Teachers in England and Wales face the prospect of having their personal behaviour outside of work being held up to scrutiny by the new General Teaching Council for England (GTC) code of conduct which is due to come into effect next month.
The eighth principle of the code states that teachers must ‘maintain reasonable standards in their own behaviour that enable them to maintain an effective learning environment and also to uphold public trust and confidence in the profession’ (1). This gives rise to the prospect of teachers being brought before the GTC on charges of misconduct if a member of the public takes exception to a teacher enjoying a night out on the town or for many other activities which are not illegal but may be deemed to be unsuitable behaviour for a teacher.
NASUWT, one of the main teaching unions with over 250,000 members, has already launched a campaign to have the new code scrapped rejecting claims that there was any justification provided for changing the existing code that has been in force since 2000. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the new code ‘is riddled with vague statements which are open to wide interpretation and abuse, putting the careers and jobs of teachers and headteachers at risk’ (2).
The chief executive of the GTC, Keith Bartley, responded by saying: ‘It is a well-established principle that individuals have a duty to uphold the reputation of their chosen profession [but] we are absolutely explicit that the code does not in any way intrude into teachers’ private lives.’ Bartley told the Guardian that there had only been two instances where misconduct outside of school had been the subject of disciplinary cases: a teacher who encouraged unsafe sex on a website and another who had appeared on a porn programme on TV (3). Yet the examples Bartley puts forward seem precisely to intrude on teachers’ actions outside of work and suggest that what is suitable behaviour will be a subjective judgement made by the GTC.
The GTC, which started work in September 2000 to act as a unified professional body for teachers, has little support amongst teachers despite the fact that they are forced to register with it and abide by its code of conduct and disciplinary proceedings. Its inception was meant to bolster the professionalism of teaching, boosting public confidence and trust in teachers. Instead, it has had the effect of providing a media focus for the public’s diminishing trust in the teaching profession as cases of misconduct and incompetence are held in public over protracted periods resulting in the humiliation of those involved.