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The End of the GTC

June 9, 2010

The decision by Michael Gove and the Coalition to abolish the General Teaching Council (GTC) has been welcomed by teachers simply because it never delivered the professional status which it was meant to provide. To the classroom teacher, it simply took your money and was best known for its work in providing double whammy punishments for teachers with criminal records. Its sanctimonious judgements did nothing to raise the profile of the profession and the time it took to reach them, as well as the confusion over the standard of proof that it required, caused more harm than good.

Arising out of the 1998 Green Paper which set in motion a wide range of new Labour educational initiatives, the GTC was intended to parallel professional bodies like the General Medical Council (GMC) and to offer the same kind of protection to its members. The idea was popular and there were two hundred applications for the twenty five elected places on its council. There was a 30% turnout in the subsequent election as well. At the council’s launch in April 1999, Charles Clarke was bullish about its potential role in recruitment and supply, initial training and induction, continuing professional development and professional conduct but this agenda was never properly taken forward. Carol Adams, previously CEO for Shropshire was the council’s first chief executive and David (Lord) Puttnam was the chairman, probably as a reward for the work he put in on the teacher ‘Oscars’ and the Teaching Awards Trust!

The Blair government, full of youthful idealism, did not seem to appreciate that the GMC, while apparently supporting the system and the patients, did everything it could in practice to save the doctors from embarrassment. Doctors who were constantly drunk or molested their patients could be quietly eased out through a GMC hearing, often without ending up in any other courtroom, and patient’s complaints could be put to such rigorous tests that they never succeeded.

In its early attempts to ape the GMC, the GTC got smart premises and overpaid its staff but never managed to align itself with the teaching profession as the GMC did with the doctors. In ten years of existence it did not do very much with ??18 million of subscriptions each year. Around 40% of this went straight back out in wages and another major chunk went on premises. It was never a lean organisation! One important role for the GMC was to control access to the medical profession by not only monitoring standards but also regulating entry and the availability of training places. Initially, the GTC might have done this. Professor John Tomlinson, another ex-CEO and the former director of the Institute of Education at Warwick University and the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) had a senior role and his brief must originally have been intended to impact on recruitment and initial training but, faced with the opposition of his university colleagues, he quickly withdrew and this area of work came to nothing.

Things got off to a worse start in other areas. Quite unnecessarily, the GTC thought it would draw up a code of practice for teachers. It believed that a code of practice would maintain high standards, boost public confidence and underline that teaching was a proper profession. Legislation relating to equal opportunities, disability, employment issues and human rights would also be embraced in the final version. It was all too much for the organisation to handle and, then, the GTC was annoyed when a rough draft was leaked. It contained fifty-two clauses, many of which were in the form of what teachers ‘must’ and ‘must not’ do.

The draft showed the absurdity of such a code. A proposal, for example, that teachers should not drink alcohol on school premises was the kind that gets nodded through a large committee as sensible but is actually nonsense. Teachers can quite reasonably drink alcohol on school premises in all sorts of situations – end of term parties, meetings to say goodbye to retiring staff, PTA functions, sorting out the stock cupboard at the weekend and so on. What the code wanted to say was that there should be a way to sack alcoholics or to discipline teachers who turn up in school the worse for wear through alcohol but, even here, it had to recognise that alcohol dependency is not a crime and neither is having a couple of pints in the Dog and Duck on Friday lunch-time. Clauses like this were a recipe for disaster. They had no legal status and were open to multiple interpretations. The profession responded by refusing to pay its subscriptions and complaining about the GTC as its original support went sour. In one survey, 50% of teachers rated its performance as unsatisfactory. At the point at which the deduction of subscriptions at source was introduced around 10% of teachers were behind with the payment of their subscriptions. Meanwhile the disciplinary process gained its first casualty; a teacher found guilty of drinking vodka and sprite in the school boiler room.

After managing access and the code of practice fell by the wayside, the GTC looked elsewhere for an agenda. Along the way, it ran some second-rate initiatives. One of them was to do with research where it sponsored and lavishly reported on a range of second-rate projects conducted by teach
ers. Later, it launched the Teacher Learning Academy which was supposed to be a new way of accrediting professional development. Both endeavours overlapped, even clashed, with work being done by the TDA. The TLA was eventually passed over to Cambridge Education but, at the last count, it could only sum up fewer than 10,000 registrations and to judge from the lack of support in the schools involved that probably over exaggerated its impact.

The GTC also gave advice to government but it was generally ignored. It somehow managed, despite its central purpose, to miss out completely on the revolutionary changes to the teacher workforce which developed the notion of the teacher as leading learning supported by classroom assistants. In all of this work, driven by David Miliband and the Department it was, typically, an onlooker.

It got almost all of its publicity from the hearings that disciplined teachers. It was meant to raise the profile of the profession but, instead, it provided fodder for the Daily Mail about teachers who watched porn on their school laptops or took the odd illegal substance at the weekend. It was sometime used, quite illegitimately, by schools and local authorities to get rid of troublesome or incompetent teachers by sustaining allegations against them. And, worst of all, it took overstressed teachers who were suffering mental breakdowns from trying to do near impossible jobs through an elaborate and dragged out tribunal process which left their reputations and careers in public service in tatters. There may have been good reasons for some of these people to be weeded out of the profession but this was not the way to do it. Not only did all the juicy stories fill the inside pages of the TES but they were easily picked up from there and rebroadcast by local media hacks.

When criticised, the GTC’s argument was that its hearings were fair and quasi-legal. It was giving people the right to be heard but it was also introducing silly punishments like taking away registration for a couple of years and assuming that a new school might then employ that person. That was more nonsense! Convicted teachers were generally finished in career terms.

Like the equally lamented QCDA, the GTC spent a long time deceiving itself and others about its usefulness. It celebrated second-rate research and advice that had no impact and constantly rushed petulantly to defend itself from criticism. That was all a shame because teachers could have benefited from an effective professional organisation which handled their accreditation and stood up for their interests in the face of a public which sometimes thought it knew better. It would also have been helpful to have defended the profession from political and media criticism in the last ten years but, somehow, the GTC managed to do the opposite.

Jim Sweetman @jimbo9848

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One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink

    Good article. Very informative. GF

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