive Gary Brace said he was pleased to see the council's position reflected in the announcement. "We look forward to hearing how others involved in education in Wales feel about these matters," he added.
Although it is also proposed to reconstitute the GTCW or establish a new education registration body for Wales to cover the wider education professions, it is most likely that any change will build on the existing body and not start afresh.
"A key feature of many professions is that they register with a professional body that sets and maintains professional standards and so retains public confidence in their members," Mr Andrews said.
The announcement has been widely welcomed, with even those who are less than enamoured with the GTCW recognising the need for a professional body.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of teaching union ATL Cymru, said: "Those who crowed over the abolition of the GTC in England are now deeply concerned, as they realise that this was part and parcel of the English agenda to de-professionalise teachers. Thankfully, the Welsh Government is keen to promote teaching as a profession and not just a job."
While the eventual shape of the new body has yet to be decided, two things are certain: education professionals will want it to be under their control and not the Government's, and they will want any membership fee to be met by their employers.
Teachers in Wales who are planning to return to the classroom after a break of five years or more will have to undertake at least 10 days of refresher training in future. The GTCW is introducing the measure from September 2012 to make sure all returning teachers are up to date with their knowledge and practice and that they can effectively compete for jobs.
"This is intended to ensure that those returning to teaching are fully prepared, not just for the pupils' benefit, but also for their own benefit," said GTCW chief executive Gary Brace.
"Many teachers returning to the classroom after a long absence can lack confidence or feel out of touch with new developments. Some find difficulty getting jobs in an increasingly competitive market because they are not as up to date as other candidates."