Letters extra: General Teaching Council

9th February 2001 at 00:00
The best way forward

Lord Puttnam is surprised by the "somewhat negative" reaction of teachers to the idea of professional development as a condition of employment (TES, January 19).

One may sympathise with those who have been on the receiving end of the bright ideas of successive secretaries of state from Baker to Blunkett, if they don't show instant enthusiasm for this latest initiative. But the profession urgently needs to move away from past traumas and to start seeing itself as others, particularly the government, sees it.

To help this process along, I now quote from Michael Barber's 'The Learning Game' published in 1996: "The salvation of the education system depends on the subtle relationship between schools taking responsibility for their own improvement, and government creating a climate and context within which they are encouraged to improve themselves .... It is not yet clear that the education service is psychologically ready to take full responsibility for its own improvement."

The key sentence is the last one. The evidence is that Barber, and hence one may well argue, the Government has not yet changed its mind. Lack of interest in professional development won't help, of course.

The Bridgebuilder project is currently dedicated to easing the situation of mutual incomprehension - and hence mistrust - that exists between teachers and government. We recently had the opportunity to put to the leaders of one of the professional associations a scheme for dealing with this malign condition. The offer has not been taken up. Yet it was the burden of over-control which led the association to talk to us, and the same burden will continue until the government comes to believe it is dealing with a profession with a commitment to educational development.

Perhaps it isn't teachers' leaders who are best placed to initiate the necessary changes, but classroom teachers themselves. Approaching the problem from this angle, we offer three short messages for headteachers:
1 Create a climate within the school where innovations leading to improved teaching and learning are encouraged. Some schools already do a fine job in this respect but it would be helpful if more could join them.

2 Take every opportunity to celebrate such innovations. Make sure they are valued within the school community and also make sure that their existence is brought to the notice of government, for example through school improvement plans.

A significant factor in the current situation, we are convinced, is the poor awareness within the profession of the best academic literature. Read Michael Fullan or David Hargreaves, for instance, and you won't find the iron-fisted dogma favoured by the Government, but hard-headed suggestions for making things better, coupled with insights which would provide professionals with better arguments than they currently deploy, to combat excessive top-downism.

So, our final message is:
3 Professional development offers opportunities for schools to become aware of the leading arguments being made by academics. In particular, read Michael Barber's The Learning Game , if you want to understand what really matters to the present Government. Subscribe to that and they will loosen their grip, we believe.

Endorsing "what really matters" to the Government does not mean saying "yes" to every initiative that comes along. It means saying "yes" to a commitment to providing the best education possible for our children.

Opinions will differ about what constitutes that "best" and how to bring this about, but the overall aim, surely, is shared by government and profession alike. It is from this position that the profession should argue its case.

Hamish Preston
Director Bridgebuilder
42 Oaklands Hamilton Road

The true meaning of GTC

Can I be the only one totally livid at the recent glossy brochure from the General Teaching Council. The brochure states on the front cover what the GTC 'will mean to you'. The back page tells me exactly what it will mean. I am expected to pay for this talking shop.

Tony Blair wanted this GTC, he never asked me, so he can pay for it, because I don't intend to. Why should we give up any of our meagre, hard-earned salary to pay for something which will be of no benefit? The argument equating teachers with doctors and lawyers is totally spurious. What teacher determines his or her own pay, terms and conditions, clients and working times as do lawyers and doctors? When were we ever consulted? Is this not a democratic country? Is this just another case of teachers being taken for mugs and ridden rough shod over?

If Tony Blair wants to raise the status of teachers I suggest he starts by giving us a 25 per cent pay rise (like MPs), followed quickly by another.

I hope others will e-mail GTC with their views and write to their MPs.

Steve Muscroft
8 Oaks Farm Drive

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