Francis Beckett

Like most of the things Michael Gove wants to do, abolishing the General Teaching Council for England is something New Labour thought of first.  All New Labour’s instincts were to abolish it, even though they had invented it.  And like most of the things New Labour thought of first, it misses the point. 

There are wasteful quangoes in education – I’ll come to that in a moment, and name names – but the GTC isn’t one of them.

New Labour once announced a plan for making teachers in academies exempt from the requirement to be registered with the GTCE.  These bright, sparkly new schools should be freed from “bureaucratic” requirements.  Within a day or two, it dawned on ministers – sadly after they had opened their mouths – that if the GTCE was simply a layer of bureaucracy, it should be abolished; and if it had a useful purpose, it was no less useful in academies than anywhere else.

The idea was quietly dropped. But by that time, it appealed to all New Labour’s instincts, as well as to those of Mr Gove.

This is because, despite what they say, there’s a deep and well-hidden contempt for teachers among these politicians.  The idea that there might be no professional body for doctors or lawyers would horrify them. Yet teachers, they think, do not need one. All they are responsible for is the development of our children.

There’s been no announcement about who is going to do the GTC's job in the future, and I suspect Mr Gove thinks it unnecessary.  New Labour will reply that it is necessary, but I fear that, as usual when they criticise Mr Gove’s education policies, they will not sound convincing because they are not convinced.

Yet there are quangoes in education whose abolition would save great chunks of  money, and which we would be better off without.  Chief among these is the Trainiong and Development Agency for Schools.

Insofar as it understands its role, it is to persuade more people to go into teaching, and if a campaign on this is required, that is something the private sector really would do better.

I have seen this bloated and pointless bureaucracy at work, and it horrifies me that it is spending puiblic money that could be being used for education.   Their PR consultancy once called me in at very short notice to edit a magazine for them.

No, they hadn’t read my work, and they didn’t want to know what it was like, they just wanted to know if I could do it now, now, now. The deadline was approaching like a pre-privatisation train.

Deadlines came and went as first copy, then page proofs, went round what seemed like every single member of staff at the TDA, at snail’s pace.  Each one had his or her comments on every paragraph.  One highly paid bureaucrat went painstakingly through the text changing “that” to “which” every time it occurred. Quite often pages would come back with a sort of Socratic dialogue on them. “I do not think this is the appropriate word because…” then below, in another handwriting: “I entirely agree with John, the use of this word seems to suggest…” and so on.

The PR consultancy people used to sit in long, long meeting with half a dozen or so senior people from the TDA, nodding obsequiously, saving their scorn until we were outside. They were being paid.  What the hell did they care? The cost of each one of those meetings alone to the public purse must have run into many thousands of pounds.

Two months late, the magazine was signed off, with every suggestion from every TDA pen-pusher incorporated, and all life in the copy squeezed out. The day after they signed it off, I had a frantic call. The department head at the TDA – who must have been the only person there not to have seen the pages - required us to redo the lot.

It was like eating yesterday’s congealed fried eggs. When I timidly suggested that one of the TDA suiggestions was not a very good one, the PR people phoned on a panic to say that the TDA people did not like to be contradicted.   They told me to write and apologise.  

The wretched thing finally got to bed.  I threw away all my copies; it upsets me to see my name on it as editor.