TEACHERS could be struck off the professional register following complaints of incompetence by parents, ministers confirmed this week.
The Government will consult England's General Teaching Council on a plan to investigate parental complaints even if a headteacher decided not to take any disciplinary action.
If the GTC found against the teacher, the teacher would be barred from the profession.
The plan, which would come into effect after the general election, is likely to put ministers on a collision course with GTC chief executive, Carol Adams.
She said: "We are not a body of parental complaint.
"Our role will be to consider cases referred to us by employers after employment law has already been followed to its conclusion."
A Department for Education and Employment spokesman confirmed that, in its first year, the council would consider only cases of incompetence and misconduct referred to it by employers.
But he said the GTC would be asked in March 2002 for its views on a number of issues including competency procedures.
"One of those elements will be providing for the investigation of complaints made by parents or others who are not employers," he said.
Niel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said parents could already complain to a teacher's employer.
The Government's proposal effectively treated teachers on a par with self-employed professionals.
He said: "Teachers are going to be aghast at this, and they
will be asking themselves if they were sold the GTC on a false premise.
"They were never led to believe that they would be losing their employment status and exposed to people like parents and members of the public, who already can complain to an employer.
"There are already 30 systems for holding teachers accountable. Is this to be the 31st?"
In Scotland, which has had a GTC since the 1960s, the issue of direct parental complaints to the council was widely raised during consultation on the current education Bill.
A GTC for Scotland spokeswoman said: "Parliament has ruled it out at this stage, but it's expected that there may be some movement on it in the future."
The General Medical Council, currently under fire from doctors over its handling of a number of high-profile disciplinary cases, can consider complaints directly from patients.