It is just over a year since the Government decided to axe England's General Teaching Council. Readers will recall that that decision was informed by extensive evidence-based research along the lines of: nobody likes it, what does it do anyway, we'll throw the unions a bone, good God is that the time? Unfortunately for ministers, popularity did not ensue, but an almighty mess did.
Eight months before the curtain finally closes on the unloved council, the number of disciplinary cases awaiting judgment has soared by 50 per cent, the Government is reduced to advertising for teachers to serve on Robespierre-inspired "conduct panels" and nobody has a clue about who or what should police the register of qualified teachers when the GTC disappears (page 8). Nothing has proved the need for an independent regulatory body more than the Government's premature and thoughtless abolition of the one they had.
To be sure, the GTC did not cover itself in glory. It was infamous for long-winded hearings, dodgy judgments and bureaucratic infill. Its pitifully short tally of disbarred teachers invited derision. To be fair, the council played a bad hand but was dealt an awful one. Its remit was never clear: was it supposed to advocate or regulate, to police or champion? And it was extremely unfortunate in its "friends". The teaching unions, sniffing a possible rival, succeeded in nobbling it at birth. But this sad tale should have led to reform not abolition.
The Government constantly tells teachers how professional it wants them to be. The word "professional", for instance, peppers the education white paper and exceeds mentions of "submit" and "do as you're told" by some margin. It is generally accepted that an essential part of any profession is the existence of a regulatory body that holds it to account and controls entry to it. Such a body is always independent of government and while informed and paid for by the profession is not in hock to it. The General Medical Council puts its duty succinctly: "We are not here to protect the medical profession - their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect patients." And it charges doctors an annual fee of #163;420 for the privilege.
If the Government is serious about making teaching more professional it cannot treat it like some wayward adolescent and appoint a guardian. It has to legislate to allow teachers to have an independent body of their own free of it and the unions. And if teachers want to see their profession treated with enhanced respect they must accept a tough watchdog paid for by them to protect the public. To say, in effect, "We're big enough to look after ourselves."
Autonomy does not come cheap but in the long run it's a lot less expensive than infantilised dependence.