Ministers at last see the point of a list of teachers
Unions have been largely sidelined by the current government, but heads' leaders are claiming a rare victory after ministers backed down on plans to scrap a national register of teachers.
The Department for Education has made a U-turn on its proposal to stop registering teachers as part of the abolition of the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) next year.
The proposal had been heavily criticised by heads' unions the NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), which said that not having an up-to-date register risked schools recruiting unqualified staff.
The DfE has now conceded that a database recording who has QTS (qualified teacher status) and who has subsequently passed their induction year is necessary.
There will also be a separate list of those banned by the new Teaching Agency, which replaces the GTC and the Training and Development Agency for Schools next April. However, the new system will be more limited than the current register, which is regularly updated with teachers' full qualifications and their previous employment.
Schools minister Lord Hill announced details of the database in Parliament last week. He said it was not "desirable or necessary" to keep a full teaching register, but he had been "persuaded by concerns raised in this House and elsewhere that there is a genuine need for the Government to help schools to know who has qualified teacher status and who has passed induction".
"Together, the QTS database and the prohibited list will give employers an important resource in assessing qualifications, as well as establishing who should not be employed as a teacher," he told fellow peers.
ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the database would be "more limited" than the GTC register. "But we are very pleased indeed that the Government has listened to our advice on this important issue," he added. "The current register is extremely widely used and headteachers across the country find it very useful.
"What we will have in future won't be as detailed, but it's a compromise the Government has made which is welcome."
The current register is used hundreds of thousands of times a year to check teachers' details, and contains extensive data on qualifications and previous employment. Schools and teachers have to update this information at least three times a year, which the DfE estimates costs around #163;500,000 a year to maintain.
Ian Bauckham, head of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said the Government's climbdown was "a triumph for common sense". "We would want to encourage the Government to learn from this and take more time to consult and consider opinions and implications before taking major policy decisions in education," he added.
But GTC chair Gail Mortimer, one of the most vocal critics of the Government's decision to scrap the register, said she still had fears about its loss.
"We are pleased that the new arrangements now include an accessible database of qualified teachers," she said. "With more than 670,000 checks on teachers' registration carried out last year alone, evidence shows that this is something that employers both want and need.
"However, whether these new arrangements will provide all the necessary detail remains to be seen. I have strong concerns about the impact on teachers' professional status of losing the teaching register.
"Registration recognises my role as a member of a profession and is a key asset, in the same way that doctors, nurses and solicitors must be publicly registered."
TABS ON STAFF
The GTC register of qualified teachers contains the most comprehensive and accurate data about the teacher workforce, and is used by researchers as well as the Department for Education.
Last year, school leaders made 676,000 checks on teachers.
More than 568,000 teachers are fully registered with the GTC and around 49,000 trainees are provisionally registered.