Teachers' body in crisis as just one in eight signs up

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The Independent Online

The new professional body for teachers is facing a financial crisis after fewer than one in eight staff signed up to pay its £23 subscription fee, according to the largest teaching union.

The General Teaching Council, set up to promote and regulate teachers, needs all 410,000 teachers in England to pay the charge if it is to fund its £10.5m- a-year plans for the future.

But only 50,000 staff have so far volunteered to pay the subscription, which will allow them to register with the council and allow them to continue teaching in state schools.

The GTC says it will, as a last resort, fund its budget by forcing teachers to pay and getting their employers to take the money out of their pay packets without their consent.

However, the National Union of Teachers argues that many local education authorities will not have the systems in place to do this, leaving the council with a large budget shortfall.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris, urging her to bail the GTC out by funding all its budget so that teachers will not have to pay.

"The Council faces a crisis in the funding of its activities," Mr McAvoy said. "A fundamental question is whether the GTC should have taken decisions requiring an expenditure of this level without first establishing the desire of teachers for the products of those decisions and their willingness to pay.

"Teachers have not been persuaded to pay the GTC fee voluntarily. Their resistance stems less from the amount concerned than from their objection to the imposition of a fee for the privilege of continuing to teach.''

Earlier this year, every teacher in England was asked to give the council their bank details or payroll number so that money could be taken from their bank or pay packet. Only 50,000 have returned the forms.

A spokeswoman for the GTC agreed returns were disappointingly low but argued the council would not face financial problems because all teachers would eventually agree, or be forced, to pay. The money is due to be deducted in January so there was still time for teachers to be persuaded, she added.

She said: "We believe that the GTC must be financially independent of Government if we are truly to represent the interests of teachers. We want teachers to shape the GTC and feel ownership of it – part of that ownership is paying the registration fee."

The council argues the £23 fee is lower than charges of other professional bodies such as the Law Society (£495 a year), the General Medical Council (£170) and the General Teaching Council in Scotland (£25).

The English GTC has faced controversy since it began work in September. Its original attempt to collect teachers' addresses for its register sparked a complaint from the NUT, which was upheld by the data protection regulatory body. Earlier this year, it was also forced to cut its fee after a legal challenge from the NUT.

The NUT wants teachers in England to enjoy the same deal awarded to teachers in Wales. They can register with their professional body for free until 2002 after the Welsh Assembly agreed to fund it until then.

The union has advised its members not to pay and the second largest union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has also advised members not to return payment forms. Peter Smith, the general secretary of the , the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, has not issued any advice, arguing that members must make their own decision.

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