Getting to know you;Career Development

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Meryl Thompson on the new responsibilities of the General Teaching Council

Fewer teachers are fam-iliar with the aims of the General Teaching Council than with the Government's proposals for "modernising" the profession. Yet from next year, the GTC will advise on induction and professional development, have a major advisory role on teacher training, and will have to be consulted by the Secretary of State on entry standards.

A key first task will be producing the code of practice to underpin its new responsibilities for deregistering teachers for unprofessional conduct and serious professional incompetence.

But how will the GTC become an authoritative professional voice influencing developments in the profession? It will certainly need to rectify the Green Paper's omissions in outlining a teaching career, for a profession is more than an amalgamation of careers.

The Green Paper's concept of career development is highly individualistic. The "framework" of professional standards provides "milestones" to show each teacher how every step in their training and development fits together throughout a career, from standards for qualified teacher status and induction, across the "performance threshold" and towards advanced skills status and headship.

Curiously, it ignores existing standards for special educational needs co-ordinators and specialists, and for subject leaders - all legitimate career aspirations. Mentoring, training and developing other teachers are also downplayed, despite the planned network of high-quality training schools, and the promised support and extra training for newly-qualified and fast-track teachers.

The GTC should have a key role not only in defining the hierarchy of professional standards but in outlining the career development needs and standards of those involved in enhancing their colleagues' skills.

Moreover, the Green Paper's key career development feature - the "performance threshold", offering a significant salary increase after five to seven years for high-performing teachers - assumes that not only "high levels" of competence but also high levels of professional achievement and commitment can be recognised and assessed.

Thus the GTC's code will be crucial in stating the values implicit in professional commitment - values broader than test-related outcomes - for this sort of commitment reflects "going deeper" into the fundamental purpose of what we do as educators (see Fullan and Hargreaves). It includes the care teachers show to combat social exclusion, to reach the almost unreachable and the contribution teachers make to social capital through developing citizenship and community-focused activities.

There must also be systematic discussion of the ethical basis of teaching, first across the profession, led by the GTC, and then in pre-service courses and throughout professional development - a dimension notably absent since the 1980s.

What, then, will the GTC require if it is to be an equal partner in career development?

* A chair who understands the nature of professional learning, and knowledge, its development and assessment. The holder of this post must have a deep philosophical appreciation of the purpose of education and be able to demonstrate consultative and persuasive skills on the key issues of standards and values.

* A chief officer who combines managerial skills with respect for the integrity of collective professional responsibility.

* Elected and nominated members who can see that professional careers are interdependent, that individual professional commitment is underpinned by collective professional values, and that future careers in teaching will be based on a clearer delineation of standards, increased specialisation, and greater diversity into outreach and inter-professional functions.

* Teachers who will elect only those with the necessary vision and capacity.

In short, the apogee of a career devoted to teaching should be election to, or distinguished service for, the GTC.

* 'What's Worth Fighting For in Education?' by A Hargreaves and M Fullan (1998), Open University.Meryl Thompson is head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' policy unit 24 Career development

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