in Education

My response to the GTC’s proposed ‘code of conduct’ for teachers in England.

GTCAs I’ve mentioned once or twice before, teaching is only a ‘profession’ in the loosest sense of the term. Teachers don’t get paid as much or enjoy the same sort of status as, say, doctors and lawyers, yet our job combines very difficult elements: social worker, instructor, mentor, teamworker, and role model, to name but a few.

The General Teaching Council for England have proposed a new ‘code of conduct’ for teachers. See the BBC News article here for an overview. I was against the establishment of this regulatory body as it seems (and has proved) to be an example of needless bureaucracy and red tape.

You can read the proposed code of conduct here. I would suggest that you do so before reading any more of this post… :-p

Here’s the key parts as far as I’m concerned:

Of course, the values and practices set out in the Code are already evident in classrooms and schools across England. The purpose of the Code is to set down in one place some clear statements about teacher professionalism which apply to all teachers, no matter what subject or age of children they teach, their role or level of experience, or the context in which they work. (p.3)

If the system’s already working, why do we need legislation?

As the professional regulatory body for teaching, the GTCE also has a key role in strengthening teacher professionalism.(p.3)

The GTCE is unelected and unwanted by most teachers, who resent the levied fee (even if we do get it back if we’re in full-time employment). It’s also a barrier to good teachers moving between countries. For example, if I wanted to apply for a job in Scotland, I’d have to pay c.£50 to join the General Teaching Council for Scotland first! (and vice-versa)

Reflecting changes in the policy environment and in legislation, the revised Code places greater emphasis on safe-guarding children and young people and promoting and protecting their rights, and on equalities. (p.4)

What about the teachers’ human rights and right to a private life?

The Code focuses on behaviours and the way in which teachers conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. However, because behaviours arise from values, beliefs and attitudes, the document begins with a statement of the core values that underpin teacher professionalism. (p.5)

So you have to have particular beliefs and values to be a teacher? What about diversity?

‘Core values’ of the teaching profession in GTCE document:

• Excellence and continual development
• Commitment and empathy
• Reflection and self-regulation
• Honesty and integrity
• Respect, equality, diversity and inclusion
• Involvement and empowerment
• Collegiality and cooperation
• Responsiveness to change (p.6)

How can the code legislate for ‘reflection’, ‘empathy’ and real ‘responsiveness to change’. It’s a farce.

The proposed ‘eight principles of conduct and practice':

  1. Place the wellbeing, development and progress of children and young people at the heart of their professional practice
  2. Reflect on their own teaching to ensure that it meets the high professional standards required to help children and young people achieve their full potential
  3. Strive to awaken a passion for learning and achievement among children and young people and equip them with the skills to become lifelong learners
  4. Promote equality and value diversity
  5. Take proactive steps to establish partnerships with parents
  6. Work as part of a whole-school team
  7. Cooperate with other professional colleagues who have a role in enabling
    children and young people to thrive and succeed
  8. Demonstrate high standards of honesty and integrity and uphold public trust
    and confidence in the teaching profession (p.7)

This already happens. No argument here. The document then goes into more depth on these eight points. Most of it had me nodding my head in agreement, apart from the first bullet point of eighth principle, which reads:

Uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour both inside and outside school that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession. (p.22)

This is worded very ambiguously. For example, until a couple of months ago I had 6 points on my license due to two separate incidents of minor speeding infractions. Are they relevant? A couple of members of staff get drunk at a Christmas party and dance on the tables. Is that relevant? Who decides – the unelected GTC?

I’m all for greater professionalism within education. What I’m against is administration and bureaucracy for the sake of it. I’m absolutely for easier ways to get rid of poor teachers. But I’m absolutely against imprecisely-worded ‘principles’ that have been drafted by an unelected and unwanted body.

