Now a word from our voters
Teachers are telling me clearly what they hope for from the General Teaching Council: a vastly improved and widely-promoted image for the profession; an agreed statement of professional commitment agreed by all teachers, which clarifies what teachers uniquely do; a celebration of achievements; more influence in shaping policy; time for professional development; a better working environment and a fairer distribution of funding across schools.
Recently, 70 teachers from every type of school all over England spent a few days working up detailed proposals for consideration with us. We wanted to start in the way the GTC must go on, by listening to teachers. The outcomes were stunning.
A positive and honest approach to the task was quickly established. Typical views were: "I want to celebrate the value of what people do in schools", "It's a privilege to work with brilliant young teachers", "Teachers do magic in schools every day; teachers make a difference to children every day; I want to make a difference to teachers."
These teachers value what is special about the process of teaching, and the rewards experienced when learning takes place and the pupil achieves. They want this articulated and recognised. They want the GTC to "stick up for teachers by speaking out" and they want to see trust in the profession restored, with more emphasis on success in schools. They are deeply concerned about the young teachers entering the profession and fear they will leave "feeling devalued and demoralised". They feel that one role of the GTC is to support these first-class recruits into teaching.
A key concern expressed related to the negative coverage by the press, which many of them believe is contributing strongly to a recruitment and retention crisis. "Give teachers a better image of themselves again. They feel more and more under the cosh from the newspapers."
Nobody criticised the Government's policies as such, but felt that at the centre there was insufficient awareness of the impact these new initiatives have on those responsible for implementing them. The number and diversity of new demands required teachers to implement changes across a wide range of areas, sometimes at a superficial level, losing the satisfaction that comes from doing a thorough professional job. "The GTC must provide a voice for teachers, to articulate the effect of the different initiatives... some people now determining education policy have lost the feel for what this means in the classroom... they are out of touch."
For these teachers, a professional statement for all teachers - not a banal wish list nor a wordy tome - is a first priority for the new council. Essentially, this would be to promote a culture and image of professionalism basedon teaching and learning. This was seen as a starting point for wider consultation, generating a national debate on what teaching is about and enabling wider appreciation of the skills and commitment required of teachers. "The GTC should embody the collective wisdom of teachers."
A major role for the council should be to promote continuing professional development as an entitlement and obligation for every teacher, perhaps linked to registration.
These teachers see the need to build on the induction year, with an emphasis on teaching skills in subsequent years and, later, opportunities for sabbaticals, exchanges, and placements to consolidate and develop further. There was great reluctance to take time out of the classroom, and a willingness to commit some of their own time. A wish for greater recognition of professionalism by the allocation of quality development time, perhaps by re-arranging the school day, term and year, was expressed. Typically: "As a professional, I feel saturated with learning-centred issues. I need time to reflect and to learn for myself."
Technology was at the forefront of their proposals for supporting teachers, mostly through an interactive, informative website. Alongside ICT there was recognition of the need for face-to-face consultation, and regional meetings involving teachers and field workers, to ensure that the council reflects as accurately as possible the views of teachers. Greater celebration of the achievements of students and teachers was another suggestion, perhaps through an education day or week set aside for the purpose.
These are just some of the practical proposals from this group for the GTC to consider in greater detail. At the end of our first day it was noted that nobody had mentioned pay. There was an understanding that teachers should be paid well, but within the recognition that teaching is about other equally important issues as well.
Those important issues (a professional statement, continuing development, ICT, a better public image and so on) are already clearly identified six months before the council comes into being. Our task is to work on detailed proposals for each area in consultation with teachers and the many other partners who have an equal, if not greater, direct role to play than the GTC. The council will have a major task from September in listening to teachers and formulating advice to the Government and others in these crucial areas.
The GTC will come into existence in September and its 25 teacher-members will be elected between February 22 and March 22. Other members will be nominated during March. If you would like to offer your views on how the GTC can
represent and support the profession write to: The Editor, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. The GTC is at 10 Greycoat Place, London, SW1P 1SB,
tel: 020 7 960 6264, e:mail: email@example.com, website: http:wwwgtce.org.uk