Re-(licensing/validating/invigorating) the profession*

This post started out as a comment on @johndavidblake’s excellent blog this morning, but then it got too long and I thought, what the hell, why should he get all the hits.

I came into teaching late, in my early thirties. I’d already had one career as a chartered accountant, a successful one. But I was, as I told friends who asked why I was leaving, in danger of turning into an accountant if I stayed much longer. That was not how I saw myself. So I left and retrained as a teacher. I joined another profession.

But it was very, very different, and that is the lens I see this current discussion through about re-licensing, re-validation or whatever you want to call it. There were a number of things I simply could not understand.

Firstly, and most obviously, if I was a professional, where was my professional body, the one that owned my professional qualification? It seemed that there wasn’t one.

Secondly, who approved the CPD that I was required to undertake each year as part of my professional responsibilities. This was a double-whammy. Not only no requirement to undertake CPD but even if I did there was no body there to put a quality stamp on it. Alongside this, where did I go to get advice on best practice? Wherever I wanted, it seemed. Any Tom, Dick or Harry could provide advice. And did.

Thirdly (and I’ve written about this in more detail here), what if I was no good? Who decided if I was good enough to be a teacher. This was down to the Government. Or TDA. Or at one point the GTC. Basically, whoever the secretary of state of the day decided. They also decide if I, as an individual, can teach at all.

Fourthly, who was on my side if someone disagreed with the way I practiced? That was whichever union I joined.

Here’s what I see at the moment.

  • How teachers are employed is a confused area. Some are employed and paid directly by school. Some by LA’s, some by Academy chains. This confusion is not going to get simpler in the short or medium term, and we are certainly not going back to the “employed by the LEA” model.
  • The professional standards are owned by the government. Professional standards written by, well, written by “not the profession”.
  • The discipline of the teaching profession is left to government agencies.

For me this creates considerable confusion, for teachers, schools and for the multitude of agencies that have a finger in the teachers standards pie. Currently, the primary confusion appears to be between performance and professionalism.

Performance is how well I do something that someone has employed me to do. If they employ me as a teacher then they expect me to meet the professional standards of a teacher. That is a given. I should be able to teach. I might be average, or I might be brilliant (who are you kidding, Cameron?). They might want to pay me more if I am brilliant, that’s their choice. What they have no right to do is question me as a teacher. That is the responsibility of my professional body.

As a professional I need to be working to standards set by my profession. That determines how I may/should do things. This aspect has to be the responsibility of my professional body. If it is their responsibility they (i.e. all my colleagues and I) need to own the standards we work to.

None of this is to say that fellow professionals in a school should not work with colleagues to help them improve as teachers. It’s just that everyone needs to understand when they are acting as an employer and when they are acting as a fellow professional.

People say, “government will never allow teachers to work this way”. Well, I say, “screw government and whichever rosette they rode in on”**. Set the standards. Adhere to them. Penalise colleagues who don’t do so. Ask those who won’t meet the standards to leave. Refuse to work to any other set of standards. As a profession take control.

There is an opportunity to do this. The Royal College of Teachers is potentially on the horizon. I have blogged about this before. As I would with any initiative started by a Tory MP I instinctively have real concerns about this. Here is how I would like to see it progress.

Anyone who is not a teacher needs to get the hell out of the way and pretty quick. And I mean every one who is not a teacher right now. Having been one is not enough. Take advice from far and wide, by all means, but his has to be an organisation set up by current practitioners. Again, for clarity, I don’t mean a few favoured head teachers either.  A stitch up involving a few heads, some ex-teachers, a few union reps and a couple of knights/dames of the realm will deservedly fail.

A properly constituted RCoT could own the standards and be everything the GTC failed to become. Teachers would control the teaching profession. I’m very happy for government, or academies or free schools or Local Authorities to control the schools. But teachers must control their own profession. And one part of that involves making sure, by re-licensing, re-validation (or whatever you want to call it) that as an individual, I am still worthy of calling myself a teacher.

The discussion we should be having here is about what an individual would have to do to achieve that re-whatever rather than should we do it at all. And my two-penceworth is that it needs to be very different from any current ‘appraisal/performance management” process we currently see. That is for performance, not professionalism. Professionalism is less tangible and needs to be more holistic. But this can be done, as many other professions have shown. Doing it will make the profession stronger.

PS     You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Ofsted.

PPS  Why would I? This is nothing to do with them.

* Delete as appropriate

** Apologies for the swear. It is actually toned down from the original.

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7 thoughts on “Re-(licensing/validating/invigorating) the profession*

  1. This is a key debate. The key to this is how ‘the profession’ mobilises and then how a central body could represent the diverse views within it. That is much easier said than done. We have fragmented unions that often disagree and numerous lines of discourse on which we don’t all agree – including what makes for good pedagogical practice. I don’t think the bottom-up, teacher-led is likely to come to fruition without political support and leadership from some of the people you’re less keen to have running things. CoT leadership would become quite political because it would be so important – and ‘good practice’ defined at any point in time would be challenged, opposed and even ignored in some quarters. I’d suggest that an effective CoT has to emerge such that it is teacher-led but with maximum support/respect/confidence/credibility – and that probably means allowing people from those groups (Heads, unions, DfE, Knights and Dames!) to be involved in setting it up in the first place.

    1. I think that there has been, thus far, some excellent support from a wide range of groups for the RCoT. That support will have to continue if it is to become a useful reality. Support is not the same as control and it is that which must be ceded early on to avoid the sense that the RCoT is something that is being done to, rather than done by and for, teachers and teaching.

      No one wants to move into a house and have to rebuild all the walls, but they don’t mind doing a bit of their own decorating

  2. This is something I could support, but it isn’t yet what has been proposed by government. I have blogged on the issue too and feel very sceptical at the moment. This would be a step towards reclaiming the profession and stabilising it, ensuring that it doesn’t go from pillar to post depending on the Ed Sec of the day. I find it very unlikely that politicians will release their grip on education any time soon however, as it is often so pivotal to their election campaigns!

    1. My sense is that neither of the main parties would place any barriers in the way of a properly constituted, chartered professional body. The key now is to ensure that it’s composition and constitution is decided by and reflects the needs and desires of active practitioners at all levels.

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