The General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) has recently introduced a new Code of Practice which came into force in October. Nearly 10 years since it was first established, Katie Michelon examines the GTCE’s role and how it carries out its regulatory function

What is the GTCE?
The GTCE is the professional body for teaching in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own equivalent bodies). Its overall purpose is to work in the public interest to improve standards of teaching and learning. It regulates the teaching profession and holds a register of teachers. All teachers in maintained schools, PRUs and non-maintained special schools must be registered with the GTCE. There are approximately 540,000 teachers currently on this register.

What are the GTCE’s key roles?
The GTCE is not a government body but provides advice to the government and prepares an annual report for the Secretary of State. As well as maintaining the register mentioned above, it is responsible for awarding qualified teacher status.

The regulatory role of the GTCE is perhaps its most important and high-profile function. The GTCE investigates and may take action against registered teachers who are dismissed by their employers for incompetence or misconduct, or who resign in situations where dismissal is a possibility. It examines, for example, allegations of serious professional misconduct and does so enforcing the teaching Code of Practice.

The disciplinary functions of the GTCE are set out in the General Teaching Council for England (Disciplinary Functions) Regulations 2001 and the General Teaching Council for England (Disciplinary Functions) Amendment Regulations 2003.

What does the new Code of Conduct say?
The new Code came into force in October 2009, replacing the 2007 Code. It sets out expectations of conduct and practice for teachers, focusing on the way teachers should conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis.

The new Code lays down eight ‘principles of conduct and practice’. These will be used to assess those cases of misconduct and incompetence which are referred to the GTCE for investigation and then, if necessary, a hearing. The principles include putting the wellbeing, development and progress of children first; taking responsibility for maintaining the quality of teaching practice; cooperating with other professional colleagues; and upholding public trust and confidence in the teaching profession.

How many cases are referred to the GTCE?
In 2008, over 550 teachers were referred for misconduct. Following investigation, 150 of these went to a full disciplinary hearing before the GTCE professional conduct committee.

Since the establishment of the GTCE, the number of disciplinary referrals has increased each year.

What orders can the GTCE professional conduct committee make?
The GTCE professional conduct committee is a three-person committee made up of two teachers and one member not from the teaching profession. It normally meets in public.

The Committee can do one of four things following a hearing:

  1. Reprimand – this will remain on the register for two years.
  2. Make a conditional registration order – this applies conditions to registration either for a specific period or indefinitely.
  3. Make a suspension order – suspends the teacher’s ability to register for up to two years.
  4. Make a prohibition order – this removes the teacher’s eligibility to register for a minimum of two years.

Can a decision of the GTCE professional conduct committee be appealed?
On receiving a disciplinary order, a teacher has 28 days to lodge an appeal with the High Court. The High Court has the power to uphold, revoke or amend a disciplinary order. The case of R (Rutter) v The GTCE [2008] EWHC 133 (Admin) established that the GTCE may be subject to judicial review proceedings.

What does the future hold for the GTCE?
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the new Code has on the number and nature of hearings brought before the committee.

In addition, there has been much commentary regarding the apparent number of incompetent teachers and the steps that should be taken to remove them from the classroom. One recent White Paper proposal was that teachers must have a licence to teach and that the GTCE would carry out an annual audit of the award of such licences.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Katie Michelon is a lawyer at Browne Jacobson. To find out more about the legal services Browne Jacobson provides in the education sector and to visit their website, please follow this link www.brownejacobson.com.