A High Court ruling says ballot exclusion due to computer error is not 'unfair'. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.
A deputy head who claimed she was unfairly barred from elections to England's General Teaching Council after a computer error failed in a High Court bid this week to get the decision overturned.
Marilyn Harrop, of Ryhope junior, Sunderland, challenged the GTCE's decision to reject her nomination after she failed to pay the pound;28 subscription fee.
The case threatened to scupper the start of the election for the GTCE's Council, which begins today.
Only 86 candidates are contesting the 25 teacher seats in the ballot, compared with the 207 who stood four years ago.
Ms Harrop told the court she had done all she could to pay the fee, setting up a direct debit so that the cash would be deducted straight from her salary.
Mr Justice Gibbs agreed there was "no doubt" Ms Harrop believed she had paid the fee and had been surprised when her election nomination was turned down.
The judge said "IT failure" resulted in the payment not going through and her subsequent de-registration early last year. "It should be stressed that she was wholly unaware of such problems," he said.
Carol Adams, the GTCE's chief executive, said after the ruling: "We are very pleased to have confirmation that our election scheme was properly constituted and that we are entitled to require that teachers standing for election to the council have fulfilled their statutory obligation to pay the registration fee."
The GTCE and the National Union of Teachers, which represented Ms Harrop, are believed to have come to a deal over the costs, with the union agreeing to pay pound;22,000 of the pound;28,000 total.
The low number of nominations to the ballot suggests that interest in the GTCE is waning.
In one category, that of secondary headteacher, Ralph Ullman of fee-charging Wellingborough school in Northamptonshire, has already been returned unopposed as the only candidate. No state heads put their name forward for the ballot.
Mr Ullman said: "You could have knocked me down with a feather when I realised no state secondary heads were standing. By standing myself I wanted to show the independent sector had an interest in the GTCE."
A total of 32 primary teachers are standing for election to 11 seats, while 45 secondary teachers are contesting the 11 seats in that category.
Four primary heads and four special school heads are standing for a seat in their respective groups.
Ms Adams said: "The falling number is only to be expected. Four years ago there was a lot of curiosity. Now people know that it can be time-consuming."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the low number of candidates was "a commentary by heads and teachers on the GTCE". He added: "It is not seen as an attractive or relevant organisation and teachers believe they have a more important job to do in schools."
In 2000, in the first ballot to the GTCE, there were 47 primary candidates and 134 from secondary schools.
The primary heads category was contested by 13 nominees, with six secondary heads and seven heads from special schools vying for seats.
A further 17 members of the council are nominated by other bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission and the National Governors' Council.
The Secretary of State has the right to appoint another 13 people through the public appointments process.
Judy Moorhouse, one of the nominees from the National Union of Teachers, who is being returned to the GTCE for a second term, said: "I am not surprised there are fewer nominations.
"The council will say that teachers should expect to devote 20 days a year to the GTCE but in fact it is closer to 30 days overall, which is a big commitment."
The list of candidates has been sent to all members, with personal statements. However, the council refused to give further details, for example where they teach.
The GTCE is the regulatory and disciplinary body for the teaching profession in England and was set up by the 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act.
Voting in the General Teaching Council for Wales elections has already begun. Twenty-eight candidates are standing for 12 places in three categories: secondary, primary, and heads and deputies. Voting in Wales closes on February 27, and results are expected on March 5.
CANDIDATES FOR THIS YEAR'S ELECTIONS
The candidates in this year's GTCE elections are: Primary teacher:
Tamsin Austoni, Paul Bird, Sarah Bowie, Peter Britcliffe, Paul Burford, Janis Butler, Patricia Castro, Christopher Chappell, Philip Cole, Richard Cullen, Anthony Cuthbert, Liz Day, Christine Green, Frances Harris, Tina Hart, Jude Hearn, Ray Holland, Derek Johns, Misbah Mann, Lindsey McGinley, Sheila Mountain, Jonathan Nelson, Katrina Nichols, Jason Nicolaides, Karen Norman, Alex Parker, John Peebles, Tony Reynolds, Philip Sharrock, Eric Skyte, David Storrie and Paul Vale.
Fiona Allen, Debra Bailey, John Stevens and Pete Strauss.
Secondary teacher: Martin Allen, Adrian Attwood, Anthony Bell, Terence Bladen, Nigel Bowler, Peter Butler, Richard Catford, Ronald Clooney, Andrew Connell, Bryan Cook, Peter Cooper, Geoffrey Dunn, Probir Dutta-Gupta, Brian Elliott, Christopher Embrey, Christopher Enright, Jim Fanning, Mark Foden, Colin Goffin, Anthony Handley, Nigel Henry, Barbara Hibbert, Terence Hindson, Andre Litowczuk, Brendan Mahoney, Pete McAleer, Daniel McCarthy, Dr Bulvinder Michael, Ann Moore, Margaret Morgan, Gail Mortimer, Dharamsingh Ramdany, John Rimmer, Alice Robinson, Michael Robinson, Peter Sheppard, Geoffrey Smith, Paul Summers, Colin Surrey, Danny Swan, Neil Taylor, Jason Wallace, Nicky Wedekind, Graham White and John Wilks.
Secondary head: Ralph Ullmann.
Special schools teacher : Richard Beeby, Allison Cave, David Dewhirst and Catherine Sutton.
For more information about the elections, visit www.gtce.org.ukelections.