As the General Teaching Council takes off, Claire Sanders hears what its leaders and others in the sector would like it to achieve
For more than a century, teachers have campaigned for an independent body to represent their professional interests and raise their status. Yesterday, education secretary David Blunkett launched the General Teaching Council for England.
The council's chairman is filmmaker Lord Puttnam, who is upbeat about teacher education. "There is no question that the sort of person going into teaching is getting better and better."
The GTC's chief executive, Carol Adams, has a long record in teaching and education management. Last week, she outlined the GTC's objectives - and the role university education departments will have in fulfilling them.
The GTC has 64 council members, including nominees from universities, colleges and further education. The policy areas outlined on its website are initial teacher training, continuing professional development, teacher recruitment and retention, standards of teaching, performance management and teacher well-being.
Ms Adams is adamant that teacher education departments will play a key role in what she calls "re-professionalising" teachers, for example by joining the council's advisory groups.
She stresses that the council's advice to government on various policy areas will be evidence-based. "We will work in partnership with education departments to provide this evidence," she says. The council has no research budget and only a small policy unit, so it will access existing research. "But we have initiated some collaborative research," Ms Adams says.
The council kicks off this autumn with a series of regional roadshows. "Every school and every institution involved with teacher education will be invited," she says. "David Puttnam and I will address the meetings, and there will be discussion groups on issues such as initial teacher training and continuing professional development."
For those educating teachers, there are a number of burning issues. Chris Cook, a GTC council member, was nominated by the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers. He is associate dean for external relations at the University of Hertfordshire's education department. One issue Professor Cook would like the GTC to address is what he calls "an unwritten policy to move from the bachelor of education qualification to the postgraduate certificate in education". Universities and colleges have traditionally trained primary teachers through the four-year BEd. When the government announced trainee salaries for PGCE students in March, BEd recruitment was hit badly. One university has recruited just 75 primary BEd students against a target of 140.
Faced with the choice of a costly four-year BEd or a three-year degree in a different subject and a one-year PGCE with a trainee salary, students opted for the latter route. The university may have to make redundancies.
Ms Adams believes there is a continuing role for the BEd and that the council might monitor the changing pattern of routes into higher education. This will also cover school-centred initial teacher training schemes.
"We want attractive courses that produce well-qualified teachers. We will talk with institutions and teachers about what this provision should be."
This could bring the GTC into conflict with the Teacher Training Agency, whose core aims are to "promote teaching as a profession" and to raise the standard and quality of initial teacher training.
Ms Adams says there is no conflict:"Our role is to advise, not provide. And we will offer advice based on clear evidence." Lord Puttnam argues that the GTC will work with the "revamped TTA" and the new National School Leadership College to produce coherent policies.
The council has been asked to give early advice to the secretary of state on Circular 498, which defines what student teachers should be taught. Many believe that it is too prescriptive.
Eileen Baker, principal of Bishop Grosseteste College and the Standing Conference of Principals' nominee on the GTC, said: "We need a more general statement of what is required of a teacher that sets a tone and helps us take the high ground."
Ms Adams says: "We have to balance a desire not to be too prescriptive with our determination for high standards."
The government has been consulting on what teachers want from continuing professional development. Leaked draft proposals from the GTC urge the government to introduce sabbaticals; campaign for teachers to be allowed to update their subject knowledge in weekend or half-term conferences; push for professional development immediately after the induction year; identify effective professional development courses; and promote the use of its website to allow teachers to monitor the quality of such courses.
At yesterday's launch, Mr Blunkett said he wanted the GTC to consult with teachers on how to develop ITskills and on the best use of in-service training days.
Much of the funding for continuing professional development comes from the Standards Fund, money channelled to local authorities by the Department for Education and Employment. Some pass the funds straight to schools, others organise courses themselves. "The funding regime is unstable," Professor Baker says, "Greater certainty would help us plan more reliably to meet identified needs."
Ms Adams thinks training for new teachers can help to cut the high attrition rate from teaching. "Teachers need continuous support - especially those going into deprived areas. Without that support, they feel as deprived as the children in the classroom. We want to turn the situation around so that those teachers feel they are at the pinnacle of their profession - not in the pits," she says.
The GTC will also support collaboration, not just between teachers but also between those working in further education. Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive at the Association of Colleges, which has a nominee on the GTC, says: "We want a professional body for those working in further education. There is a consultative document out on qualifications for further education teachers. Many in our sector have qualified teacher status, and we want to ensure there are paths for cross-affiliation."
The GTC is also working on a code of practice for teachers. "We want something that encapsulates high standards without boxing teachers in and taking away their creativity," Ms Adams says.
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