Puttnam's 64-member question

15th December 2000 at 00:00
the General Teaching Council this week emerged blinking into the glare of the public spotlight, 140 years after it was first conceived.

Understandable, then, that it proved a somewhat nervous affair.

The most striking thing as members gathered in a windowless chamber at the central London headquarters of the Local Government Association, was how many of them there were.

All 64 members sat round a gigantic oval table, with microphone carriers frantically trying to ensure everyone got heard.

To members' credit, a good proportion of them did say their pieces, with independently-elected teachers as ready to contribute to the debate as the nine union nominees and other seasoned media operators.

There was much in the meeting on which members agreed, particularly proposals for a properly structured system of professional development.

Perhaps the most powerful speech came from Anthea Tulloch Bisgrove, a young English teacher from Essex and one of the council's 25 elected members.

Addressing union reservations about the council getting involved in teachers' woking conditions, she said: "If we are going out and listening to teachers, hearing how low morale is in the profession, how can we not then bring that back to the council and try to change things for the better?" The other major controversy was a colourful spat between two contrasting characters - union bruiser Mick Carney, a veteran of 30 years in the classroom and decades on the terraces of Sunderland's Roker Park, and urbane film producer Lord Puttnam, new Labour peer and council chairman.

Yet the resolution of these disputes reflected the difficulties facing the GTC. The 64-member format make decision-making difficult, and the council's own desire to present a united front makes this precess even trickier. As a result, both contentious issues were put aside for another day, when they will be debated in private in much smaller committees.

The remaining resolutions, although sensible, may need to be promoted hard to make an impact on the consciousness of teachers, many of whom, it was acknowledged during the meeting, are scarcely aware of the council's existence.

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