GTC: confused, unloved and unconfident

6th February 2009 at 00:00
It should confine itself to the boring but respectable role of regulator

The desire of the General Teaching Council for England to extend its remit to independent schools is, on the face of it, reasonable. Imagine the reaction if private medicine, miffed by the General Medical Council's refusal to let it employ gifted amateurs to wield scalpels, decided it would henceforth go it alone. A mad scramble to sign up for Bupa cover? Most unlikely.

Its wish becomes even more understandable in the light of changes to teacher vetting. These will see only those who have committed sex offences or violence automatically barred, and so make it more important for independent schools to check whether teachers have been struck off by the GTC.

Why, then, the reluctance of those working in private education to join it? In a word, respect - or the lack of it. The GTC is not esteemed. It is dismissed, not totally coherently, as a joke, an irrelevance, an imposition, a disappointment and a busybody. It is unloved and painfully defensive. It is Reginald Perrin minus the irony; Heather Mills without the excuses; Eddie the Eagle without his skis. It is hapless. It aspires to raise the status of teaching as a profession while possessing very little stature of its own. It isn't working.

Almost none of this is its fault. Its chief executives have been competent, its composition rational, its intentions laudable. It is neither the lackey of government, nor a creature of the unions. And it isn't expensive, even with its increased annual subscription of Pounds 37. (A supremely confident GMC charges doctors Pounds 400 a year.) Many criticisms levelled at the GTC are a consequence of its legitimate duty to slap wrists and uphold standards. They are often unwarranted: regulators are seldom popular.

After 150 years' gestation, birth was always going to be difficult. But the GTC's mission since its establishment eight years ago has grown muddled and its ambitions too great. Its remit - to police the profession and give it a voice - is contradictory. It is hard, if not impossible, to regulate and advocate. A watchdog's primary purpose is to defend; a campaigner's is to attack. The police have their federation and their authorities; doctors their association and their council. Teachers have their unions.

The GTC should clip its own wings, confine itself to the boring, predictable but eminently respectable world of regulation and leave the grandiose policy positions to others. Status becomes implicit; there would be no need for a public and self-defeating quest to attain it.

Teachers need an overarching, independent, regulatory body that defines entry qualifications, establishes a code of conduct (that isn't gratuitously draconian), nurtures good practice and sorts out all those who do not adhere to any of the above. To argue against a GTC with that modest remit is to accept that teaching can be ad hoc, amateurish, will-o'-the-wisp. That prospect should appal all teachers, state and private. The fact that it doesn't speaks volumes.

Gerard Kelly, Editor E

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