Editorial - Frugality must be watchdog's watchword

8th May 2009 at 01:00
GTCW's plea for cash should not blind us to the benefits of being run from Wales

The General Teaching Council for Wales didn't win any popularity votes when it increased the registration fee for teachers last September (page 1).

At a time when England's GTC was also under fire for investigating large numbers of teachers for professional misconduct, the Welsh arm appeared to bite off the hand that fed it. So it is an ill-judged move by the GTCW to request that Jane Hutt, the education minister, waive the fee cap this year just as everyone else is making savings. But this plea smacks of sheer desperation; things must be bad if the council is asking for more money from teachers when their popularity is waning.

But does this dire financial situation mean the GTCW should be merged with the GTC, as the NASUWT teachers' union recently proposed? That is an entirely different question and not an easy one to call when teachers' jobs are on the line.

While the Welsh teaching profession can't be blamed for closing ranks over the fee hike - an act that hit them right in the pocket - there is a wider picture to consider. Not only could a merger be counterproductive, it could also leave teachers in Wales with less support.

Devolution has proved financially costly to Wales, but perhaps this is the price we must pay to determine our own future? Surely it is better to fork out Pounds 12 more than your English colleagues if it means being free from England's control?

Then there is the fact that a merger would not solve teachers' present grievances with the council's "over-zealous" regulatory remit in Wales. England's watchdog is also under attack for bringing teachers into "unnecessary" conduct hearings.

Of course, the role of the GTCW depends on your perspective. For those teachers who welcomed post-devolution education policy, it makes sense to have members on the doorstep who better understand the Welsh way in the classroom. To be supported by teachers and heads - retired or otherwise - who have worked in or led Welsh schools is surely a bonus. And that's not to patronise or demean GTC members, many of whom are well-briefed on Wales. But surely a council more in touch with schools this side of the border can advise better.

Then there are the training opportunities. Will they be watered down and less available for Welsh members if administered in England?

But for some critics, the extravagances of post-devolution Wales are too much to stomach and a powerful argument against devolution. The Assembly government knows this only too well, so is trying to avoid talking money.

Looking at the wider picture, however, it's hard not to conclude that, when it comes to teacher control, better Cardiff than London.

It seems the GTCW, like everyone else in the recession, will have to bide its time and be more frugal. It must carry on as an advisory body - even if in a diminished capacity - and build bridges with teachers who, after all, are its lifeblood.

It would be a pity if this latest saga led to renewed calls for a merger. Teachers need to keep their sense of perspective, but the GTCW must also cut its costs.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru E nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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