And then, hidden away in the appendix:

Examples of failures in this category have included: bullying or harassing staff; working while on sick leave; being under the influence of alcohol while at school; accessing the internet for personal use while supervising children during timetabled lessons

I’m obviously a terrible teacher as I’ve done two of these on more than one occasion. No, not alcohol or bullying! I’ve been too ill to work at school before – in terms of standing up in front of a class, but have been able to use my laptop to earn money from ongoing work I do for a publishing company. Additionally, when I’ve covered classes who are working away quietly and independently, I’ve taken some marking to do. When that’s finished I’ve written the occasional blog post, checked eBay auctions, etc. whilst supervising a class.

I don’t think these two things make me a terrible teacher at all or morally reprehensible – do you? It’s the ambiguity of the statements that gets me.

What are YOUR thoughts?

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  1. I’m in complete agreement with you. We are forever being told of the importance of maintaining a healthy divide between work and life. We are warned against mixing the two (and with good reason), but now, and in one fell swoop, it appears that teachers in England are about to have that divide irrevocably removed.

    In Scotland, it is already possible to be ‘struck off’ for bringing the profession into disrepute, but this is not buit into the legislation in the way that is being proposed by the GTCE. We appear to have a system built on good sense that allows us to be ourselves when we leave the school gates behind without fear of having our private lives judged by our professional body… who, unlike England; are elected.

    I know that if I was in your position I’d be looking at he £50 to register to teach in Scotland as money well spent…

    • I’m seriously considering going to teach in another country or doing something else if they bring in this ‘code of conduct’, Neil. I think it’s an undue infringement on the civil liberties of teachers.

      I think the code will actually be used by Headteachers to constructively dismiss staff. I’ve got nothing to hide or be ashamed of in my private life, but I shouldn’t have to be looking over my shoulder every time I go to the pub, should I?

  2. I'm in complete agreement with you. We are forever being told of the importance of maintaining a healthy divide between work and life. We are warned against mixing the two (and with good reason), but now, and in one fell swoop, it appears that teachers in England are about to have that divide irrevocably removed.In Scotland, it is already possible to be 'struck off' for bringing the profession into disrepute, but this is not buit into the legislation in the way that is being proposed by the GTCE. We appear to have a system built on good sense that allows us to be ourselves when we leave the school gates behind without fear of having our private lives judged by our professional body… who, unlike England; are elected.I know that if I was in your position I'd be looking at he £50 to register to teach in Scotland as money well spent…

  3. @ Doug
    In the states the fees are nothing new. We have to pay to renew our certificate every so many years. Each state doesn’t always recognize the other states certification process so moving can prove costly in terms of time and money to reach the needed credentials.

    The code seems rather benign. The ambiguity of much of it can cut both ways. If it’s hard to legislate then it is probably harder to enforce. Most of it seems aimed at preventing teachers from teaching one year twenty five times. The focus seems to be on constant teacher improvement and being student focused.

    How collaborative was the process that created this code?

    • I disagree, Charlie. Just because you’re used to a different situation in the US doesn’t mean that it’s not a bad thing for teachers in England. We’re supposed to be professionals and have status as such. At the moment we’re given none of the respect, power and renumeration of other professions, yet they want us to be subject to more draconian ‘code of conducts’ than professionals in other fields.

      It’s just plain wrong.

      They’ve put the document out for ‘consultation’ until February, but that’s just to save face. Unless there’s a massive protest (including strikes) by the trade unions, it will just be introduced for next academic year.

      I feel almost as strongly about this as I do about proposed ID cards >:-(

  4. @ DougIn the states the fees are nothing new. We have to pay to renew our certificate every so many years. Each state doesn't always recognize the other states certification process so moving can prove costly in terms of time and money to reach the needed credentials.The code seems rather benign. The ambiguity of much of it can cut both ways. If it's hard to legislate then it is probably harder to enforce. Most of it seems aimed at preventing teachers from teaching one year twenty five times. The focus seems to be on constant teacher improvement and being student focused. How collaborative was the process that created this code?

  5. I'm seriously considering going to teach in another country or doing something else if they bring in this 'code of conduct', Neil. I think it's an undue infringement on the civil liberties of teachers.I think the code will actually be used by Headteachers to constructively dismiss staff. I've got nothing to hide or be ashamed of in my private life, but I shouldn't have to be looking over my shoulder every time I go to the pub, should I?

