Education split as Gove scraps GTC England
The education establishment in England is divided over Education Secretary Michael Gove's announcement last week that he is to abolish the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE).
Heads' leaders and classroom unions were split over news that the council would become the third education quango to be scrapped by the coalition Government at Westminster. Last week, Becta, the schools ICT agency, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency were axed.
The GTCE has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks, particularly following its decision to allow BNP teacher Adam Walker to return to the classroom, despite using a school computer to describe immigrants as "savages" when he should have been supervising pupils.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Gove said he had listened to the profession and had been persuaded by the professionals to abolish the body.
"The GTCE takes pound;36.50 from every teacher and many of them have told me it gives them almost nothing in return," Mr Gove said.
"The GTCE does not improve classroom practice, does not help professionals develop, does not help children learn - in short, it does not earn its keep, so it must go."
The Education Secretary added that when professionals "dishonour the vocation of teachers", action must be taken. "When the GTCE was recently asked to rule on a BNP teacher who had posted poisonous filth on an extremist website, it concluded that his description of immigrants as animals wasn't racist so he couldn't be struck off," he said.
"We need new proposals to ensure that extremism has no place in our classrooms and the bodies that have failed to protect us in the past cannot be the answer in the future."
The decision was welcomed by the teaching union NASUWT. The union said it would go down well with teachers, claiming that "it has been failing to get respect from the profession". But it warned that GTCE powers must not be handed to "schools and employers".
The National Union of Teachers said teachers should be consulted on whether a professional council should be retained. General secretary Christine Blower said: "Under the GTCE, teachers now feel over- scrutinised. Last year's `code of conduct' was a worrying development, encompassing activities and behaviour outside of work. It sought to turn aspirations for best practice into rules.
"Any replacement for the GTCE needs to distance itself from the belief that a watchdog can also reserve the right to make intrusive judgments on teachers' personal lives."
But the move was criticised by heads' unions, which claimed the right decision would have been to reform the body. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The future for schools is about self-regulation. There needs to be a debate about what role the GTCE plays in that. It has been hampered in extending that role and, personally, I'm disappointed to see it abolished. I want to see what will be in its place."
Martin Ward, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed, adding that the GTCE carried out a number of useful roles. "Some aspects have been disappointing but we would like there to be a GTC (in England) and most of our members would be sorry to see it go," he said.
The GTCE came out fighting. In a statement, it said: "We are seeking legal advice on our position and will be seeking urgent clarification from ministers and Department for Education officials on the implications of (the) announcement for the GTCE's work over the next period and for its staff and members."
The response from Scotland's Education Secretary Michael Russell was a staunch defence of the GTC Scotland. He said it was "a key, well-respected body" to which the Scottish Government was committed by enhancing its status through granting it full independence.