Lord Puttnam says 'whingeing' is doing the profession more harm than good

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The Independent Online

The chairman of the new professional body for teachers yesterday launched a thinly veiled attack on activists in the teacher unions, accusing them of "whingeing" and warning them to stop damaging the profession's image.

Lord Puttnam, chairman of the new General Teaching Council, accused many union leaders of harming their cause with the rhetoric at the Easter conference season, and called on them to forge a new partnership with parents.

He told delegates to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) conference in Llandudno: "As a profession you have to develop a more enlightened attitude to the manner in which you are perceived by the public. Once that broad public confidence has been won, I am convinced that working with the Government will be much easier."

The Labour peer, who is an adviser to Tony Blair, said there was a marked difference between parents' attitudes towards their own children's teachers and the reputation of the profession as a whole. "The conversation moves to teachers in general and a different picture emerges of whingers rather than winners, of long holidays rather than long hours."

Lord Puttnam was speaking after nine days' debate at the three major teaching union conferences. He described teachers as "simply the most important people in this country". But, he said: "We all know that there are many who, when confronted with the most excessive rhetoric of the conference season, stop short of giving the profession the confidence it deserves."

His intervention came after Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, attacked as "drivel" claims by union delegates that pupils suffered stress as a result of the Government's testing regime. Mr Woodhead was responding to attacks made at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate and at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference last week that academic pressure could force children to attempt suicide.

He wrote in a newspaper article: "Most teachers and parents are sensible. They recognise that children will respond positively to a culture of high expectation in which regular tests play a vital part."

Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of the NASUWT, in turn criticised Mr Woodhead's comments as "gratuitous and unnecessary". He said: "Every time Chris Woodhead utters quite unnecessary views at a time like this it just rallies teachers around the NUT."

Mr de Gruchy praised Lord Puttnam as "a friend of the profession", but warned that "the jury is out" on the new General Teaching Council.

The council will formally come into operation in September, as the teaching equivalent of the British Medical Association or the Law Society. Sixty-four teachers, union representatives and others will comprise the council, which will hold a list of registered teachers and will have the power to strike off those who break the law or are sacked for incompetence. Delegates at the weekend conferences criticised the new body, and the £20 a year subscription fee all teachers will have to pay.