Cracking the conduct code

13th February 2009 at 00:00
The General Teaching Council wants to raise teachers' status, not snoop into their lives

What should be the role of a professional body? This sounds like a rather dry debate but in teaching it is anything but - and eight years after the establishment of the GTC as the independent professional body for teaching in England, it is a debate that's still going strong.

I believe that our first, foremost - and unique - role is to act independently in the public interest to support improving standards of teaching and learning. Indeed, this is enshrined in law.

In addition to offering impartial, independent, advice on government policy, it means that a professional body needs to be broader and deeper than simply disciplining the very few members of the profession who go astray. It must go beyond patrolling the minimum standards and support members to uphold the kind of practice that the profession expects of itself and that the public can reasonably expect of teachers.

The council has been engaged in capturing these expectations through consultation discussions with parents, pupils, governors and others - as well as with teachers themselves. These have fed into an initial draft of a new code of conduct and practice now open to public consultation.

Despite some lurid headlines, the GTC is not attempting to pry into the private lives of teachers, or to take draconian action against those who like a drink at the weekend. The draft code does reflect expectations about behaviour inside and outside school appropriate to membership of an important and responsible profession. I urge you to read it and take part in the consultation.

A code is the hallmark of a profession; it enables members to share with each other and with the public clear and realistic expectations about the values and principles that underpin their practice. With its inception in 2000, teachers in England joined other high-standing groups of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and engineers.

If many of its expectations seem like common sense, then so they should. Some may argue that the implementation of national professional standards for teachers renders a code unnecessary, but it's our robustly held view that each has a distinct purpose.

The standards set out attributes, knowledge and skills necessary for entry into and progression through the profession. A code sets out values common to all teachers, throughout their careers. As such, it offers a set of guiding and inspiring principles to help and support individual teachers in their professional decisions, judgments and actions.

Governments - often buffeted by political considerations, interest groups and the media - need impartial, independent advice about teaching and learning that makes a difference to children; that was a key purpose for setting up a GTC in England. It is independent not only from government but from the many and various education bodies and agencies - although we work with them. And its role is not to protect and reflect the interests of individual teachers - although it's important that those interests are protected, which is rightly the job of unions and associations.

A professional body must be able to take and weigh the views, experience and expertise of many interested groups - of which teachers are central but are not the only voice - and reflect them back to government and to the profession through the lens of the public interest. Overhauling the assessment regime and replacing it with a system that really supports learning, and making the case for proper access to good professional development for all teachers, are just two examples where the GTC has strongly influenced policy and practice.

We also nurture good practice in more direct ways. More than 90,000 teachers are now involved in our professional networks or teacher learning academy, learning and sharing new ideas, accessing research evidence about what works in the classroom, gaining support for their practice, gaining formal recognition for their work and, above all, equipping themselves to make a difference to their pupils.

Has the council achieved all it needs to achieve? Not yet. We are very ambitious on behalf of children, and about how the teaching profession can be supported in their interests. I make no apology for that.

It has been suggested that, as the professional body, the council should define entry standards to the profession; this is something common to many professional bodies such as the General Medical Council and I couldn't agree more. But we have made considerable progress towards the established position of the - 150-year-old - GMC.

For me, one of the most striking findings from the consultation discussions about the new code was that, of the groups involved, the one that had the highest expectation of teachers was teachers themselves. Striking but, to me, not surprising. This is a profession of high ideals, the consequence of which can be seen in schools up and down the country every day, as the vast majority of teachers continue to do a complex, creative and amazing job, often in very difficult circumstances.

Through the code, we are seeking a common language capable of explaining the purpose and value of teaching and of describing what teachers do. Now our task is to find the exact form of words that will fulfil that purpose. That's why we are inviting views from all those interested in children's achievement.

- The public consultation continues until February 27 at

Agree? Disagree? Email your comments to

Keith Bartley, Chief executive, General Teaching Council for England.

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