CPD Week speaks to the GTCE about the new code of conduct and practice for teachers

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen, Anthem

This October 2009 will see the introduction of a new code of conduct and practice for teachers. Launched by the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), the code sets out the expectations of registered teachers and serves as a guide for teachers’ everyday actions and judgements. We spoke to the GTCE to find out more about this new code and the implications it may have for professional learning in schools.

Cracking the code
The basic principle of a code of conduct for teachers is sound enough, but what is it that professional learning leaders in schools need to be aware of so that training and development is as anchored in the code and as enabling as possible? CPD Week spoke to Fiona Johnson, director of communications at the GTCE, to find out all you need to know…

CPD Week: As a profession we have had a code of conduct in place since 2004. Why do we need a new one now?
Fiona Johnson: We have run an 18-month project to develop the new code of practice and it has involved extensive consultation with teachers, parents, governors and young people. The original impetus for reviewing and updating the code came from our belief that a code of conduct and practice is a hallmark of an independent, high-status profession and should be relevant to every registered teacher.

Currently we have a statement of professional values and practice (originally agreed in 2001) and a code of conduct and practice (published in 2004). Having two documents is not ideal and rather confusing. Neither is particularly well-known – but teachers would tend to be more familiar with the code of conduct which, in its 2004 form, is used for our regulatory work. We believed that a single document, which sets out the expected norms of behaviour and practice in an affirmative way, rather than a ‘thou shalt not’-style document, would be more relevant and have more resonance for teachers generally because only a tiny minority would ever come into contact with the GTCE’s regulatory/disciplinary work. There have also been other developments, such as the much greater extent to which teachers now work with other professionals to support children, the Every Child Matters principles and the advent of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which made it worthwhile and timely to revise the code.

What is the new code all about?
The new code sets out the expectations that the public can legitimately have of teachers and the expectations that teachers should have of themselves. The positive, affirmative approach was strongly supported by teachers whom we consulted in the preparation of the draft and in responses to the online consultation when it was published.

What place should the code have in teachers’ planning for professional learning?
We hope that all teachers and schools will feel that the new code is a good and relevant expression of their commitment to professional learning. One way that the code could be used would be as a stimulus to staffroom discussion on encouraging a culture of professional learning in the school. The code also serves as a helpful prompt to individual registered teachers, indicating that they have a personal responsibility to reflect on their learning needs and to develop their practice. In the introduction we identify a set of values that are common values of public life, but also one distinct value that teachers share: ‘the commitment to continual learning and development – for children and young people, colleagues and themselves.’

What place does children’s learning have in the code?
Children’s learning is absolutely central. Commitment to it is part of the professional values that all teachers share and it underpins the rationale for all eight principles of the code. This is set out in more detail as Principle 3, which states that registered teachers help children and young people become confident and successful learners. Principle 4 is also very relevant because it sets out teachers’ responsibilities to promote equality and to contribute (as part of the whole-school team) towards creating a safe and inclusive learning environment – without which children’s ability to learn is seriously jeopardised.

How important is professional reflection with regard to the code?
Professional reflection is important – in Principle 2 we set out teachers’ responsibilities for maintaining the quality of their teaching practice. And we say in particular that teachers should reflect on their practice, use feedback from colleagues to help them recognise their development needs and actively seek out opportunities to develop their knowledge, understanding, skills and practice.

The eight principles of conduct and practice
There are eight clear principles of conduct and practice for registered teachers (see below). While these form the foundation of what happens in schools, they can also be used as guiding principles on which to base professional and personal learning in your school:

  1. Put the wellbeing, development and progress of children and young people first.
  2. Take responsibility for maintaining the quality of teaching practice.
  3. Help children and young people to become confident and successful learners.
  4. Demonstrate respect for diversity and promote equality.
  5. Strive to establish productive partnerships with parents and carers.
  6. Work as part of a whole-school team.
  7. Cooperate with other professional colleagues.
  8. Demonstrate honesty and integrity and uphold public trust and confidence in the teaching profession.

There’s no doubt that the GTCE views the new code as a positive development for the teaching profession because it sets out what teachers have said they believe should inform their practice, with a clear commitment to children’s learning and to their own. Professional and personal development is now, more than ever, enshrined in the everyday expectations of teachers, and there’s no better place to look for inspiration when planning for development than the code itself.

Find out more
You can download the code of conduct and practice for registered teachers at www.gtce.org.uk/documents

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.