Ever since the General Medical Council was established by Parliament in 1860, there have been periodic calls for a similar body to secure the professional status of teachers. Those demands were granted in Scotland over 30 years ago. And now finally it seems England, Wales and Northern Ireland are each to get their own General Teaching Councils.
Charles Clarke, the junior minister for schools, launched a consultation paper this week on how the English council would work. He hopes for "an effective advocate for the profession...a fresh, authoritative and independent voice" giving teachers "the opportunity to lead and shape change."
Four cheers for all that. But the consultation paper heralded by the minister's fine words is exclusively concerned with the bureaucratic task of drawing up a register of teachers - with the sole purpose, if these proposals are any guide, of being able to strike them off it again. The vision of a brave new body leading teachers to the sunlit uplands of enhanced standards, public confidence and professional esteem is conspicuous by its absence. Is this what the long-awaited GTC is really about? Ensuring the tiny minority of incompetent and deliquent teachers are not only removed from their schools by their employers but drummed out of the profession altogether? And even if it is, should not an autonomous GTC itself have some say in how this is to be done?
As it is, the proposals are barely explained or justified. Why are teachers to be tried in public while the Police Complaints Authority deliberates in private? Why is the burden of proof upon which teachers are to be deprived of their good name and life's work to be only the "balance of probabilities" of civil cases, rather than the more demanding "beyond reasonable doubt" applied by the GMC and in criminal courts?
And why is the Secretary of State to continue to decide cases involving the "safety and welfare" of children? There may indeed be good reasons for this, involving evidence of abuse or the risk of malicious claims. But is it too much to expect the Department for Education to spell these out?