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Unions in fear of GTC shift

The NASUWT is warning members that the new Government could extend the General Teaching Council's remit. Warwick Mansell reports.

ENGLAND's General Teaching Council could be given the go-ahead by the new Government to take on some of the functions of the teacher unions, a union leader warned this week.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, told The TES that he was concerned that ministers would draft an expansion of the council's remit in the first education Bill of the new Parliament.

The GTC could be given backing to speak out on issues of pay and conditions - areas which the unions have repeatedly warned it to steer clear of, said Mr de Gruchy.

That move would represent the worst-case scenario for the unions in their increasingly bitter battle with the council over its claims to be speaking out for the teaching profession, rather than simply disciplining poor teachers.

The unions have argued that the current legislation envisages the GTC only in this latter role. Ministers were forced to consider a change in the law after a legal challenge from the National Union of Teachers, which argued that the council did not have the right to charge teachers fees to fund its work advising Government.

Mr de Gruchy told The TES: "There are elements within the Goernment that want to use the GTC to undermine the unions. They could use the review of the legislation to ensconce the GTC in areas which we think are entirely inappropriate."

The three major classroom unions are adopting differing tactics in their feud with the council and the Government.

The NUT this week wrote to its members advising them not to pay the council's pound;23 annual fee, while it sought to persuade the Government to pay completely for the GTC.

The NASUWT has taken a more moderate stance, calling for further talks with the council about its remit. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers says teachers, who were written to last month by the council asking for preferred methods of payment, should pay the fees.

John Bangs, assistant secretary of the NUT, said the Government could use the new legislation to "take a step back" and consider the future of the council. But teachers did not want the council to take on union functions.

Carol Adams, GTC chief executive, said: "It's our overriding policy to work with the unions. I hope any legislation would put to rest challenges and disputes over the council's powers."

Teachers have been given until next Friday to tell the council whether they prefer to pay the charge by direct debit or through a salary deduction. The charges themselves are due in January.

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