Throwing good money after bad?

17th August 2001 at 01:00
Is the General Teaching Council providing value for money? Unions and the GTC battle for teachers' hearts and minds

I say that the GTC does not represent value for money despite the modest fee. I hope, in the fullness of time, to change my mind.

Levying a compulsory fee was always going to be controversial. So it was more important than ever that the GTC portrayed itself in a realistic and honest fashion.

The GTC has fundamentally misdirected itself in seeking to become a teachers', as opposed to a teaching, council. The Act of Parliament stipulates that its principal aims are to contribute to improving the quality of learning and the standards of teaching and professional conduct among teachers "in the interests of the public".

Masquerading as a campaigning organisation inevitably prompts teachers to ask the inappropriate question: "What will the GTC do for me?" But it is not intended to serve individual interest.

The General Medical Council does not seek to promote the interests of medics in this way, although I notice that the GMC is rarely quoted these days as the paradigm to which the teaching profession ought to aspire.

The GTC inevitably sets itself up against the unions when it claims arrogantly and incorrectly to be the voice of the teaching profession. Furthermore, there are many other "voices" which are supposed to be represented on the GTC.

Seeking to blame teachers' predicament upon divided unions, which several statements put out by the GTC have tried to do, does not cut much ice with teachers. They know too well that the fundamental problem lies in the unwillingness of governments to give teachers the funding that befits their professional status.

For many years, I cautioned GTC aficionados against making exaggerated claims on what could be achieved. Teachers have much greater problems to solve in areas such as workload, bureaucracy, pay, pupil indiscipline and massive over-accountability, which are completely outwith the gift of the GTC. However, if these problems were solved, then the right kind of GTC, carrying out its core functions in a sensible way, could play a useful part in raising the status of the profession. But, even then, it will merely be taking over functions previously done by others, and will have a difficult task to demonstrate that it can do better.

The fee is proving controversial enough, but is made worse with attempts to oversell the product.

I would not place all the blame on the GTC. The Government unwisely gave the GTC a remit which was too wide, involving it in matters such as performance management, which are not best dealt with in a professional council.

The GTC has a legitimate grievance in having to play second fiddle to the Government's main adviser on standards of entry, the Teacher Training Agency. However, again, that diminishes the "value for money".

The cautious approach I advocated for many years in the GTC directorate and forum has been discarded by the misdirected, over-exuberance of recent recruits, high on the self-induced euphoria of elaborate mission statements which ignore reality but do not fool teachers, whose suspicions have now been aroused by the original fee being set at an unnecessarily high level.

The GTC would provide better value for money if it concentrated more upon its core role. Like it or not, this relates to its disciplinary function. How it treats those who fall foul of the standards required will be the determining factor. Passing itself off as a campaigning organisation will result inevitably in many deciding the GTC is bad value for money.

A professional council needs to keep itself above the divisive political issues. Let the GTC establish its register, operate the disciplinary functions effectively and give sound advice to the Government on issues such as entry standards and then it might just prove to be of some value for money.

Nigel de Gruchy is general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

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