  6. I disagree, Charlie. Just because you're used to a different situation in the US doesn't mean that it's not a bad thing for teachers in England. We're supposed to be professionals and have status as such. At the moment we're given none of the respect, power and renumeration of other professions, yet they want us to be subject to more draconian 'code of conducts' than professionals in other fields.It's just plain wrong. They've put the document out for 'consultation' until February, but that's just to save face. Unless there's a massive protest (including strikes) by the trade unions, it will just be introduced for next academic year.I feel almost as strongly about this as I do about proposed ID cards >:-(

  7. Let’s be honest – the GTC was set up to fast track the dismissal of useless teachers. Unfortunately it hasn’t had the desired effect – I have come teachers who seem untouchable by these rules (fortunately most teachers are more than capable!) and the GTC doesn’t help here. They did try to broaden their remit and got beaten back by the unions a while back.

    Now the busy bodies who fancied a bit of power on the board of the GTC have decided we need a code of conduct! I guess they need to do something to spend all those £33’s on, apart from a database of teachers full of holes.

  8. Unnecessary legislation proposed by an unnecessary body trying to justify its existence. At the same time, another nail in the coffin of hard earned individual rights. Too many rules, too little common sense.

  9. Doug,
    It wasn’t until I was 50 that I started reading and thinking about freedom, what it really means, and what kind of society and economic environment helps maintain it, and what kind of philosophy or principles form its basis. I wish I had done that much earlier in life. Good luck in your battle. I think you probably realize that this is just one battle in a much larger war.

  10. I was a bit stunned by this example of “engaging in inappropriate relationships with, pupils”

    …texting or writing personally to them or filming or photographing them without their permission or that of their parents.

  11. The whole thing smacks of a bureaucratic body justifying its own existence. My real fear is that the proposed code will only increase the sense in young graduates that teaching is not for them … that teachers can’t have fun, and can’t have personal lives that don’t meet with a largely arbitrary definition of “appropriate”. Talented, dynamic people will surely be dissuaded from entering teaching.

    What next? As someone pointed out on Twitter … will doctors be disciplined for smoking or drinking because this sets a “bad example”?

    What exactly is wrong with the current regulations? On what basis is it felt necessary to extend them?

    • They were discussing this on Radio 1 yesterday and I heard one of the presenters actually say that they wanted a world where teachers ‘stayed in, watching children’s TV and marking’. I was flabbergasted…

  12. The whole thing smacks of a bureaucratic body justifying its own existence. My real fear is that the proposed code will only increase the sense in young graduates that teaching is not for them … that teachers can't have fun, and can't have personal lives that don't meet with a largely arbitrary definition of "appropriate". Talented, dynamic people will surely be dissuaded from entering teaching.What next? As someone pointed out on Twitter … will doctors be disciplined for smoking or drinking because this sets a "bad example"?What exactly is wrong with the current regulations? On what basis is it felt necessary to extend them?

  13. Doug:
    I agree with you that this is a minefield. There have been several recent incidents here in the states where teachers have been dismissed or put on administrative leave because of “inappropriate” postings in such sites as Facebook. While I agree that to some extent I am supposed to be a positive role model, I am also a private citizen and should not have to feel like I’m being watched all the time.

  14. Doug,

    I don’t have time to read the entire GTC Code right now, but certainly plan to later. The first paragraph of the Draft reads “Teaching is an important and responsible profession, whose members can have a profound and lasting influence on the development and life chances of the children and young people with whom they work.”

    What if we substitute “parenting” for “teaching”? Will parents be expected to sign and adhere to a similar code?

  15. Doug: I agree with you that this is a minefield. There have been several recent incidents here in the states where teachers have been dismissed or put on administrative leave because of "inappropriate" postings in such sites as Facebook. While I agree that to some extent I am supposed to be a positive role model, I am also a private citizen and should not have to feel like I'm being watched all the time.

