In December, the Department for Education (DfE) made a joint announcement on a package of measures to support teacher quality in England, including the creation of a new independent professional body – a College of Teaching.
The proposal invites expressions of interest from organisations to create and set up a college, with the aim of giving the profession greater responsibility over things such as professional standards and CPD.
As much as the announcement and consultation are welcome, they are not without challenge, not least the timing of the announcement and consultation period.
Teaching has suffered because of the stranglehold that government has had on education and the lack of a high-profile, proactive, member-driven professional body that can support and steer the profession through seemingly relentless changes to the education system and political interference.
A College of Teaching would have a separate role to that played by the teacher and education trade unions – in safeguarding and promoting members’ employment rights – and would focus on setting, promoting and advancing high standards of teaching, teacher education, CPD and educational research.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan commented that teaching is “almost unique among the professions in lacking such an organisation”. There was a single body, the General Teaching Council for England, albeit one which was forced on the profession, prior to 2010 when the government scrapped it. This act eliminated any opportunity to develop the GTC to encompass wider functions in support of the teaching profession, not least the development of CPD. It also left England as the only home nation without a GTC.
The GTC was not popular with many teachers because its primary role had become that of the regulator of the profession, because it appeared not to have any genuine interest in teacher welfare, and because its membership was imposed.
If the teaching profession can be motivated to be part of a College of Teaching, and can see the benefits to them as individuals and to the profession, a college would help to galvanise and unify the profession by raising aspirations, standards and morale. The challenge will be convincing busy and overworked teachers of the benefits to motivate them to join.
Elsewhere, the establishment of a fund to support high-quality, evidence-based professional development programmes is also welcomed. However much the establishment of such a fund is acknowledged as a positive step toward the recognition of the CPD which the teaching profession wants, needs and has found increasingly difficult to access in the current financial climate, it is only part of the process.
Such a fund must be matched by a properly funded and resourced mechanism to enable schools to release teachers from their normal duties in order to participate in professional development.
Commitment to work toward a minimum entitlement of CPD for all education professionals should not be considered the icing on the cake, but fundamental to ensuring quality and raising standards within the profession, schools and the hallowed national and international league tables against which the profession is constantly measured by politicians.
Evidence-based CPD programmes will support and promote standards in education. Perhaps politicians should consider such an approach themselves when developing education policy. The wealth of evidence that will in time be available will make it harder for politicians to ignore criticism from the profession about education policy in support of political ideology.
The DfE consultation closes on February 3. Submissions will be analysed and action to implement the proposal initiated before the General Election is announced. It is good that positive action can happen quickly, even if the motivation is the election.