September 1997

Riding the Wave
Riding the Wave


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Ontario College Riding the Wave of the Future for Teachers Around the World

By Ivor Sutherland

The inaugural meeting of the Council of the Ontario College of Teachers marks the beginning of a new era for the teaching profession in the province.

The establishment of the College offers an opportunity for the profession to extend its authority and influence into areas of professional life which in the past have been dominated by others. Teachers in Ontario will now be in a position to take control of their own professional affairs.

I am pleased to have been a part of this exciting initiative and that the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) was able to lend support to the College in its early days.

The new self-regulatory body in Ontario is part of an increasing worldwide interest in the professionalisation of teaching. Since the GTCS started its work in 1966, there has been a steady trickle of visitors to the Council’s offices anxious to learn about its origins, its functions and its operating procedures. Over the last six to eight years the trickle has become more of a flood as international interest in establishing professional councils grows.

Ivor Sutherland, Registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, presents an engraved gavel from the Scottish teachers college to Ontario College of Teachers Chair Donna Marie Kennedy at the first Council meeting in May.

Following the Labour victory in the general election in the United Kingdom, a General Teaching Council will almost certainly be established in England. The new government has made education reform its first priority and promised "reforms to the teaching profession" in the Queen’s speech on the opening of Parliament.

In recent years, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have set up national working parties to discuss the possibility of professional councils, but neither has so far borne fruit.

The South African Council for Educators has the mammoth responsibility of establishing a professional council for teachers in South Africa across all races, languages, colours and religions.

The British Columbia College of Teachers has been in existence for some years now and is well established.

Australia now has boards of teacher registration in both Queensland and South Australia and a Professional Standards Council in Victoria. These are not full-blown teaching councils but have many of the same functions.

Australia established a federal Teaching Council four to five years ago, but this initiative has collapsed. I understand that the minister is proposing another body designed to restore the morale of the teaching profession.

New Zealand has a flourishing Board of Teacher Registration which has just been granted enhanced powers by the government. Despite this, there was a concentrated push to secure a professional council which has now been established on a voluntary basis. Since it is not a statutory body and since registration is not mandatory, there has been great difficulty in encouraging teachers to join up and pay registration fees.

Following several years of intensive discussion, Hong Kong also appears to be on the brink of establishing a teaching council along the lines of the Scottish model.

Teachers in Ontario would find the issues facing all these professional bodies in the 1990s remarkably familiar. In Scotland, the GTC is dealing with the issues of changing curriculum, national testing and the need to replace a large number of retiring members with new and equally well-qualified teachers.

Scottish teachers who remember the founding of our professional body more than 30 years ago would also find the opposition to the Ontario College by some teachers very familiar.

Like the College, the GTC was founded at a stressful time of great change in the education system and it, too, was greeted with doubt about its independence, concern about its powers and resistance to its fees. But today, Scottish teachers could not contemplate losing their professional body and would defend it fiercely.

Ivor Sutherland is a teacher and the Registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.