Fury grows over new GTCW code

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Proposals for English-style reforms incur wrath of unions

Proposals for a professional code of conduct for teachers in Wales have been attacked by unions as "flawed", "disturbing" and "demeaning".

Launching a major consultation this week, the General Teaching Council for Wales said the code would make clear to teachers exactly what is expected of them by the profession and society as a whole.

Writing in today's TES Cymru, GTCW chief executive Gary Brace said Wales was the only UK nation without a code of this type, and it was essential that minimum standards were clearly laid out.

But the draft document provoked an immediate backlash from teaching unions, several of which questioned the need for a new code.

The NASUWT said it would campaign to scrap the code following similar action in England, where thousands of its members signed a petition earlier this summer.

There was general agreement among unions that the GTCW's proposals were too prescriptive and offered no help or support to teachers.

Both NUT Cymru and the NASUWT called the code "patronising" while ATL Cymru and NAHT Cymru said its tone was "accusatory."

A shared concern among the unions is the duty the code places on teachers to "uphold public trust and confidence in the teaching profession". They say that teachers should be expected only to "maintain professional boundaries" both in and out of school.

They argue that the new code imposes unacceptably high standards on teachers and intrudes unnecessarily into their private lives.

ATL Cymru director Dr Philip Dixon said the document was flawed and would need a great deal more work before it would be acceptable to the profession.

"Instead of celebrating the conduct and professionalism of the vast majority of teachers the wording of the code implies that teachers need to be told to be honest, caring, and decent," he said.

David Evans, secretary of NUT Cymru, questioned what the GTCW hoped to achieve with the code as much of it was already contained in teachers' contracts.

"This is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," he said.

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, called the code "accusatory and unhelpful", and said unions could have helped create a more sensible document if they had been involved earlier.

Rex Philips, Wales organiser of the NASUWT, said it was a "step too far".

"It's patronising to teachers and demeans the profession. It could undermine public confidence. There will be those who use this against teachers as a stick to beat them with."

However Gareth Jones, secretary of ASCL Cymru, said that while the code could be improved in places it contained "sensible advice".

Defending the proposed code in today's TES Cymru, Gary Brace said: "It takes a common sense approach when it comes to outlining what behaviour is expected from teachers. It does not seek to place unreasonable expectations or burdens on teachers."

Mr Brace said concern over prying into teachers' private lives was a "misinterpretation" of the code.

"It goes without saying that teachers have a right to a private life, and GTCW whole-heartedly supports this. The question is when, and if, teachers do something illegal in their private life that constitutes criminal behaviour. When this line is crossed then it becomes a professional issue."

The GTCW had hoped that its efforts to engage in open consultation over the code would curry favour with the unions following a summer of negative headlines.

In April a pound;100,000 hole in the council's budget prompted it to ask Jane Hutt, the education minister, to increase the annual registration fee to teachers, just a year after it was controversially raised by pound;12 to pound;45.

Then in July it was heavily criticised for failing to consult over changes to disciplinary procedures, after which it became embroiled in an extraordinary public war of words with the NASUWT.

This was followed by revelations about the high costs of its unpopular disciplinary hearings and an above-inflation pay-rise for Mr Brace.

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