At first I thought the GTC was a good idea, but these days I'm wondering if it does anything meaningful at all

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
So... what have the Romans ever done for us? Whoops, sorry, that's Monty Python. What I meant to say was: "What has the General Teaching Council ever done for us?" But come to think of it, isn't there a bit of Monty Python about the GTC? Hardly a week goes by without an item in The TES about some poor soul who's been hauled in front of it for getting inebriated on a plane and taking his trousers off, or going potty in the maths corner and eating the Dienes apparatus. Trouble is, that seems to be the main reason for the GTC's existence.

At first I thought the GTC was a good idea: a professional body to promote teachers and teaching. But these days I'm wondering if it does anything meaningful at all. It certainly spends the money - about pound;18 million a year - but how many teachers feel they're getting, to use Ofsted's beloved phrase, "value for money"? I don't know any either. No wonder so many teachers grumble about paying their subscriptions.

Several times a year, a pile of envelopes with the instantly recognisable purple logo lands on my desk. In the one addressed to me is, invariably, a wad of tedious documentation or a demand for my subscription, even when I've paid it. After a while, I stopped opening them.

Some time ago, I checked one to see if I was missing anything important, and found a booklet called The Learning Conversation. I flicked through it with mounting astonishment. The GTC, it seems, has discovered a new tool for professional development. Teachers can learn a lot about their trade from talking to each other!

Now hold it there for a moment. When I was a young teacher, brimful of enthusiasm, I knew I had a lot to learn. What did I do? I found the best practitioners on the staff and spent hours chatting with them.

How did they organise their classrooms so effectively? How did they keep children so purposefully quiet and absorbed? How did they arrange their time so that all the children could have the individual attention they needed? Isn't that what all good teachers do?

We talked, discussed, debated, argued. Hasn't it always been a feature of the job?

Teaching is such an endlessly fascinating profession it makes us continually seek better ways to educate our children, and there surely can't be a teacher in the land who'd disagree with that.

Back to that booklet: the more I read, the more ridiculous it became. A learning conversation, it said, may take place with a fellow teacher, an inspiring manager or even with a pupil. Fancy that! And a learning conversation "can even take place in the staffroom at the end of the day".

Extraordinary.

Presumably though, Mrs Jones complaining loudly in the staffroom about the little sod who keeps breaking wind during PE wouldn't qualify as a proper learning conversation.

By page five, we're into jargon, and we have met the "check in, check out"

approach. Apparently, this means that staff meet and "check-in" their daily pressures, known as baggage. Then they have a learning conversation, and sum up what they've learned at check-out time.

With me so far? Well, next up is the "double loop" method, whereby those in conversation ask big questions like: "Where are we going, and why?"

I would have thought any half-decent school would already be doing this, though I suppose it's much more impressive to say: "Yes, we're targeting staff cohesion with a double-looped check-out this week."

I don't think I'll open any more GTC envelopes for a while. It's too depressing. I'll just add mine to the growing pile of stuff in Pseud's Corner.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.

Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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