Editorial - Draft code of conduct needs a change in tone

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Patronising tenor of GTCW's provisional standards risks deepening a sense of distrust

Some teachers are horrified that the General Teaching Council for Wales is planning to haul them up for misdemeanours committed away from the classroom. This would be shocking if it were not for one itsy-bitsy fact: the GTCW has been doing that since it started.

Barely a week goes by without another teacher facing a tribunal for a crime that had nothing directly to do with their work in schools. In a typical case earlier this month, the council reprimanded a teacher from a Newport comprehensive for drunkenly snorting cocaine - not in the corner of the staffroom, or in sight of pupils, but in a different city, in the early hours of the morning, and in the middle of the summer holidays.

So why all the upset over the GTCW's new code of conduct?

Partly it is a matter of tone. As the unions have pointed out, the draft code can appear patronising and accusatory - nagging teachers, rather than celebrating their professionalism. It is frustrating enough when teachers are not trusted by parents and politicians. It is doubly frustrating when they do not seem trusted by the body they pay for, and which is supposed to stand up for their profession.

Two words, repeated throughout the document, are particularly irritating - "You should". The impact of these words becomes fully apparent only if you compare the code with the one recently approved for England's GTCE. Each section of the draft code for Wales begins, "As a registered teacher you should ... (do X)." England's code simply states that "Registered teachers ... (do X)." The latter is a statement of fact, a casual recognition that teachers do this already.

Professional teachers do not need to be told to avoid inappropriate relationships with pupils, or should not embezzle school funds to buy shoes. They know that.

When the draft code for England was published, unions were angered by a line stating teachers should "maintain standards of behaviour, both inside and outside school, that are appropriate". The Daily Mail summed up the concerns as: "Teachers moan that new code of conduct will stop them getting drunk at weekends."

On this area, the draft code for Wales is an improvement. It is not that it contains a you-may-get-drunk-at-weekends clause; rather, it puts the whole issue of teacher behaviour under the clear, capitalised heading of "Criminal Offences". Teachers are still expected to be mindful of their "position as a role model to pupils", but the bar set for their behaviour is that it be "lawful".

While some GTCW tribunal judgments can seem harsh, it does have a record of being relatively lenient about crimes unrelated to the classroom. But more debate is still needed about what the code should contain, and how it should be phrased, to ensure it does not become a stick to beat the profession.

Teachers with concerns about it will no doubt be visiting the GTCW's website over the next three months to contribute to the consultation. And they won't need a "You should" to make them.

Michael Shaw, TES Opinion Editor; E: michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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