Watchdog seeks fee hike despite 3-year freeze

8th May 2009 at 01:00
GTCW says it has made `tough' cuts but can't operate without more money

The general Teaching Council for Wales has warned that its ability to act as teachers' watchdog and government adviser will be seriously "eroded" if its compulsory annual fee is not increased this September.

In a move that is likely to infuriate teachers, the cash-strapped body has written to Jane Hutt, the education minister, asking her to remove the bar on a fee increase - it is capped at pound;45 until 2011 - in order to prevent the council's growing remit being compromised.

Teachers in Wales already pay pound;12 a year more than colleagues in England. The fee, which cannot be claimed back, has proved unpopular - the council has received 300 complaints about it.

But Gary Brace, chief executive of the council, said it needed to increase the fee for the second year running to administer the increasing number of professional conduct cases it hears and to maintain its advisory role. "Tough" savings had already been made to plug a pound;100,000 hole in its 2009- 10 budget, he said.

One cut - the postponement of a pound;50,000 project to transfer casework to a privately run system - could even lead to a systems breakdown, he warned.

"We've had to make tough decisions, but our reduction in activity will remove the deficit and we'll be in the black for 2009-10," he said.

"The minister needs to know there will be risks as a result of these actions. I have written to Jane Hutt outlining the risks and asking her to reconsider her position."

Savings of pound;61,000 will be revealed in the council's operational plan, to be published next week.

Some of the activities that have been scrapped or postponed include a pound;10,000 survey into the experience of newly qualified teachers and a pound;21,000 plan to create a set of development standards for teachers.

Other cutbacks are also planned. A pound;40,000 scheme allowing teachers to pay their registration fee online has been put on hold and a further pound;39,700 will be saved by publishing the council's corporate plan and annual statistics digest online. The members' magazine, Teaching Wales, will be published only twice a year, not three times.

As the majority of the council's 30 members are from south Wales, three of its four annual meetings will be held in Cardiff, saving around pound;11,000. There is also a temporary freeze on recruitment, and any staff who resign or go on long-term sick leave will not be replaced.

There has been growing hostility to the council's role in professional conduct hearings; critics say it has "overstepped" its remit.

Welsh delegates at the recent NASUWT teachers' union conference called for the Welsh arm of the council to be merged with its English counterpart because, they said, it is not financially sustainable.

But the council defended its status and said teachers would lose out if it were run from London.

Rex Phillips, the union's Wales organiser, said it "beggared belief" that the council would ask for a fee hike. Instead, the council should cut back on "unnecessary hearings" and casework, he said.

"It would be wrong of the minister to increase the fee again," he said. "That would provoke a strong reaction from teachers."

But Mr Brace defended the growing cost of the council's work. "We have a function to investigate and hear cases, and these things have to be done right. In terms of costs, if we benchmark ourselves against the GTC, we are the same. We can't do things more cheaply," he said.

A government spokesperson said: "The education minister agreed the GTCW request to increase the registration fee to pound;45 in 2008 on the basis that it was to remain constant until 2011 and the GTCW was to deliver efficiency savings."

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