Code of conduct is a hallmark for our profession

23rd October 2009 at 01:00

Since it was established in 2001, part of the remit of the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) has been to raise the status of teaching by maintaining and promoting the highest standards of professional practice and conduct in the interests of teachers, pupils and the general public.

Despite having the education of our future society at their core, it never fails to amaze me that teachers have yet to command the same respect in our country as doctors or lawyers. Being able to raise standards in the profession, thereby increasing public confidence and trust in teachers, is one of the key ways to achieve this.

In order that teachers know exactly what standards of behaviour are expected of them by the profession itself - and by wider society - it is essential that these are clearly set out. In fact, it is an expectation in law that this should be the case.

The teaching council has always had guidelines to help provide advice for teachers. In January 2002, the first professional code for teachers came into existence. This was subsequently replaced by two documents in 2006: the Statement of Professional Values and Practice, and Professionalism in Practice.

The former was aspirational, outlining behaviour that teachers should aim for, while the latter provided advice on expected behaviour through practical examples. The GTCW is now proposing that these two documents be combined into one readable document: the new Code of Professional Conduct and Practice.

The aim of the revised code is to make it even clearer for teachers to know the minimum standards of behaviour expected of them as role models in our community by setting out the key principles and standards of good conduct.

The code also puts the welfare of children first by setting out clear boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate professional conduct for registered teachers, while providing clarity and transparency for the general public.

The content of the new code is not new. It contains much of the information that has been guiding registered teachers in Wales since 2002. However, it has been updated to give even clearer advice about the minimum standards of behaviour expected and to incorporate new technological advances, such as how teachers should interact with social networking sites, which simply weren't an issue seven years ago.

A code is a hallmark of a profession. It provides clarity for the profession and the wider public about the values and principles that underpin their practice. It also offers a set of guiding principles to help support teachers in their professional decisions, judgments and actions.

Most other regulators, such as the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, have similar codes. In fact, the GTCW is the only teaching council in the UK and Ireland with disciplinary procedures that does not have a code setting out minimum standards for the regulation of the profession. It is high time to address this.

The code takes a common-sense approach in outlining what behaviour is expected from teachers, but does not seek to place unreasonable expectations or burdens on them.

When England's teaching council introduced its code in July, headlines focused on its prying into the private lives of teachers. This is a misinterpretation of the code and its central tenets.

It goes without saying that teachers have a right to a private life, and the GTCW supports this. The question is when, and if, teachers do something illegal in their private life that constitutes criminal behaviour. When this line is crossed, it becomes a professional issue.

It should be recognised that most registered teachers in Wales (99.95 per cent) have never been in front of a disciplinary hearing and completely understand the type of behaviour expected of them as influential role models in our society. In fact, in my experience, the people who have the highest expectation of teachers are the teachers themselves. This is reflected in the excellent work that can be seen every day in schools up and down our country.

While the GTCW is spearheading the introduction of the code, we are keen to consult widely on it, and it is important to emphasise that nothing has been decided yet. We want everyone to have their say and to help shape the future code. As such, we are encouraging feedback from all parties. We want unions to get involved as well as key stakeholder groups. We also want to hear from parents and the general public. But, most of all, we want to know what teachers think. After all, this is their code.

- The public consultation on the General Teaching Council for Wales's proposed Code of Professional Conduct and Practice starts on October 20 and runs until January 31, 2010. To have your say, visit www.gtcw.org.uk

Gary Brace Chief executive, General Teaching Council for Wales.

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