There has been much discussion in recent months about plans to establish a College of Teaching. Advocates suggest it would enhance teachers’ professionalism and help to raise the standing of the profession. However, there seems to be little consensus on how it would achieve this aim in practice.
Some supporters have emphasised the role a College could play in acting as a “voice of the profession” on key areas of policy and practice, while others have focused more on a College as a provider of professional development opportunities.
The NASUWT is not opposed in principle to the idea of establishing a College of Teaching, but has a number of concerns about the issues emerging from the current debate, not least the fact that too many people appear to be falling over themselves to support a concept which is being interpreted in widely different ways.
If a College of Teaching is to genuinely win the support and respect of the teaching profession and the wider public, it must start by placing teachers at the centre of the discussion about its existence and remit.
The Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) is seeking to drive the current debate and has laid down a blueprint which prejudges what should be an open and wide-ranging debate in which teachers are encouraged to play an active role in discussing whether a College is necessary and, if so, what shape it should take.
We have a very straightforward test to apply to any proposal and that is: will it genuinely enhance the professionalism of teachers or be yet another stick with which to beat them. Michael Gove’s enthusiastic support may be a clue to the direction of travel of the current proposals.
The blueprint set out by the PTI fails to address the current impact of the crisis in the profession as a result of the on-going attacks on teachers’ pay, pensions, working conditions and job security by the coalition government.
A College should offer teachers a refuge from the policies which undermine their status and limit their professional agency.
There could be merit in establishing a College of Teaching which is focused on the practice of teaching and improving pedagogy and which has a role in the sharing of research, developing good practice and promoting high-quality CPD.
However, for this to enhance teachers’ working lives, there would first need to be in place a contractual statutory entitlement to CPD, a right for which we have been campaigning.
Supporters point to the Royal College of Surgeons as a model for the College of Teaching, claiming that it could play a similar role in securing and enhancing the professional status of its members.
The royal colleges in medicine are complimentary to the General Medical Council which regulates the profession and the British Medical Association, the union representing doctors. However, the situation for teachers is very different.
The coalition has abandoned any attempt to establish a respected regulatory body for teachers and has ended the requirement for teachers to hold qualified teacher status. These moves are all to undermine the status of teaching in order to erode salaries and conditions of service. This is hardly the context in which to establish a College of Teaching.
It is particularly concerning that the development of the idea has been subject to political interference. There is clear evidence that the secretary of state sees the creation of a College of Teaching as yet another opportunity to attack teacher unions. In April, he suggested it would be an alternative to the unions. Such statements call into question the purpose and political independence of the current proposal.
The concept of a College of Teaching has merit but it is doubtful that the current process will result in anything that will make a real positive difference to enhancing the profession of teaching and promoting world-class learning.