Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

LORD PUTTNAM OF QUEENSGATE AND MS CAROL ADAMS

MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002

Chairman

  1. We are very grateful that Lord Puttnam could come in and do a sort of swan song as Chairman of GTC. You are giving up at the end of August.


  (Lord Puttnam) Yes, that is right.

  2. Carol Adams will be the link between the old and the new, and I presume that she does all the work. You will be followed by David Miliband. We have tried to please Lord Puttnam by having all-action sessions—a double feature! The Committee is very interested to know just how GTC is panning out. When we met you, Lord Puttnam, 15 months ago[1], we pushed you a little bit on what precisely the role of the GTC would be. Could you give an introductory statement and tell us something about how you see it?


  (Lord Puttnam) First of all, I would like to thank the Chair and Members of this Committee for inviting us here, at the end of my term as the inaugural Chair of the General Teaching Council. Our previous appearance before your predecessor committee two years ago, at which both you, Mr Chairman, and Valerie Davey were present, was described at the time as a "confirmation hearing". It is therefore entirely appropriate that I should be recalled for an "exit interview" and to account for my period of office. My tenure as Chair of the GTC obviously represents an important formative period for the GTC. During this time the organisation has necessarily focused on creating structures, processes and policies quite literally from scratch. This has included the substantial task of building a register of some half a million teachers. The task of maintaining the register, one of the largest professional registers of its kind, is, of course, ongoing, as we develop its capacity to become a valuable intelligence resource for the profession. The Council has also embraced its regulatory responsibilities for hearing cases of conduct and competence. This has involved arranging an efficient hand-over from the Department in relation to conduct work, and the preparation and implementation of new procedures for competence work. It is of course early days for the GTC in respect of this work and it will be a focus for ongoing review, as we mature into our regulatory role. Central to the work of the last two years has been a campaign of listening and persuasion. We have met, quite literally, thousands of teachers across the country. At our regular teacher meetings in every region, we talk with professionals about the GTC, but, most importantly, our dialogue with teachers is being used to inform our work, so that teachers' expertise and practice can at last be placed at the heart of education policy-making. Teachers are the lifeblood of education and this ability to listen and then use what we have learnt to inform our work defines the function of the GTC. Too much education policy in the past, by successive governments, has been imposed on teachers, and fails to take advantage of their practical experience. I believe we are helping to evolve a cultural change by providing opportunities for teachers to take the lead in shaping professional practice and, with it, education policy. The priority for the organisation moving forward in the coming year is consolidation, to give the GTC a strong base from which to build a valuable and confident professional organisation. I would like to finish by saying that it has been a privilege to be the founding Chair of the GTC. Education is key to all our futures and has been a passion of mine for many years. Being involved from the very inception of a new organisation has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. I have met and worked with a remarkable and diverse group of people, all of them motivated by one thing: the creation of the best and most able generation of young people, well able to cope with the demands of a changing and challenging world. I look forward to watching the GTC mature and the teaching profession grow in stature so that both can fulfil their potential in the development of a new era of teaching and learning in this country.

  3. Thank you, Lord Puttnam. When you came before us two years ago, you were quite keen to make the GTC the voice of the teaching profession. You have had some criticisms from people who say that you are not truly the voice, that you can never replace trade unions as the true voice of the teaching profession. How have your relationships with the trade unions worked out? Are they better or worse?
  (Lord Puttnam) I think they are rapidly improving. I would say there is a normalisation that has taken place, certainly in the last six to nine months. Possibly what was misunderstood was the intention behind the GTC and confusion about the role of the GTC. The GTC in essence is not simply the voice of the teaching profession, but the voice of the educational community. Out of 64 members, 44 members are teaching professionals—deputy heads and heads; and the other 20 are all stakeholders in the world of education from parents through to a whole range of other aspects of education. This has been overlooked or misunderstood. There are a great number of stakeholders in education of whom, for me, the most important—the most vital component—are teachers. The very largest union only represents 35 per cent of practising teachers, which leaves by definition 65 per cent that are potentially disenfranchised from any single decision, as well as every other stakeholder group. The purpose of the GTC is to attempt to offer with a unified voice—the ambitions, concerns and aspirations of the whole educational community. It is partly my fault, but we have failed to get that across adequately.

  4. Is that your only disappointment?
  (Lord Puttnam) I have another personal disappointment. I have spent the best part of two years attending, as it were, to the plumbing. It was very, very poor legislation that created the GTC with enormous gaps in it. It was much more frustrating for Carol and her colleagues. We spent an enormous amount of time, much of it unnecessary, attempting to explain and deal with the fee collection process. It was very poor legislation and has affected the first two years grievously.

  5. Can I press you a little further on that, because that is at the very heart of our responsibility. Here was something that had a long history—a struggle of nearly a hundred years to get the GTC. We eventually get it, after there had been a voluntary organisation running and trying to prove that the GTC was an essential part of the educational landscape. Then you say that having got round to the legislation, and the 1997 Government, having agreed it as part of its commitment, it was poor legislation, but how could that be? Here was something that had been chewed over for all this time. What went wrong in terms of the quality of legislation, from your point of view?
  (Lord Puttnam) I think it was possibly rushed—and that is the most generous gloss you can put on it. There were two other things. Because it had taken so long to come into being, there was almost a huge sigh of relief—"there is going to be a GTC; everything is fine". Unfortunately, the devil is, and has been, very much in the detail. But there is another reason, and I probably would not have said this a couple of years ago because I did not know enough about the internal workings of Government. There was a general ambivalence as to the value or even desirability of the GTC. If I said to you that the legislation was, if anything, slightly half-hearted, that might go some way towards explaining the inadequacies that Carol and her staff have had to contend with.

