GTC given whip hand

16th July 1999 at 01:00
Education Bill backs new powers to strike incompetent teachers from the register

THE General Teaching Council has reached a significant milestone in its 10 year campaign to have new powers over teacher competence and professionalism. But fears of an erosion of teacher influence on the council have proved groundless.

Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, announced on Wednesday that the forthcoming Education Bill would enable the GTC to strike off teachers dismissed by an education authority for incompetence. Their names will be passed automatically to the council which will record it in the register even where the individual is not struck off, to act as a check if they try to take up a teaching post elsewhere.

The Bill will also grant powers over continuing professional development (CPD). But these will be advisory, particularly in developing a new national framework of teaching standards. Teachers will, however, have to make annual returns on their CPD activities, which will then be made available through the register.

The GTC has not persuaded ministers that it should accredit staff development or in-service courses, but the case for doing so will be reviewed within five years. Significantly, ministers propose to open the door by taking fast-track powers which will allow them to confer new functions on the GTC by regulation rather than primary legislation.

Mr Galbraith commented: "Professional development does not end after initial training and the GTC has an important role to play in improving teachers' continuing professional development.

"In the case of the small number of teachers who do not meet the necessary standard, I believe it is right that the GTC should be able to consider whether they should be allowed to remain in the profession."

Ivor Sutherland, the GTC registrar, said: "We are delighted to be involved in CPD although a bit disappointed not to have a role in accrediting post-qualifying courses. The arrangements for deregistering incompetent teachers are sensible, although great care will have to be taken over standards of proof."

These changes, which are accompanied by a shake-up in the composition and structure of the 49-strong body, sweep aside the reservations of directors and leading councillors who argued vigorously that any major extension of the GTC's powers would undermine their responsibilities as employers of teachers.

The GTC has countered that a body seen as the "gatekeeper" to the profession is seriously weakened if it is only allowed to intervene during the probationary period or in cases of "infamous" professional misconduct.

Ministers believe they have achieved the right balance between the competing views, particularly in ensuring that the GTC can only strike off teachers for incompetence after they have been dismissed by their authority.

The Scottish Executive's proposals, which are out for consultation until October 31, also take care to define the grounds for dismissal. The document makes clear that the council's new powers "will be concerned with evidence of general incompetence as a teacher, such as to warrant removal of or attaching sanctions to registration, rather than inadequate performance in a specific post".

The unions' generally appreciative reaction suggests they are perfectly comfortable with a body in which they are the majority. The Educational Institute of Scotland endorsed the main changes as did the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

Keir Bloomer, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Education, also suggested that the measures provide "an appropriate locus" for the GTC while recognising that the local authorities are the employers.

But Brian Monteith, the Tories' education spokesman, who is a former media consultant to the GTC, criticised the decision to leave the initiative on dismissing incompetent teachers with the local authorities.

"Patients can raise concerns about their doctor's incompetence with the General Medical Council," Mr Monteith said. "Why can't parents raise issues of teacher incompetence with the General Teaching Council?"

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