Shaping the future;Briefing
Half a million teachers in England were due to receive a letter this week asking them to register to vote in the first-ever elections to the new general teaching council.
The GTC was set up by one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the Labour Government in 1997-98; there will be a separate council for Wales. The GTC will advise the Government on matters relating to the teaching profession, conduct disciplinary hearings and keep a register of qualified state school teachers.
Professor John Tomlinson, who has campaigned for more than 10 years for Parliament to set up a GTC, said: "It will be one of the largest professional bodies in the world with a total educational constituency of one million voters. It is important that teachers turn out in force to give strong backing to their new council so that it genuinely expresses the will of the profession."
There is no compulsion to register at present, although eventually all teachers in state schools will need to be registered with the council. But the provisional membership roll closes on December 15 for the purposes of the first election. After that teachers can still register, but there will be an annual fee of pound;20 once the council has been established.
The register will then become a fully-fledged roll of teachers entitled to practise in state schools and the council will have a disciplinary committee, with power to strike off staff for improper or unprofessional conduct, in the same way that the general medical and nursing councils have been able to do for some years.
Teachers who have left to raise families and those who have retired or gone into administration or the advisory service, will also be able to vote. A spokesman for the GTC said: "We have been trying to contact all the teachers on the Teachers' Pensions Agency database, but there are probably many former teachers and part-timers whom we haven't been able to reach. It will cost them nothing to register for the first time; all the costs of setting up the council are being met from Government funds until 2001." The council will come into being next September.
The first elections will be held next February and March for the 25 teacher and headteacher representatives on the 64-member council. Candidates must present themselves to the Electoral Reform Society ballot services before December 15.
As with any election there are constituencies: these are grouped according to nurseryprimary and secondary schools with 11 seats each and three seats reserved for heads of primary, secondary and special schools. A free information pack is available for anyone considering standing for election. In addition to the elected seats, there are 16 others for local education authorities, chief education officers, further education principals and the churches, as well as employers, ethnic minorities, universities and school governors. There is even a place for consumer interest representatives, nominated by the National Children's Bureau.
There are also 13 members appointed by the Secretary of State, who is expected to have "regard" to views of special interest groups and other related professions, as well as those of the public.
The GTC's chief executive, Carol Adams, takes up her post this month. Ms Adams, until recently county education officer of Shropshire, said she intended to work closely with the teaching unions and other bodies. "With strong member support the GTC will be in a unique position to shape Government education policy as the genuine voice of the profession. It is an exciting opportunity to transform the public standing of teachers and to guarantee the standards of teaching. The two go together."
The new council has been given an enthusiastic welcome and support by the headteacher associations and by the Professional Association of Teachers. The other teacher unions have only two places guaranteed and will have to field candidates in the forthcoming elections to maintain their influence. The National Union of Teachers is not happy with the pound;20 registration fee, but will nominate candidates for election to the council.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers will have a full part in the council despite misgivings at the degree of government control. "It is a quango by any other name," said ATL general secretary Peter Smith.
For details of the GTC, contact Electoral Reform Society Ballot Services, 33 Clarendon Road, London N8 0NW, call 0181 889 9203. The GTC office is at 10 Greycoat Place London SW1 P1SB, call 0207 6206009, and its website is at www.gtce.org.uk.