6th July 2001 at 01:00
Find me a teacher who supports the General Teaching Council. Even at the height of this year's problems with external exams, most teachers are reserving their main vitriol for the GTC. That a government which claims education as its priority can attract universal teacher opposition to the offer of professional self-regulation almost defies belief.

This is particularly sad in view of the council's laudable objectives: to raise the status of the profession; to provide a professional voice for teachers; to listen to and work for teachers; and to guarantee high standards.

Its first two publications are of high quality too. The summary of the first corporate plan sensitively outlines what the council hopes to achieve in several key areas. The draft professional code is an almost unassailable statement of values and practice.

But the envelope that brought these missives also contained a demand for the first year's subscription - due almost immediately.

By linking teacher registration with discipline, the DfEE's April circular on the GTC represents a huge public relations gaffe. The first sentence of this solemn directive (DfEE 02632001) demands that teachers register with the council by a specific date; the titles of the sections after "registration" and "discipline" are "misconduct" and "incompetence". It doesn't take too great a leap of logic to divine that the Government's priority in setting up the council is teacher competence, or rather how to deal with teacher incompetence. In other words, it's simply another plank in the structure of accountability.

From this point it's all downhill for the GTC. The revelation that about half its members are not teachers appears to make a mockery of notions of self-regulation and professionalism. This seems even worse when the Government threatens that those who do not register cannot teach.

If we were to be charitable, we might presume the Government is only trying to ensure that a long overdue self-regulatory body for teachers comes about - and that this will ultimately enhance teachers' professionalism and everyone's perception of it. So, on any rational calculus, it ought to have our immediate and unequivocal backing. But it doesn't. The Government probably does want to promote teaching through the GTC, but can't trust teachers with the responsibility. If the Government cannot get teachers on its side over this matter, what are the chances for its other reform plans?

Which way next? The odds are on bludgeoning forward without change - with the consequences that no one will pay, the subscription will have to be deducted at source somehow, and teachers will become even more prejudiced against the council.

The Government could, of course, offer to pay the subscription - as, for example, the Welsh Assembly has done for the first two years. This would defuse feelings, and at least the council would have the opportunity of a breathing space to work at giving itself more credibility.

The best solution, though, would be to reassess. Teachers' representatives need to work out a proper formula for what is required in a general teaching council; they should be encouraged to decide its membership and mode of operation.

Estelle Morris has a fantastic opportunity to go easy on the control stick. Perhaps she could say to teachers - and I know it sounds scary - that she's decided to trust us and would value our opinion. She could also make enough resources available to make sure any solution works. Come to think of it, wouldn't it be a good idea to adopt the same procedure for all the educational improvements the Government wants to make?

John Claydon is head of Wyedean school, Chepstow

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