Wanted: a dog that will bite

25th July 1997 at 01:00
It seems that it is almost impossible to speak about a General Teaching Council without mentioning dogs' teeth. Its supporters have always insisted that it must be a watchdog - capable of biting lumps out of disreputable members of the profession and of Government ministers too.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, took the canine analogy a stage further two years ago when he warned that a GTC must not become "an unlicensed poodle with a waggly tail, dentures and a permit to yap". His punchline was:"I am not interested in even asking the price of that doggy in the window."

He and the other union leaders may be more inclined to meet the asking price for the profession's watchdog once they have mulled over this week's consultation document on the shape and role of a GTC. But it is unlikely that any of them will pop any champagne corks. Yes, it does look as if the profession is finally going to get the body it has dreamed of for 150 years. But exactly how muscular it will be remains to be seen.

Judging by the consultation paper, the English GTC will be somewhat weaker than the professional council the Scots have had since 1966. The English version may eventually have much the same role as the Scottish council, which maintains a register of qualified teachers, exercises certain disciplinary functions and provides advice on the supply, training and qualifications of teachers. But having to work in tandem with the Teacher Training Agency will inevitably cramp the style of the English council.

It is clear, however, that the Government has no intention of giving the GTC a free rein or of rushing into any reform it may live to regret. The council is not expected to open for business until the year 2000 and will only "assume responsibilities progressively over time". The delay is disappointing, but the caution is understandable because there is always a danger that a GTC could become a "super union" which furthers teachers' interests at the expense of everyone else's. But since the teacher unions are as balkanised as ever, faction-fighting may pose a greater threat to the GTC's credibility than whether or not the unions are allowed to put forward their own nominees.

Nevertheless, the Government will want to see a teaching council established because it has almost as much to gain from it as the teacher unions do. A body of this kind, which can lift the status of teaching but also discipline or exclude those who fail to match its standards, is the perfect embodiment of Labour's "pressure and support" approach.

Teachers will, however, want to be reassured that a GTC will do more than simply throw its weight behind the Government's largely laudable campaign for higher teaching standards. If the council is to become the much-needed independent voice of the profession it must also push for far more uniform entry standards (see page 6) and oppose Government "initiatives" that could damage the reputation of teaching still further.

The indefensible proposal to allow non-graduates to gain a teaching degree in one or two years at the very moment when a more rigorous national curriculum for initial teacher training is about to be introduced is a prime example. In fact, it is a pity there is no GTC around right now - to leave some teethmarks in the Cabinet's collective posterior.

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