Guardians of teaching standards slink away

30th March 2012 at 01:00
GTC closes after 10 years and just 89 incompetency cases

The General Teaching Council for England - which tomorrow will officially cease to exist - was formed a decade ago with major ambitions. It would, we were told, drive up teaching standards while simultaneously maintaining public confidence in the profession.

However, in the 10 years that it has been in existence, just 231 teachers have been reported to England's General Teaching Council because of incompetence, new figures show.

The GTC has long been a target of derision for many in the sector, especially the classroom unions. And when the last staffer leaves its headquarters in central London tomorrow, the organisation will become education's highest-profile contribution to the government's "bonfire of the quangos".

Announcing the decision to close the council not long after the formation of the coalition in 2010, education secretary Michael Gove said it gave teachers "almost nothing".

School leaders would in future take charge of tackling incompetence among their staff, he said, while only the most serious cases of professional misconduct would be dealt with by the GTC's successor, the Teaching Agency.

Figures released in the last weeks of the GTC's life show that in total 6,832 teachers were investigated for conduct, competency and other offences between 2001 and the end of February 2012.

However, just 89 teachers ended up facing disciplinary hearings because of incompetence during that time.

The reasons for this low number are open to debate, but research carried out by the National Centre for Social Research for the GTC in 2010 found that many heads didn't refer incompetent staff because they felt it was "pointless" and the range of punishments inappropriate.

Indeed, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that most headteachers had preferred to deal with issues of incompetence internally rather than involve the GTC.

"It's not always the case that they should be prohibited from teaching; often they are in the wrong job or can improve with extra training," he said.

Gill Stainthorpe, chair of the GTC's registration and regulation committee, said many competency cases referred to the council collapsed because of lack of evidence.

"Often the teacher is referred because they are not performing at the standard they should be, but that is not evidence and headteachers give us nothing to back up these claims," said Ms Stainthorpe, who is a representative of the ATL education union on the GTC's council.

"It's exceedingly difficult to make a judgement about competency. It's very subjective. We had to look at the whole case, not just the allegation made to us," she added.

Most cases - around 3,062 - referred to the GTC were for minor offences. Most of these were not serious or relevant enough to warrant further investigation. A total of 2,353 referrals for poor conduct were made.

Despite the low numbers, Gail Mortimer, chair of the GTC, said that she was "incredibly proud" of its regulatory achievements. "We've got the first comprehensive teaching register, we've built confidence in the profession and we know who is suitable and qualified to teach. I think this is remarkable," she said.

"We set up transparent procedures, which were in the public domain, and I'm pleased the Teaching Agency is using a similar model."

The first Teaching Agency disciplinary cases will start in May at its new headquarters in Coventry. So far, 173 cases have been transferred from the GTC, 47 still need to be investigated and 114 are ready for a hearing. All should be heard no later than March 2013.

Mr Lightman said he was "concerned" about the effect of possible delays on teachers.

"The interregnum caused by the transfer process could have a major impact on people's lives. It is stressful enough going through the disciplinary process," he said.

New guidance published by the Department for Education says "relevant" offences that will be considered by the Teaching Agency disciplinary panels include violence, terrorism, fraud or serious dishonesty, theft from a person and serious offences including alcohol or gambling.

However, offences not considered relevant include minor offences involving driving, alcohol or class B and C drugs, gambling and "isolated" minor cases of theft. These were meat and drink to the GTC, but they now fall under the remit of the head's office.


Reasons for referral to the GTC

Conduct - 2,353

Competence - 231

Minor offence - 3,062

Non-minor offence - 448

Total - 6,832

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