Gove's haste to axe GTC greeted with disquiet
The clearing of Adam Walker - a BNP supporter who called immigrants "savages" and "filth" - appears to have been the final straw.
Already deeply unpopular with large swathes of the profession, the decision of the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) to allow Mr Walker to return to teaching rang alarm bells in Whitehall.
Speaking last week of his decision to scrap the GTC, Education Secretary Michael Gove cited Mr Walker's case as an example of why the regulator has to go. In a damning verdict, he said it "gives teachers almost nothing" and "does little to raise teaching standards or professionalism".
Many teachers will welcome the body's demise, but Mr Gove's shock announcement has caused concern about what will replace it. It also raises the question of why the GTC failed to win the hearts and minds of the profession it is supposed to represent.
What is immediately clear is that getting rid of the GTC is not part of Mr Gove's "bonfire of the quangos" in a bid to save cash.
Asked in Parliament how much getting rid of the council would save, Mr Gove was unable to provide an answer, conceding that many of the registration and regulatory duties carried out by the GTC will have to continue, possibly divided between the Government and other agencies.
And the GTC will not surrender without a fight. Nobody in Government informed it of the decision, prompting a statement that it would be seeking legal advice.
Speaking to The TES this week, Keith Bartley, the GTC's chief executive, said: "It's difficult to understand what made the secretary of state come to this unexpected decision. We are shocked and bewildered, and trying to come to terms with how we can operate under threat - without anyone telling us why this threat has been made."
Mr Gove says he has "long been sceptical" about the body and has been "persuaded" to scrap it by teaching unions. They have angrily denied this - also rejecting the theory that the axing was designed to be a sweetener ahead of other education reforms.
Union bosses have warned teachers not to be "seduced" by the supposed olive branch - which comes in the wake of Mr Gove's plans to overhaul the state education system by encouraging more schools to become academies. "I hope Michael Gove doesn't think this decision will mean he will get an easy ride when he tries to bring in academies and free schools - teachers can't be bought off that easily," says Chris Keates, general secretary at teaching union the NASUWT.
"These kinds of decisions shouldn't be taken in such haste: you can scrap something without reviewing its functions, but in the cold light of day you find someone still has to do them."
The idea of individual schools running their own disciplinary cases concerns the unions. Their leaders want a new body to carry out teacher regulation, based on the structure of the respected General Medical Council or the Law Society. But the idea of a "Royal College of Teachers" has already been rejected by the Conservatives.
"Rather than have outright abolition, all teachers ought to be consulted on whether they believe a professional council for teachers should be maintained," says Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT. "What we cannot have, however, is a council which is at the whims of any secretary of state."
A constant cause of complaint has been the way the GTC is funded, with state school teachers obliged to pay #163;36.50 a year to register. That the Government gives them #163;33 towards the cost has never fully satisfied the council's detractors.
Another criticism is the range of functions the GTC carries out, which include research and professional development for teachers. These are seen as diverting attention from the disciplinary role. The code of conduct, introduced last year, is widely unpopular and is seen as prying into teachers' private lives.
Even the GTC's own research, published earlier this year, found the council lacks the backing of teachers and is seen as being "too large and unwieldy".
There has been more support for its work regulating poorly performing and seriously misbehaving teachers, but even here the GTC has had problems.
Between 2001 and the end of October 2008, just 153 cases of incompetence were referred to the GTC, and only 59 were heard. Cases are meant to be dealt with within 43 weeks but the average length of time for a case to finish is 60 weeks, often leaving teachers' careers in limbo.
A case in point is John Davies, who took almost three years to clear his name.
The former head of Swinford Manor, a residential special school in Ashford, Kent, had already been exonerated by police and paid damages by the council, which falsely accused him of charges including restraining a child in a headlock and sending pupils on cross-country runs as punishment.
Two years on, Mr Davies is still angry about the way his GTC case was handled. He waited 18 months for his hearing to begin, only to have it cancelled because of a staff training day. But he supports the GTC in some of its other work. "I feel it does help people. It gives us an independent forum, the chance to have a fair and impartial hearing, and it gives teachers a voice to defend themselves," he says.
Max Hyde, an NUT member of the GTC's council, says the fact that the body has had to work alongside a highly unionised workforce means there "were always going to be tensions". "Of course it felt like an imposition when it was introduced - teachers had worked for a long time without it," she says. "There's a lot of work the GTC does which is very important - equality and diversity and lobbying."
John Rimmer, another member of the council, wonders how any successor will be able to carve its own niche. "There are enough safeguards in education now - we've got Ofsted, in-school capability and disciplinary procedures. There are so many robust controls already," he says.
The final demise of the GTC will require legislation, which is not expected to be passed until autumn. Until then hearings will go on, while behind the scenes Department for Education officials plan the winding-up process.
More than 100 teachers have yet to have their case heard by the GTC. "There are a lot of cases pending. The worry is teachers will try to postpone them because they think they won't have to face a disciplinary panel in the future," says Mrs Hyde. "The whole system could end up in chaos."
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
The idea of a council for teachers was discussed for more than a century before the last Labour government set up the GTC in England and Wales. It was established by the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 to "maintain and improve standards of professional conduct among teachers".
The GTC, which has offices in London and Birmingham (pictured), was founded in 2000 and heard its first disciplinary case in 2003.
The General Teaching Council for Scotland was set up in 1965 and was one of the first such regulatory bodies for teaching in the world.