Critics admit teaching watchdog has teeth, but want to see its bite

August 27, 1999

The government has confounded critics who feared the new General Teaching Council would be little more than a government lapdog by confirming the body's independent status.

The Department for Education and Employment said this week that the General Teaching Council, which among other things will advise the government on teacher training from September next year, would be an autonomous professional body. Ostensibly, it gives the GTC the same status as bodies like the General Medical Council.

Higher education teacher training institutions and teaching unions had feared that the new GTC, which was set up by the 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act, would be little more than a non-departmental government body with no more independence than a quango.

Fears were compounded by the fact that education secretary David Blunkett was to appoint the GTC's first chief executive, named this week as Carol Adams, Shropshire's chief education officer.

John Tomlinson, professor of education at Warwick University and academic secretary to the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "The decision means the GTC is not, among other things, financed or audited by the government. It gives it the highest sort of independence. It is one of the most important developments for the council."

Professor Tomlinson said that he hoped the decision would enable the GTC to work constructively with the Teacher Training Agency which accredits and funds teacher training courses at higher education institutions.

He said that the GTC should take over the TTA's role as prime adviser to government on the teaching profession, including training, while the TTA should continue its role in tandem with Ofsted, which inspects teacher training in universities and colleges.

The Association of University Teachers, many of whose members teach trainee teachers, welcomed the move and Ms Adams's appointment.

But a spokeswoman said that the GMC, as a model for all such independent professional bodies, appointed its own chief executives.

She said it was important, therefore, that Ms Adams demonstrate her and the council's independence as soon as possible.

The GTC will be self-regulatory, self-financing, by and large make its own appointments and will, according to the DFEE, suffer a "minimum" of ministerial interference.

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