Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Sending the right message

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The GTC(E)'s new code of conduct does not raise the bar on standards, says Keith Bartley. Rather, in a positive way, it lays out what is expected of the teaching profession.

Successfully leading a school is an exceedingly complex activity, requiring a broad range of skills and talent.

One of the key aspects of the role is to set out clear expectations about how staff conduct themselves. What are the expectations for staff who teach? What can parents and pupils reasonably expect? What values do members of the school share and seek to uphold? And what particular skills do teachers need to help every one of the school's students to realise their potential?

Questions similar to these formed the basis of the General Teaching Council's (GTC) work to comprehensively revise our Code of Conduct and Practice for teachers in England, which was first introduced in 2004. Then, as now, our desire to create such a code is founded upon the firm conviction that it is one of the most significant hallmarks of belonging to an established profession.

Every public service seeks to provide the communities they serve with open and realistic expectations about the beliefs and values that underpin their practice. With the inception of a code, teachers find themselves in the same good company as other esteemed groups of professionals, such as doctors, nurses, lawyers and engineers. Our code promotes respect and public support for our profession - vital, when we think of the major part that parents play in our professional lives.

Several factors influenced our decision to revise the existing code. As you're all aware, numerous major initiatives have taken place over the last few years, radically transforming teachers' working lives. To remind ourselves, these include the professional standards framework, new equalities legislation and the introduction of Every Child Matters. Against this changing landscape, it was apparent that our existing code was becoming increasingly out of touch with what was happening in schools.

In addition, as one of the code's purposes is to inform disciplinary decisions, we also wanted to be able to draw upon evidence gathered from the significant body of casework that we have now dealt with. As school leaders, while you are not directly responsible for referring disciplinary cases to the GTC, you are the starting point for those who wish to raise concerns about teachers' conduct and competence. As such, you have an integral role in promoting and safeguarding the high standards of our profession.

The new code, which came into force in October, does not alter heads' fundamental responsibilities. Importantly - and contrary to some of the less accurate media reporting - the code does not raise the bar on standards and we are not expecting to deal with more cases as a result of it.

Further, the code does not provide a set of strict criteria against which the conduct and practice of individual teachers might be judged. Nor does it dictate what teachers must do or how they should teach. Our belief is that it should never be used to coerce individuals to change their practice to match the ideals of others, or constrain teachers' professional freedom inappropriately. That would be a misapplication of the code and we would not support it.

Instead, our constant aim has been to provide some guiding principles that help and support all teachers, at every stage of their career, in their professional decisions, judgements and actions.

To that end, we have engaged in widespread consultation with teachers and others who share an interest in teaching and learning - including parents, children and young people, school governors, and members of the wider children's workforce.

Amongst the most striking findings to emerge from these various in-depth conversations is that teachers have consistently higher expectations of themselves than anyone else - a view that is confirmed by our regular briefing meetings with newly qualified teachers. Many are clearly aware that they are likely to be viewed by their pupils as important role models. As a consequence, they know that they have an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of these young people.

Our extensive consultation also spearheaded a major shift in emphasis. While the existing code had focused on what teachers shouldn't do, those taking part in our discussions were explicit in their desire to create a very different, more positive kind of code.

In essence, the new code affirms the role that teachers play in improving the life chances of children and young people, by developing a shared understanding of what we can expect from the profession.

This new approach heralds a big step, but the code has been through a very thorough consultation process, and I am certain that it is a confident move towards the fulfilment of a major aspiration that I'm sure we all share: enhancing the status of our profession within the community.

My hope is that all school leaders will recognise the principles the code outlines, adopting them to guide their schools and actively promoting them to teaching staff.

Keith Bartley is chief executive of the GTC(E).

The Code of Conduct and Practice can be found at www.gtce.org.uk/teachers/thecode.

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