Gove's GTC chop splits education

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Registration body comes out fighting as Education Secretary damns it for giving `teachers almost nothing'

The education establishment was divided this week after Education Secretary Michael Gove announced he will abolish the General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

Heads' leaders and classroom unions were split over news that the registration body would become the third education quango to be scrapped by the coalition Government. Last week, Becta, the schools ICT agency, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency were axed.

The GTC 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 "filth" and "savages" when he should have been supervising pupils.

But the organisation has indicated it will fight the decision, stating that it is seeking legal advice.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Gove said that he had listened to the profession and had been persuaded by the professionals to abolish the body.

"The GTC 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 GTC 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 GTC 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," Mr Gove 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 teaching union the NASUWT, which added that it would go down well with teachers, but it warned that GTC powers must not be handed to "schools and employers".

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "I have no doubt that the Secretary of State's decision would be completely welcomed by teachers. We have been warning the GTC that it has been failing to get respect from the profession.

"But we must be sure its abolition doesn't become a mixed blessing. There are functions that must not be given to schools and employers, such as induction appeals and reviews of conduct. There must be a body that carries out these functions fairly."

Teaching union the NUT said teachers should be consulted on whether a professional council should be retained. General secretary Christine Blower said: "Under the GTC, 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 GTC needs to distance itself from the belief that a watchdog can also reserve the right to make intrusive judgments on teachers' personal lives.

"If we are to achieve the holy grail of evidence-based policy making, free from political interference, there would be merit in looking at the recent proposal for a chief education officer along the lines of the chief science and medical officer."

However, 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 NAHT, said: "I think this is a very bad idea, the profession fought for years to get a GTC.

"The future for schools is about self-regulation. There needs to be a debate about what role the GTC plays in that for schools. I think it has been hampered in extending that role and, personally, I'm disappointed to see the GTC abolished and 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 GTC carried out a number of useful roles.

"Some aspects have been disappointing but we would still like there to be a GTC and most of our members would be sorry to see it go," he said.

The GTC came out fighting. In a statement on Wednesday it said: "The GTC was created by Parliament to work in the public interest to improve standards of professional conduct among teachers, to contribute to raising standards of teaching and learning and to raise the standing of the teaching profession.

"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 today's announcement for the GTC's work over the next period and for its staff and members."

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