There aren’t many new initiatives in education that have the support of teachers, the unions and all political parties. But the idea of a new member-driven College of Teaching does.
Almost everyone agrees that the practice of the government of the day defining teachers’ professional standards has played its part in teachers feeling disempowered and having a low status in society.
So, when 1,200 teachers and heads responded to our survey, I wasn’t surprised that more than 92 per cent said that they wanted to see a new independent body that would give them a voice on professional standards and, beyond that, education policy.
If there were a teacher-led body akin to the medical Royal Colleges, through which teachers would define and affirm their professionalism, so the argument goes, teachers’ status in society would be raised.
While I don’t disagree with this, I think there are four even more important reasons why a new College of Teaching is a necessity.
The first is that the current system is dominated by accountability – Ofsted, examinations, league tables, etc.
Of course the stick of accountability is necessary, but where is the carrot of aspiration? Where is the articulation and celebration of the unique blend of qualities that make successful and effective teachers?
There are initiatives like Advanced Skills Teachers and Specialist and Local Leaders of Education, but because they are government-led, they regrettably come and go. There is an urgent need to provide the teaching profession with a constant organisation and structure that all teachers would aspire to join.
We are not suggesting a compulsory licence to teach in the manner of the General Teaching Council for England, but a voluntary, aspirational organisation that celebrates professionalism.
The letters MCOT or FCOT (Member of the College of Teaching or Fellow of the College of Teaching) to follow a name should be hard to get and a source of pride for their recipient.
The second reason is that there needs to be a heavy-weight advisory buffer between children’s education and the zig-zagging imperatives of the political cycle and fluctuating educational ideologies.
A child spends 11 to 13 years in the school system, and it is not helpful for the strategic direction of the system to be constantly changing direction during that time.
Teachers don’t need reminding of the cascade of well-intentioned initiatives that have come and gone in the past decades.
I worry that ministers have not had a central, authoritative, evidence-based organisation to which to turn to receive solid advice prior to launching their initiatives.
In the absence of this, and without a consistent view from the profession about what works in schooling, ideologies and counter-ideologies thrive. Good news for polemicists and people selling fashionable education products to schools, but bad news for the next generation in the middle of their schooling.
Closely related is the third reason for a new College of Teaching – the need to define and agree what really works in our schools.
Despite their countries topping PISA league tables, some parents in Korea and Shanghai who can afford it will send their children to boarding schools in the UK. And British International Schools are thriving across the world. Why? There is something – at present, ill-defined – in the DNA of British education that other countries hope to acquire.
I have just returned from the Prince’s Teaching Institute’s Headteachers’ Conference where, for the fourth year in a row, maintained school headteachers affirmed that, as well as young people doing well in examinations (and therefore probably at PISA), a good education has so much more besides to offer. A College of Teaching would be in a position to begin to distil and define what makes an education that is the envy of the world.
The fourth argument is the need to promote good and appropriate professional development.
Faced with limited CPD provision and tightening school budgets, too many schools give up on nurturing their staff as professionals and don’t give them the opportunities to develop fully. Too many good people leave the profession disaffected; an awful waste of human resources.
How would this College of Teaching go about addressing the needs that are so readily identifiable? Its first task would be to articulate the evidence of excellence in teaching practice.
In order to do this, it should bring the worlds of education research and classroom practice more closely together.
In medicine, the Royal Colleges encourage research in clinical practice, and then spread the word to the profession when new approaches have been shown to work.
This is what is needed in teaching: more research that addresses the needs of classroom teachers; the informing of professional standards of practice by the results of that research; and an environment where many more teachers than at present are well-informed by it.
A College of Teaching must also encourage the development of every teacher as a professional. This is no easy task. Teachers are individuals working in different contexts.
It is for this reason that in our blueprint, we have resisted the call to insist on a number of hours of CPD per annum. This is too blunt an instrument.
Instead, we recommend an organisation where members have access to an advisor – a teacher with greater experience, in another school, to guide and encourage as a portfolio of evidence of development and practice is built. Once ready, that portfolio is submitted for certification and if successful, teachers would progress from Associate to Member, or Member to Fellow of the College.
An independent body
To build the respect of the profession and policy-makers, this process and the College must remain truly independent, and not fall prey to any special interest group.
We recommend a governance structure with a “double board” – a Board overseen by neutral Trustees whose only function would be to ensure that the Board and executive are fulfilling the College’s mission to improve the education of children and young people.
It is essential that this new College of Teaching’s activities should remain independent of the political cycle. As he who pays the piper calls the tune, it is imperative, therefore, that the body is not dependent on funding from government.
We have investigated various funding mechanisms and concluded that the College be funded by members’ annual subscriptions. These would be in the order of £70 to £130 per annum, with an additional fee of £170 to £190 for those seeking certification as Members or Fellows.
It is encouraging that more than 75 per cent of teachers and headteachers we surveyed said they would be prepared to pay membership subscriptions in this order of magnitude, and that over a third of schools said they would probably pay the certification fees.
What would members get for their subscription? As well as letters after their name confirming their standards of practice, there would be digests of the latest research evidence, guidance from a peer in their development as a professional, and evaluations of CPD courses on offer.
No less important is membership of a collective voice to policy-makers on key issues in professional standards, curriculum and assessment.
Teachers would be part of a movement that re-empowers the teaching profession to take control of its professional destiny, and in so doing raise the status of teaching in society. Yes, a subscription will have to be paid, but, surely, that is a price worth paying.
Further informationFor more information, visit www.princes-ti.org.uk/collegeofteaching
Chris Pope is co-director of the Prince’s Teaching Institute and chairman of the Commission set up by the PTI to explore and develop the proposal for a College of Teaching.