Union calls time on 'gravy train' Welsh council

24th April 2009 at 01:00
But the GTCW says better Cardiff than London as it comes under fire for its annual fee hike

A teachers' union voted to scrap the General Teaching Council for Wales and merge its functions with England's at its annual conference last week.

The Welsh arm of teachers' professional body was dubbed a "gravy train of wasters" by David Dimmick, a Vale of Glamorgan branch member of NASUWT Cymru during the debate at Bournemouth International Centre.

The vote follows criticism of a Pounds 12 rise in the annual fee for compulsory membership. The charge was imposed by the Welsh council last year so it could extend its regulatory role to include teacher suitability hearings, but it has come under fire for overstepping its remit in professional conduct hearings.

The council defended its status this week, accusing union members of being short-sighted and anti-devolutionist. It said teachers in Wales would lose out if the body was run from London.

Mal Davies, its chair, said: "Time and time again the interests of Wales are overlooked in joint ... bodies. The sooner the NASUWT recognises devolution and the ability of the teaching profession to control its own destiny, the better."

He said the council received only 300 direct complaints - just 0.8 per cent of Wales's 38,800 registered teachers - when the fee was raised.

Gary Brace, the council's chief executive, said the NASUWT was the only union in favour of a joint body. He disputed the "gravy train" tag, saying all teacher members of the council were unpaid and its finances were fully accountable.

But, during the conference debate, John Rimmer, from the union's executive, said: "It's foolhardy to continue to support a separate council for Wales because the country is too small to sustain it."

One motion asked delegates to acknowledge their "anger and resentment" at having to pay extra to keep the Welsh body afloat. Members voted it unsustainable and not cost effective. The union will now seek talks with the Assembly government on abolishing the council. It is looking for support from other unions. But, historically, they are opposed to a merger.

There is a strong feeling in other unions that the motion was England-orchestrated and that the union's Wales representatives had little power to oppose it.

But Rex Phillips, the union's Wales organiser, who was not at the conference for personal reasons, said: "The time is up for the GTCW. Teachers should not be expected to prop it up out of their own pockets."

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, agreed, saying teachers believed the Welsh body was a waste of time. "It put the final nail in the coffin when it increased the registration fee by Pounds 12," she said.

The war of words intensified this week when Mr Davies attacked the union's stance on professional conduct hearings. Writing in the Western Mail, he said most professions, including the General Medical Council and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, held such hearings in public.

"The interest of the public lies in the openness of our procedures," he said. "The accusation that teachers' reputations are tarnished by public hearings is unfounded. If there is no truth in the allegations, the teacher is vindicated and that decision is made in the public realm."

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