GTCS: all things to all teachers?

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Professional regulators like the General Teaching Council for Scotland are necessary evils

Professional regulators like the General Teaching Council for Scotland are necessary evils. They exist to protect the professions from those members whose flaws are manifested in foolish, feckless or even criminal behaviour or whose standards of performance are irrecoverably poor.

The GTCS is also accountable to the wider public and to democratically- elected Scottish governments, but it is funded entirely by the teachers over whom it exercises its writ. It relies on an acceptance, however grudging among teachers, that it exerts its powers on their behalf and in their collective interest.

Any professional regulator which fails to negotiate these competing fields of gravity will inevitably be tainted and will not be long for this world. Yes, that was a reference to the GTC England, which has been consigned to the recycling bin and will be little mourned by teachers down south who never accepted its independence and resented that it had been imposed by government.

The GTCS scratches on a rather different midden. It has been cock of the walk for nearly 50 years. It has enjoyed the kind of qualified support from teachers and teaching unions which the GTCE could only have dreamed of. This has been partly because the unions have been able to ensure the election of their own "slates" to the council. However, in the past, successful candidates have also managed to avoid being mere puppets of their sponsors and were capable of acting independently and in the wider public interest. It was the teacher representatives on the disciplinary committee on which I served who were most critical of their peers, while lay members were more sympathetic.

The GTCS has also begun a number of positive intiatives of direct benefit to teachers, such as teacher research grants. Other initiatives which were controversial, such as the code of conduct, have been accepted by the huge majority of Scotland's teachers as sensible and balanced. Finally, the GTCS now has a crucial role in the probationary teacher scheme, both in its administration and in providing a locus for appeals.

That was then. Recent developments have undermined the credibility of the GTCS among teachers whose subscriptions fund it.

We have seen the appointment of a more assertive chief executive. Tony Finn also has "history". He served on previous councils as a candidate supported by the Educational Institute of Scotland. His appointment could call into question the independence of the council and its officers.

Even the GTCS "glossy" bears something of a resemblance to the EIS journal. The most recent issue purports to examine Curriculum for Excellence from a range of perspectives but, despite the concerns voiced by many teachers, and secondary teachers in particular, none of the contributions are critical of any aspect of CfE.

The final straw has been the less-than cautious manner in which the new convener of the GTCS welcomed the Scottish Government's "invitation" to develop a system of "re-accreditation" for teachers. This was too much even for the EIS, which was far more guarded in its response, and rightly so.

There will be those who suggest these views are dictated by my trade union background. That may be true, but it does not invalidate concerns which are shared by teachers who are not members of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

The GTCS must be seen by teachers as operating on behalf of them all, regardless of sector or trade union affiliation, and it must reflect the plurality of opinions held by teachers. Genuine independence presupposes that there will be open debate on the council, which should lead to policy being set by its members, not salaried officials.

Peter Wright is president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

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