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Teaching has the right to be treated as independent profession; AMs will today debate the Children and Young People Committee scrutiny report into the Welsh Government's Education (Wales) Bill in the Senedd. Here Angela Jardine, a registered teacher and chair of the General Teaching Council for Wales, explains what the Bill means for the teaching profession, the regulatory body and the'public interest'it serves.

THE General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) has spent the past 13 years raising the standing and status of the teaching profession, cementing its position as the independent guardian of high standards of conduct and competence among teachers, and offering support, advice and challenge in equal measure to a wide range of policymakers, including the Welsh Government.

The Council has more than demonstrated that, in common with nearly all other professions, teaching has earned the right to be treated as a mature and, as importantly, independent profession.

It is the very independence of the GTCW that has helped it to gain the justified respect of teachers, parents, the wider public and policymakers alike, and one that must be protected.

However, when the Welsh Government introduced its draft Education (Wales) Bill in July, it became clear from the proposed wording that there was a danger that the independence of the reconfigured Council would be curtailed.

The GTCW has a track record of giving balanced and relevant advice on a wide range of issues, so the proposed reconfigured Council should have at least that same ability to give guidance whenever and to whomever it deems appropriate without needing to seek prior permission.

Without that freedom to advise, the unique professional perspective the Council can bring will be lost.

However, as the Bill has proposed, the regulator would have to secure consent from ministers before giving advice about or comment on relevant issues.

This would not only undermine the professional standing of the proposed successor body - the Education Workforce Council (EWC) - but could also lead to the perception that the body was a quango only permitted to speak when government allowed it to.

This would not be a good signal to teachers or any proposed future registrants.

The Council's independence would further be eroded by the proposals in the Bill that Ministers would be responsible for appointing members of the EWC, its chief officer, and for formulating its first Professional Code.

Such interference in the internal workings of any professional body would mean that its independence and ability would be brought into question - so we're pleased that the National Assembly's Children and Young People Committee (CYPC) has recommended that these proposals are reviewed so that the impartiality of the teaching regulator can be maintained.

The Bill also proposes that Ministers should retain the power to set the registration fee that the ECW can charge. Political interference in setting the registration fee has seen the fee frozen artificially low for the past six years, breaking the logical link between the fee and the Council's running costs.

That ministerial power of veto on the fee means that the Council cannot be self-financing, nor fully independent.

We are therefore pleased that the CYPC has recommended that the Minister should no longer set the fee, instead limiting the government's involvement to the development of "...guidance, based on principles of fairness and equality".

This would be a sensible approach.

On a separate point, it is no secret that the GTCW expressed concern to the CYPC that school staff working outside the state sector should be registered.

The Council has long called for wider regulation of educators, including college lecturers and those working within independent schools, so we are pleased to see that the "serious safety loophole" - as the committee has described it - of anyone being allowed to teach in the independent sector without first needing to be registered, should be closed.

As I told the CYPC when giving evidence in response to the Bill: "Education professionals should be required to register regardless of the setting in which they work.

"It is absurd that teachers working in independent schools are not subject to the same checks and balances as their state-school counterparts."

Finally, we remain of the opinion that omitting the words "teaching" and "professions" from the proposed name of the reconstituted body, the Education Workforce Council, does not convey the professionalism of existing teachers or the future widened group of education practitioners, and that a title such as the "Teaching and Education Professions Council for Wales" would be more appropriate.

The teaching profession, and its professional regulatory body in particular, deserves the right to selfdetermination, self-regulation, financial independence and the freedom to advise of its own volition - just as the GTCW does now.

The GTCW has more than a decade's experience of doing this and of demonstrating that teaching is a highly-skilled profession that is worthy of the public's trust.

I hope the minister takes on board the CYPC's recommendations, and gives the reconfigured Council the tools to regulate the education profession effectively and efficiently on behalf of the children, parents and public in Wales.

They, and the education professionals themselves deserve nothing less.

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The GTCW insists it must stay free of government interference >
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 3, 2013
Words:798
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