  16. Doug,I don't have time to read the entire GTC Code right now, but certainly plan to later. The first paragraph of the Draft reads "Teaching is an important and responsible profession, whose members can have a profound and lasting influence on the development and life chances of the children and young people with whom they work."What if we substitute "parenting" for "teaching"? Will parents be expected to sign and adhere to a similar code?

  17. It seems to me that we are increasingly under pressure to wrap everything up in legislation and guidelines. Have we become so litigious as a society that we can no longer even grant people the right to suck at something? We start off with a set of rules, then, in order to make sure everyone abides by those to our satisfaction, we wrap them in another layer of rules, then we add a layer of guidelines and a layer of… sigh. In the end, teachers are so busy complying with all the guidelines and regulations, they never actually get to teach!

  18. Let's be honest – the GTC was set up to fast track the dismissal of useless teachers. Unfortunately it hasn't had the desired effect – I have come teachers who seem untouchable by these rules (fortunately most teachers are more than capable!) and the GTC doesn't help here. They did try to broaden their remit and got beaten back by the unions a while back. Now the busy bodies who fancied a bit of power on the board of the GTC have decided we need a code of conduct! I guess they need to do something to spend all those £33's on, apart from a database of teachers full of holes.

  19. Unnecessary legislation proposed by an unnecessary body trying to justify its existence. At the same time, another nail in the coffin of hard earned individual rights. Too many rules, too little common sense.

  20. Doug,It wasn't until I was 50 that I started reading and thinking about freedom, what it really means, and what kind of society and economic environment helps maintain it, and what kind of philosophy or principles form its basis. I wish I had done that much earlier in life. Good luck in your battle. I think you probably realize that this is just one battle in a much larger war.

  21. I was a bit stunned by this example of “engaging in inappropriate relationships with, pupils”…texting or writing personally to them or filming or photographing them without their permission or that of their parents.

  22. It seems to me that we are increasingly under pressure to wrap everything up in legislation and guidelines. Have we become so litigious as a society that we can no longer even grant people the right to suck at something? We start off with a set of rules, then, in order to make sure everyone abides by those to our satisfaction, we wrap them in another layer of rules, then we add a layer of guidelines and a layer of… sigh. In the end, teachers are so busy complying with all the guidelines and regulations, they never actually get to teach!

    • Yep, far too much paperwork in teaching these days, Karyn. The flip side, of course, is that the assumption is that it just takes mentoring and guidance to change a poor teacher into a great one. I have to say that I don’t think that’s the case at all. In some cases people would need personality transplants! :-o

  23. They were discussing this on Radio 1 yesterday and I heard one of the presenters actually say that they wanted a world where teachers 'stayed in, watching children's TV and marking'. I was flabbergasted…

  24. Yep, far too much paperwork in teaching these days, Karyn. The flip side, of course, is that the assumption is that it just takes mentoring and guidance to change a poor teacher into a great one. I have to say that I don't think that's the case at all. In some cases people would need personality transplants! :-o

  25. Doug,
    First the GTC, then the RAE. Birds of a feather? “British academics and those working in similar institutions were once famed for their resistance to management, and the resultant harvest of unpredicted discoveries was prodigious.

    Now apparently, it has been decided that freedom is too costly a commodity to be distributed widely. Researchers nowadays must persuade their peers in advance that their work will meet the needs of “users and beneficiaries” before it will be supported. Most applications fail. When they do get support, they must overcome other hurdles before their peers will allow publication of the results. ”

    (from the THE http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=404793&c=1

    • I can’t see peer review lasting long. Although I haven’t read it myself, I understand that in his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, Clay Shirky suggests that everyone should just publish and ‘let the network filter’.

      Just because you’ve got a group of ‘experts’ together doesn’t mean that you’re any nearer to intangible concepts such as ‘truth’. In fact, as accepted computer-generated articles submitted to journals and the Encyclopaedia Britannica vs. Wikipedia debate show, the opposite can be true…

  26. From a review of “Inclined to Liberty” by Louis Carabini: “As with any great primer, there are also contributions to broader understanding here. The way the author sees it, there are two general approaches to social affairs:

    There are those inclined to liberty — freedom of the individual to live his or her life in any peaceful way. And there are those who are inclined to mastery — permitting others to live their lives only as another sees fit.

