Editorial - Why a bigger GTCW might be better, too

13th August 2010 at 01:00
An expanded teaching council in Wales could trump its fellow British counterparts

At first glance, the idea that the General Teaching Council for Wales wants to double the size of its empire seems immense hubris.

Its sister quango in England has already been told it will be axed, and officials in Wales are on the look-out for public sector bodies they can cut back, too. So now might seem a reckless time for the GTCW to try expanding its remit. By taking on responsibility for the 30,000 college lecturers and classroom assistants who come into contact with children, it would force the Government to double how much it spends on subsidising registration fees - an expensive prospect.

The council also risks upsetting a certain group of teachers: those who fear their jobs are being taken by untrained teaching assistants. This group, many of whom have lost supply work, has been growing increasingly vocal and bitter in recent years. Wasn't the GTCW supposed to protect the professionalism of teachers? Isn't the word "Teaching" in its title a clue?

And yet the idea is not without merit. In England, a separate council, the Institute for Learning, was set up to cover the registration of FE lecturers. So far it has made little apparent impact, only investigating a handful of disciplinary cases in the last year. Wales could well do better with a single body to cover teachers and lecturers, and that would certainly appeal to those searching for efficiency savings.

Perhaps more importantly, a single body would show that Wales recognises how schools have changed. The 14-to-19 phase is already more flexible here, partly thanks to developments such as the Learning Pathways and the Bac, with the line blurring between FE and traditional secondary education.

Registering learning support assistants would prove more controversial, but their inclusion would also reflect the changes schools have seen. And is it fair that teaching assistants do not have to adhere to the same standards of behaviour as teachers? Under the current system a teacher who makes a misjudged comment to a pupil risks a disciplinary tribunal while a teaching assistant in the same classroom could say - and do - far worse without it affecting their career at all.

The TES described the case for teaching councils back in 1911, suggesting there was demand for them because a lack of knowledge about education's "true aims and methods, lack of interest in its procedure, the qualification and renumeration of teachers, or in the quality of teaching given, are manifest everywhere in ordinary society". That remains true today. And while the GTCE seems doomed, that does not mean Wales'council has to go the same way.

The GTCW has often been at its best when it has taken a different path from its counterpart in England - notably over the code of conduct, which was better handled here. Its more inclusive approach to registration, if realised, might one day become a model for England and Scotland. With these challenges ahead, we wish Angela Jardine, the new GTCW chair, luck. She's going to need it.

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

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