  6. If it was half-hearted, who was the minister who took the legislation through?
  (Lord Puttnam) The Secretary of State, David Blunkett, but in fairness he was never in opposition to creating the GTC. It may well be that the day he arrived, the commitment having been made, he was surrounded by those who were less keen on the notion than him.

  7. You would put the ball in the court of the civil servants, rather than the elected —
  (Lord Puttnam) I am not avoiding the question, but I would put the ball firmly in the court of the ambivalence that existed at the time, whereby a number of people thought at the end of the day it was not such a brilliant idea. It was something that inexorably happened, to the enormous relief of those who had been lobbying for it—not personally, but collectively—for 100 years.

  8. There was a commitment to a GTC but people had not thought through the detail.
  (Lord Puttnam) No. The fee collection issue, clearly, had not been fully considered. Probably my greatest single failure in the last two years was my failure to press home the case. Carol and I did try to press home the case of the desirability of clearly identifying it in the wage round.

Mr Shaw

  9. Lord Puttnam, you have been in the job for 18 months now.
  (Lord Puttnam) I was appointed by the Secretary of State two and a half years ago, but we have been up and running as an organisation for 18 months.

Chairman

  10. How long have you been taking the salary?
  (Lord Puttnam) It depends who you talk to! My salary for a period of eight months was paid directly by the Department and GTC took over responsibility in September 2001.

Mr Shaw

  11. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the GTC when it was launched, and it was a commitment made in opposition. You spent 18 months or so organising the plumbing, and during that time there have been criticisms: "What have you been doing; why have we not heard from the GTC; is it going to be more of the same; is it going to be bigger or become boring; should it be like this; where do you see the GTC going in two years' time?"
  (Lord Puttnam) One of my reasons for not seeking to be re-elected was to avoid it going on being boring. I think I became the bore in many instances because, if you like, I had a reflective attitude to what had gone on. We have some very, very solid achievements behind us. As well as doing the plumbing, some water has flown to vital parts of the teaching profession, and we have basically done an excellent job when you consider what we have been up against—putting the pipes in place and making absolutely sure it is up and running effectively.

  12. In 18 months' time, when you are looking at your successor, what would you hope they would achieve?
  (Lord Puttnam) I would hope that 18 months from now the kind of questions we are currently facing, the whys and wherefores, will be behind us. We took very good advice and took particular notice of the advice given to us by the Scottish GTC. They were very clear: it would take five years to get a GTC up and running and part of the landscape. That is pretty well the timetable we were working to, and probably, looking back, if you want to be critical of the thinking behind the legislation, possibly more notice should have been taken of those five years in the Scottish GTC's life cycle, where, frankly, had we copied the things they did right and noted the things they got wrong, we could have saved ourselves a lot of pain.

Jeff Ennis

  13. Given that the GTC has been operating for a short time, do you think it is now time to review the size and composition of the GTC, or is it about right?
  (Lord Puttnam) I think it would be too early to review the size and composition, but what is interesting, looking at parallel organisations and the reviews they have gone through in the past year or two, is that the general drift would appear to be in enlarging the lay representation on such bodies. That seems to be the way in which accountability is driving them. I would have thought that that would be a good thing to review three years from now.

Chairman

  14. There is a whole debate about whether a respectable professional should pay the fee themselves. Why does it have to be bound in to a pay negotiation or form part of a package? Many of us are members of professional organisations and we pay our fee, and that gives us independence in the sense that it says, "I am a member of a profession, and because of that I, out of my hard-earned income, pay something towards that."
  (Lord Puttnam) Chairman, two years ago I would have entirely agreed, but what I was not aware of at the time was in how many professional organisations' professional fees are paid by the employer. It is quite remarkable. The more evidence we got and the further we delved into it, the more the case was made that the employer more often than not pays professional fees. It has not been my personal experience, rather like yours, but it does seem to be the norm rather than the exception.

Mr Chaytor

  15. I would like to ask you about the disciplinary procedures that you have adopted and specifically how many teachers to date have been subject to those procedures.
  (Ms Adams) We have held five hearings so far. We began our regulatory work last June, and we held our first investigation committee in the autumn. Following that process, we have held five formal hearings. Two teachers have received a two-year prohibition order; one teacher has received a reprimand; in one case there was no jurisdiction, and in one case no action was taken. We are just about bedding in that process, and there are many more cases in the pipeline.

  16. Are those the kinds of figures that you would have expected in the first 18 months?
  (Ms Adams) We expect them to be slightly more. It is quite a new process and there is nothing that we can compare it to. The fact that we have to go through two formal processes and that we have to go through a public hearing means that cases are coming through more slowly than we anticipated. It is a new procedure for local authorities and employers to refer cases to us, so we are now expecting more. However, as I say, no other body in education holds hearings quite like this, so we do not have anything with which to compare ourselves.

  17. You said there are more in the pipeline.
  (Ms Adams) Yes.

  18. Can you give us an indication? Is it likely to increase over the next 18 months?
  (Ms Adams) I would expect the caseload to increase, yes. There are a dozen or so cases waiting to be heard, and we will see a slow acceleration.

  19. You issue a professional code of conduct for teachers. Are you happy with the way that operates? Is it adequate for teachers? How was that code established in the first place?
  (Ms Adams) The Council has developed a highly aspirational code of professional practice and values. We have not set out to write a code of conduct at this stage, believing that we needed to hear cases and learn how the process operates; and we are considering now putting forward a code of conduct that will give guidance to members in determining these cases.

 


1   Minutes of Evidence taken before the Education Sub-committee of the Education and Employment Committee, HC 239-i, Session 1999-2000. Back

 
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