Welcome for GTC review

Neil Munro

Minister and union agree on the need for a more influential General Teaching Council. Neil Munro reports.

THE EDUCATION Minister's review of the General Teaching Council, announced on Monday, has been broadly welcomed - but from different perspectives.

Ivor Sutherland, GTC registrar, said he found Helen Liddell "very supportive of the council's work" at a meeting in Glasgow before the announcement was made.

The minister said she wanted "a modern and more influential future" for the GTC. Dr Sutherland said this suggests "an underlying commitment to making our powers more robust, although there is no commitment to any particular function or powers."

The GTC has argued for more than 10 years that its powers should be extended to cover teachers' staff development and competence, which could lead to staff thought not up to the job being struck from the register.

Labour's election manifesto promised the party would "enhance the role" of the GTC in teacher accreditation and development. This would extend the council's existing supervisory functions beyond the probationary period.

Mrs Liddell gave one of the strongest endorsements to the GTC of any education minister, suggesting it should be "a pace-setter for the teaching profession in the 21st century." But she wants to consider whether changes have to be made to the council's "composition, structure and organisation," as well as its relationship with the Secretary of State.

Any move to strengthen the GTC would bring the council and ministers into conflict with education authorities who believe it challenges their sovereignty over employment matters.

But Michael O'Neill, president of the Association of Directors of Education, welcomed the review as an opportunity to resolve these differences. "With the Scottish parliament looming, we need to take a decision as to where the remit of the GTC stops and the responsibility of education authorities, as employers, begins."

The Educational Institute of Scotland opposes the directorate on this issue so it, too, welcomed the review. The union dominates the 22 teacher seats on the GTC, which is due to declare its four-yearly election results next week.

The unions prefer to deal with a teacher-friendly GTC over staff development and incompetence, rather than local authorities with whom relations are currently frosty. "We are committed to an extension of the role of the GTC," said Fred Forrester, EIS depute general secretary.

He believed it was "illogical" for the GTC to have power to approve initial teacher qualifications but not later qualifications acquired as part of staff development.

Mr Forrester revealed that the EIS model for dealing with cases of incompetent teachers was the scheme operated by the General Medical Council. It does not "go in to investigate gung-ho," he said. The GMC considers a whole range of measures, including support from a peer professional or restricting a doctor's field of operation for example, before any dismissal move.

The EIS would insist, however, on strict conditions such as who makes an incompetence complaint, evidence that the school and education authority had offered support, how referrals to the GTC should be handled, and consideration of all alternative sanctions before any striking off.

Mr Forrester criticised the education authorities for "concentrating on the issue of their sovereignty and taking no account at all of the professional dimension.

"To use the medical analogy, it is not hospital managements which are competent to decide on the performance of a consultant; only fellow professionals can do that."

The Government's review of the GTC will be carried out by external consultants who will have to bid for the work. The successful tender will be chosen in January and asked to report by April. Decisions will then be taken by the Scottish parliament.

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Neil Munro

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