    There is a massive historical infrastructure behind the idea that all social interactions are based on either force or free will, dating even to the ancient world. But it is a lesson that is still unlearned — or rather, it is casually denied by people who recommend what they call humane social policies. Surely the rich should give to the poor. Surely luxury must relent in the face of necessity. Surely those who start life with a boost from wealth or social position should assist those who have neither.

    One can multiply these claims without limit, all with an eye to fairness, equality, safety, security, humanitarianism, and so on. There are many things to say about each claim — for example, that the political means to achieve them often yield the opposite effect. But one point avoided by those who recommend such ideas is that every “humanitarian” policy put into effect makes society more violent.

    They deny this, of course, but violence is intrinsic to their chosen means. They must pass laws enforced by bureaucrats who are empowered to force people to do things they wouldn’t do voluntarily, and to take property from those to whom it belongs and give it to those who didn’t earn it. This requires violence and the threat of violence, since every edict of the state is ultimately enforced by this means and no other. These impulses increase the role of the master-slave relationship in society and diminish the extent to which society is made up of people involved in voluntary pursuits. Society under the control of the redistributionist mindset will be a police state.”

  27. Doug,First the GTC, then the RAE. Birds of a feather? “British academics and those working in similar institutions were once famed for their resistance to management, and the resultant harvest of unpredicted discoveries was prodigious.Now apparently, it has been decided that freedom is too costly a commodity to be distributed widely. Researchers nowadays must persuade their peers in advance that their work will meet the needs of “users and beneficiaries” before it will be supported. Most applications fail. When they do get support, they must overcome other hurdles before their peers will allow publication of the results. “(from the THE http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=404793&c=1

  28. From a review of “Inclined to Liberty” by Louis Carabini: “As with any great primer, there are also contributions to broader understanding here. The way the author sees it, there are two general approaches to social affairs: There are those inclined to liberty — freedom of the individual to live his or her life in any peaceful way. And there are those who are inclined to mastery — permitting others to live their lives only as another sees fit.There is a massive historical infrastructure behind the idea that all social interactions are based on either force or free will, dating even to the ancient world. But it is a lesson that is still unlearned — or rather, it is casually denied by people who recommend what they call humane social policies. Surely the rich should give to the poor. Surely luxury must relent in the face of necessity. Surely those who start life with a boost from wealth or social position should assist those who have neither.One can multiply these claims without limit, all with an eye to fairness, equality, safety, security, humanitarianism, and so on. There are many things to say about each claim — for example, that the political means to achieve them often yield the opposite effect. But one point avoided by those who recommend such ideas is that every “humanitarian” policy put into effect makes society more violent.They deny this, of course, but violence is intrinsic to their chosen means. They must pass laws enforced by bureaucrats who are empowered to force people to do things they wouldn't do voluntarily, and to take property from those to whom it belongs and give it to those who didn't earn it. This requires violence and the threat of violence, since every edict of the state is ultimately enforced by this means and no other. These impulses increase the role of the master-slave relationship in society and diminish the extent to which society is made up of people involved in voluntary pursuits. Society under the control of the redistributionist mindset will be a police state.”

  29. Wow! Thanks Marc. I really don't like the nanny state at all, and the manifestations that of this that then trickle down into other organizations and institutions. As suggested by the marvellous quotation above, the more you legislate for something the less people do it voluntarily.Merry Christmas! :-)

  30. I can't see peer review lasting long. Although I haven't read it myself, I understand that in his book 'Here Comes Everybody', Clay Shirky suggests that everyone should just publish and 'let the network filter'. Just because you've got a group of 'experts' together doesn't mean that you're any nearer to intangible concepts such as 'truth'. In fact, as accepted computer-generated articles submitted to journals and the Encyclopaedia Britannica vs. Wikipedia debate show, the opposite can be true…