Leading Article: Ministers are wrong to scrap the GTCE

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The Government plan to scrap the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) has taken the education world by surprise. Set up only a decade ago, it was responsible for regulating the profession, like the General Medical Council does doctors. It was there to deal with errant teachers and to provide research so that ministers would have the unbiased information they said they needed for decision-making.

It is true that teachers' leaders never took the GTCE to their hearts, complaining about the £36.50 compulsory registration fee, and the code of conduct that emphasised standards of behaviour for teachers outside of school.

However, for years before the GTCE was established, these same teachers' leaders were campaigning for this sort of body to be set up. The trouble was that the teachers' unions could never agree on how many members each should have on it. It would, of course, be brilliant if the teachers' unions could establish their own independent council, but experience suggests this will never happen.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is seeking parliamentary approval to wind up the organisation, saying he is "deeply sceptical" about its purpose. He has indicated to Parliament he has not yet decided how its functions will be carried out in future.

It is worth noting the GTCE was not a drain on public finances – or at most it was only a minimal one. It has spent a little more than its budget in the past two years, but this is nothing that could not be brought under control by some modest trimming. Most of its income came from the £36.50 registration fee. Admittedly, teachers' leaders disliked the charge but, if they want a body that is independent of Government interference, as they say they do, they have to address the question of how it should be financed.

We would have been behind Mr Gove if he had announced that he was dissatisfied with how the GTCE was operating and ordered a review of its functions. If you do not have a GTCE, you rely on local authorities and governing bodies to be the arbiters in disciplining teachers, a state of affairs that this coalition Government is unlikely to support.

So, to scrap the GTCE and say you will put forward measures for dealing with its vital functions some time in the future is not good enough. The GTCE is not merely a quango. The Government's decision cannot be justified by the need to cut down on unnecessary spending.