Engine of change in motion

25th July 1997 at 01:00
Stephen Byers, school standards minister, fleshes out the picture of the Government's proposed General Teaching Council

Teachers have a crucial role to play in our crusade to drive up school standards. Our White Paper, Excellence in Schools, published earlier this month, emphasises that good teaching is the key to high standards. We have promised teachers a new deal. There will be pressure to succeed, but it will be matched by support to do their job well and recognition and appreciation of their achievements.

That is why we intend to establish a General Teaching Council by 2000. There are already a range of national bodies, such as the General Medical Council and the Law Society, which set and maintain standards for their professions. By comparison, teachers have for too long now had too little say in how their profession develops. The GTC will enhance the status of the profession and promote teaching as a career.

Yesterday, we published a consultation document setting out a range of options on the GTC's role and how it might operate. I am appealing to all teachers - and anyone committed, like this Government, to high standards of teaching - to give us their views.

The council will be independent of central Government and we expect it to become a major new source of advice at a national level. It will need to work in partnership with other teaching bodies such as the Teacher Training Agency, the Office for Standards in Education, the School Teachers Review Body on pay and the Department for Education and Employment's Standards and Effectiveness Unit and Standards Task Force. We are keen to hear how you think this should work.

We envisage that the council will cover all teachers working in maintained schools, but we are seeking views on whether it might also cover nursery teachers and teachers in independent schools. Over time, it might also cover teaching staff in further and higher education.

The new body should be a General Teaching Council rather than a General Teachers' Council. We would expect the organisation to reflect the interests of not only teachers and headteachers but also teacher-trainers, parents and governors, business and industry, local education authorities, the churches, other education professionals and the wider community.

We would welcome views on how these interests should be reflected on the council and also on how we can ensure a balanced and representative membership. We will be discussing these issues with the teacher unions and others.

There will be an important role for the GTC in advising on how to ensure the quality and standards of all in the profession. This could involve the council in working alongside the Teacher Training Agency on standards of entry to the profession, and in working with the department on cases of barring teachers for misconduct.

We are asking for views on whether the council should be responsible for establishing and maintaining a national register of qualified teachers. There is also a case for the council's being responsible for drawing up, through consultation and consensus, clear, high standards of professional conduct.

The council will be able to offer an expert view on professional development and career progression for teachers. This must be a key part of its drive to establish teaching as a high-status profession. It could have a major role to play in helping us take forward the proposals in Excellence in Schools for better teacher training, more relevant qualifications, better induction, clearer appraisal, and a new Advanced Skills Teacher grade.

Our aim is to set up a professional body which will encourage all teachers to play their part in the challenging programme of reform mapped out in Excellence in Schools. The council must represent the highest professional standards and speak out where standards are not what they should be.

We are not interested in a talking shop for teachers or a body to defend the way things are. An effective council must be an engine for change and powerful driving force behind our new deal for teachers: expectations and pressure to succeed, matched by support and recognition for achievement.

We are committed to setting up a council and intend to legislate later this year to set the process in motion. But, as we draw up our plans, we want to ensure that there is wide agreement on what its role, status and functions should be. We will move forward at the right pace to ensure that the body has the confidence of those in the profession and beyond, that a sound framework has been set for its operation and that it has the necessary tools for the job. We envisage that the council would then assume responsibilities progressively over time.

From this brief outline, you can see how central the General Teaching Council will be to our plans to raise standards. Above all, I will look to the council to enhance the status of the teaching profession and restore morale.

With your help we can get it right and ensure that teaching becomes a profession based on high standards - through which it will achieve high status.

Stephen Byers MP is school standards minister. Copies of the full consultation paper are available from the DFEE Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ or by telephone on 0171 510 0150. It is also available on the Internet http:www.open.gov.ukdfeedfeehome.htm Comments should be sent by October 17, 1997 to: Sharon McHale, DFEE, Area 4P10, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT or by e-mail to info@dfee.gov.uk

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