Ever since Michael Gove signalled the demise of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) in 2010 in one of his first acts as education secretary, debate has raged across the border over the future of its counterpart in Wales.
Now, after two years of uncertainty, Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has announced that the body will not only survive, but will expand to police a much wider range of people working in education, from teachers in FE colleges to teaching and learning assistants.
The extended General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) will also be directly involved with teacher training, working to improve initial training courses and continuing professional development for experienced staff. In a further significant change, Mr Andrews also wants to explore whether volunteers and other support staff should be registered and given training.
The proposals, confirmed after lengthy consultation, are part of widespread education reforms being pushed through by Mr Andrews in a bid to improve standards following Wales' poor performance in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings. In its current form, the GTCW's remit is too narrowly focused to improve the professional standards of teachers, Mr Andrews said.
The GTCW will continue to hold teachers to account for their professional abilities and their conduct. In England, schools are now expected to deal with the majority of disciplinary cases, with the new Teaching Agency hearing only the most serious cases of misconduct.
Mr Andrews' announcement was welcomed by GTCW chief executive Gary Brace, who has been pushing for the registration of the wider education workforce for a number of years.
"The minister's statement sends out a clear signal that the quality and professionalism of the whole education workforce is at the heart of Wales' ambition to become a higher skilled, better educated nation," he said. "The encouraging approach being taken by the Welsh government stands in marked contrast to the worrying developments regarding professional regulation in England."
Mr Brace's views were echoed by Philip Dixon, director of the ATL Cymru education union, who said that the move is another sign of a "healthy difference" between the two countries. "Mr Gove has abolished the GTCE because he does not think that teaching is a profession," he said. "Here, Leighton Andrews is so convinced that education is a matter for professionals that he is in effect extending the remit of the GTCW.
"All this is good news: for parents and children, who can be sure that those engaged in education in Wales have the highest professional integrity; and for teachers, lecturers and support staff, who know that the quality of their role will be upheld."
But Rex Phillips, Wales organiser of the NASUWT teaching union, warned those who will now be registered with the GTCW to be careful.
"They won't just be regulated in their professions and working lives, but their personal lives as well," he said. "Regrettably, that is the way the GTCW has operated in the past. The new council should look at the way it conducts itself in this area."
COUNTING THE COST
A major area of contention for the GTCW has been its registration fee: teachers are required to pay an annual rate of #163;45.
The NASUWT, which has long campaigned for the abolition of the charge, is concerned that an expanded GTCW could mean an increased fee.
"There will be an extra bill attached to this but that doesn't appear to have been taken into consideration," said Rex Phillips, the union's Wales organiser.
"We don't want this decision to lead to another increase in the fee for either our members or any of the other trade unions whose members will now be registered."