Look north for a worthy model
English teachers are used to looking at their Scottish colleagues through green-tinted spectacles. They peer enviously northwards at a promised land where teachers are respected, staff shortages are unknown, the comprehensive system seems to work, and the profession is so attractive that students scramble for places on over-subscribed training courses. A place where teachers are considered adult enough to police themselves through their own General Teaching Council.
Although this image is exaggerated, the GTC naturally likes to claim some of the credit for it. Ivor Sutherland, registrar (equivalent to chief executive) for the past 12 years, is keen to remind people that when the Scottish GTC was set up in 1966 "there were teacher shortages, morale was low, status was low, there was a feeling of powerlessness, of not being valued by society, there were general concerns over standards in schools and worries about the use of unqualified staff to fill gaps".
Sounds familiar? Ivor Sutherland is convinced that there are parallels between Scotland in 1966 and England in 1997, but he is disappointed by aspects of the plans for the English GTC, published by the Government last week.
His biggest reservation is over the decision to preserve the Teacher Training Agency's control over the quality and funding of initial teacher training. In Scotland, the GTC is responsible for accrediting all ITT courses, with the money coming via the Higher Education Funding Council. The GTC also has the right to inspect courses, and is responsible for giving the stamp of approval to all teachers after a two-year probation period. It is illegal in Scotland to employ an un-registered teacher (although this does not apply to further education). Teacher trainers must also be registered with the council.
"If you take control of teacher education away, the council will be emasculated. I would be looking at ways of removing the TTA and giving some of its powers to the GTC." He points out that the Dearing inquiry found evidence of dissatisfaction among universities: "There is some resentment that teacher education is split from other parts of HE, and some concern about the way the TTA goes about its business. I don't see the TTA and the GTC working well together. The TTA's existence is incompatible with a professional council. "
He also criticises plans to give the English GTC a purely advisory role in striking teachers off the register. "It's almost as if they are not prepared to see the profession as grown-up enough to deal with this."
Schools minister Stephen Byers's remark that he wanted "a General Teaching Council, not a General Teachers' Council" originates from the Scottish GTC. Ivor Sutherland insists that any nomination by unions would be dangerous. "The GTC must walk a tightrope between being seen to be in the pocket of the Government or the teacher unions."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, argues (see page 12) that without union representation the English GTC will be a toothless puppet, while Fred Forrester, deputy general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, says he works happily alongside the GTC: "We put up a slate of official EIS candidates. We would rather have direct elections with the chance to influence it in this way than block union nominations."
The biggest difference between England and Scotland is that in Scotland the vicious circle in which the profession cannot attract top graduates because of its low status - thus ensuring that it continues to have low status - seems to have been broken. There are 10 applicants for every place on some courses, and there is no shortage of applicants for subjects such as physics. Nigel de Gruchy says that "the brutal reality is that high status comes from a high salary". But salaries in Scotland are more or less the same as those in England.
Ivor Sutherland insists that "research indicates that status is more important than money ... a profession that insists on high standards will eventually accrue high status. But teachers here haven't had quite the same bashing as the profession south of the border."