GTC Scotland gives us a giggle

22nd October 2010 at 01:00

In the current climate of austerity and cuts, there are few opportunities in the public sector for genuine, side-splitting belly laughs.

So we should all be grateful to the chief executives of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and Wales for giving us a real corker.

In the wake of Education Secretary Michael Gove's promised abolition of the General Teaching Council for England, the two men have painted a terrifying picture. Scotland and Wales risk, they warn, being flooded with incompetent or banned teachers escaping from England. Loosened from their chains, these reprobates will, it seems, scarper across the border and bring utter chaos to Celtic teaching. Schools, clueless as to teachers' competence, will be sitting ducks for these incompetent entryists. How will the profession ever cope with the GTCE's abolition?

Mr Finn and Mr Brace, the respective chief executives, have short memories. There were incompetent teachers before the GTCs were established, there have been incompetent teachers since, and there will be incompetent teachers once the GTCE has disappeared. The GTCs have had almost no impact in rooting out such teachers. If that's the best the GTCE can come up with as a defence of its existence - and it is - then the sooner we revert to the status quo ante of 10 years ago, the better for the public finances.

Not that anyone should be surprised. The story of the council's establishment in England was an archetype of Labour in power and the clearest demonstration of the GTCE's pointlessness.

It was another idea which was fine in theory, as an attempt to inculcate a greater sense of professionalism, but a waste of time and money in practice, as no more than a talking shop.

David Blunkett championed the idea when he was Education Secretary in England, but its implementation fell to Stephen Byers, his deputy, who had almost no interest in it and wanted to get it out of the way with as little effort as possible.

The unions were determined to strangle at birth any idea of the GTCE as an alternative teaching voice, and demanded reserved seats on the body. Rather than rejecting them out of hand - the presence of union reps on a supposed professional body was inimical to its basic purpose - Byers, who had no intention of fighting a battle with the unions over an issue he couldn't care less about when he knew there were plenty of worthwhile fights to come - simply gave them what they wanted, thus negating from the start the council's intended purpose. From the outset, and not surprisingly, its line was identical to that of the unions.

There was a further flaw: any chance the GTCE might have had as a serious professional body was ruined, as one central figure put it to me, by "very poorly-drafted legislation". It is a Whitehall truism that officials resist establishing bodies with power that might dilute their own.

Although the GTCE was viewed by its champions within Blunkett's team as a counter-balance to the unions, it was never given the strength to act as such. Indeed, Byers's determination to establish it with the least cost to his political capital ensured that outcome from the start. And membership was voluntary, which meant that even if it had not suffered these flaws, it would lack credibility as a genuine professional body. So it was never seen as more than a minor player within education debates.

If the GTCE is as important as its defenders maintain, there is a simple solution. Carry on. But don't expect the taxpayer to pay for it. Get the teachers, who supposedly value it so highly, to pay for it themselves.

Stephen Pollard is editor of `The Jewish Chronicle' and author of `David Blunkett'.

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