Book of the week

14th January 2000 at 00:00
THE GENERAL TEACHING COUNCIL. By John Sayer. Cassell pound;15.99.

There is no one better qualified than John Sayer to write about the General Teaching Council and its historical, educational and political context. His book is authoritative and immensely readable.

John Sayer had been deeply involved since 1978 in the movement for a GTC in England. The story of its creation is fascinating, beginning with the proposal for a scholastic council in 1862. Participants in the unfolding saga include secretaries of state with varying degrees of enthusiasm, civil servants, members of both Houses of Parliament and an alphabet of acronymic bodies, such as the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, and the teacher associations, where John Sayer began his involvement during his presidency of the Secondary Heads Association in 1979.

The opposition of Sir Keith Joseph and Kenneth Baker is clear from the Hansard extracts, as is the support of Lords Butterfield and Dainton and Baroness Warnock, among many others. He describes the work of the GTC in Scotland, to which the founders of the English GTC owe a great debt, and includes international parallels.

John Sayer and Mary Russell formed the GTC (England and Wales) as a limited company in 1988. With a wide representation of educational bodies and teacher associations on its board, it carried out pioneering work.

Since 1990 its chair has been John Tomlinson, soon to be deputy chairman of the GTC itself. Without the GTC (England and Wales), the history of the formation of the new GTC would have been very different and the council would probably never have been included in the early legislative programme of the present Government.

The statutory role of the new GTC is clearly outlined and, although the description is tinged with regret that the GTC's powers are limited, this is outweighed by his obvious satisfaction that the body has been formed and Carol Adams, a former histor teacher and chief education officer, appointed as chief executive.

Sayer's reservations concern the restrictive nature of the legislation. Although he always knew the GTC would assume its functions in stages, he had hoped for a statutory framework that would have enabled future development to an agreed long-term aim without the need for further primary legislation. He also fears that the trend towards greater centralisation of control of education may subvert the GTC's autonomy and offset the pressure to transfer powers from the Department for Education and Employment or from other bodies, such as the Teacher Training Agency.

In the concluding chapter, he sets out the GTC's first priorities - making it work as an organisation and building confidence. He believes that, within two years, the GTC should have produced substantial position, discussion, consultation and guidance documents on all its areas of activity. The GTC has a statutory responsibility to give such advice and its early papers will be scanned for signs of the independence from government that its constitution confers. Sayer's expectations, even in the short term, are high, and surely shared by those who have followed the establishment of the GTC from a greater distance.

In writing about longer-term developments, Sayer considers the position of the GTC in relation to the changing role of the Teacher Training Agency and the proposed National College for School Leadership. Particularly in the field of continuing professional development for teachers, it is surely right that the GTC should have a pivotal role when it has established its credentials in the fields in which its statutory work lies.

This book is essential reading not only for the members and employees of the GTC, but also for all teachers who take pride in being members of a vital, but still undervalued, profession.

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association

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