Since I first set foot back in the classroom over 20 years ago I have been arguing the need for a professional body for teachers. I summarised this view here. Without such a body teachers lack independence when they require it and they lack a voice where we need to hear it.
Today the DfE launched a consultation around the issue of a College of Teachers, a professional body for the profession.
There are contradictions and a degree of fuzziness in the proposals which make them, in my view, unsatisfactory.
The main contradiction regards who runs the CoT. Initially it seems that the DfE have understood what will make it stand or fall:
They underlined the ‘must’, not me. However, this intention is undermined by the call later for interested organisations to express their interest in the running of the CoT. Oh, I’m sure they’ll ‘involve’ teachers. An expert group here, a sub-committee there. Maybe even a couple of ennobled head teachers on the board of trustees (sorry, is my chip showing?). And lots of ex-teachers (whom I have nothing against, being one myself). But you can bet your bottom dollar that it wont be an organisation of current classroom teachers who are asked to take on the role. “Too hard”, “How would they get the time out of the classroom”, “How would they be selected”, “They don’t have the experience”. I will be printing a “Why we can’t involve real teachers” buzzword bingo card in a later post.
The other issue is what it is actually proposed the CoT be about. Here, the consultation is less than clear, going out of its way to say “don’t expect too much”.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I read this as “You’re not getting your hands on anything important.”
The consultation gives some heavy hints as to exactly what it is that DfE expects the CoT to be about.
This can be seen as helpful, but it does also undermine the independence of the body by telling it in advance what it is for. Surely that’s for the membership to decide?
It then goes on to ‘suggest’ how this should be done, using its preferred route of teaching schools. It further goes on the detail an online platform that it intends to facilitate and hand over to the CoT at some unspecified date in the future.
I wonder who will get the contract to re-invent that particular wheel?
It is also important to stress that the consultation itself, i.e. the bit it is asking for responses to, is not so much about the CoT itself (that appears to be left to those organisations who will be bidding to run it) but about CPD and professional development.
Taken together this does make me quite wary that what is being proposed here is a DfE approved and funded CPD clearing house. Which is not really the same as a Professional Body for teachers.
“Well”, I hear you say, “you’re such a smart-arse Cameron, how would you do it?”
Many elements I would keep the same, just do them in a different order. The most important thing is that teachers believe the organisation is representative of them. There is only one effective way to achieve that and that is to start with an organisation of teachers. Which teachers you say? Simple, elect them. But that will cost money, you say.
So will re-inventing Wikipedia, but no-one seems to mind doing that. Take a short-cut.
There are thousands of teacher governors who have already been elected by their peers. Use them as an electorate. Or some other method. Where there is a will, there will always be a way. Yes, people will have to stand for election (and consequently come with agendas) but that is the real world. Teachers are intelligent people. They can be trusted to pick a group of people to represent them. If you think they can’t why set the thing up in the first place?
Once you have done this bit the rest of the process would stay much the same, except it would be the elected group in charge. Of everything. The first task would be to design a constitution for governance which could then be put for approval to all teachers. This should (in my view) be written in such a way as to guarantee the CoT is always governed by teachers.
The main change I would make is a simple one. One that DfE would never countenance (which is why I know they are not serious about this whole process). Ownership of the teaching standards would pass immediately to the CoT. Without this, it is not a professional body for teachers. It’s an information exchange. This will both help guarantee the independence of the profession and act as a rationale for teachers to join the organisation. The CoT should be the body that confers QTS (and any other qualification relevant to working in a school*). The argument will be “Let the organisation settle in and then at some time in the future we’ll look at that possibility when we know it can handle it.” or some more patronising aggregation of words.
Over the next few months we’ll hear a lot of soothing words about how we’ll get this right in the end and requests to “trust us on this” with regards to the governance arrangements. I don’t think that is appropriate. The governance of an organisation is a contract with the future. When I was taught contract law it was stressed that the time to get a contract right is when it is written. There is no later. As for trust, I’ll quote the only sensible thing Ronald Reagan ever said – “doveryai, no proveryai”. And, to show my truly cynical side, I’d add “cui bono”.
More than anything else I want an effective, independent, teacher-led professional body for teachers. I want it to be of teachers, by teachers, for teaching. I want it to be able to protect the rights of teachers to teach and to provide the means for them to learn the myriad ways they can do that. It needs to listen to, respond to and represent its members. It needs to be listened to and to be heard. It needs substance, because it will need to speak truth to those who don’t want to listen.
I’m fairly sure that this consultation won’t create that body.
* Using the term school to encompass anything the membership of the CoT agrees.