The Three M’s

I’m sorry, but this is quite a long post about the College of Teaching, a subject I first touched on three years ago. As well as being critical I also offer some suggestions.

Read it at your peril, but please accept this as a view from a critical friend.

I see three main issues with the recently published vision for a College of Teaching:

  • Membership,
  • Management, and
  • Mission

Firstly membership.

This remains problematic. The vision is clear in its view:

The exact formulation for membership requirements and grades will be developed by the new College. Membership must be grown as quickly as possible. Membership will be open to all with an interest in education but chartered membership status will, in the first instance, be developed for and only available to practising classroom teachers. In setting up a new College, care will be taken to ensure that in the future it would be possible to develop further chartered routes, such as Chartered Teaching Assistant or Chartered Examination Officer – but this will be a matter for the College. Fellowship will denote a deeper level of professional practice.

My view is very simple. The proposed College of Teaching is called that because the name College of Teachers was already in use. So we are looking at a College of Teachers. If this is the case, then it cannot be right that “Membership will be open to all with an interest in education…”. For example, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t join the Royal College of Surgeons just because I have an interest in operations. There is an element of cart before the horse about this approach. There is a big difference between a well-established professional body accepting associate membership from non-professionals and starting a professional body with the words “Anyone can join.” I do see the need to attract members quickly, but as I point out later this has a direct impact on what the organisation will become.

I would strongly advise to start from working teachers, embed that in the DNA of the organisation and then build out from there. If there is £11.9m in seed capital out there then use it for this purpose rather than any other. Any other route is likely to create an organisation based around education instead of one based around teaching.

These words, from David Didau sum up my view:

Why is this a big deal? Let’s take me as an example. I am a qualified teachers with over 15 years of classroom experience but I now work for myself providing training and consultancy to schools. While I have a definite ‘interest in education’, I have a clear vested interest in being able to continue working as a consultant. If people like me are allowed to use the time we have available and the influence we have accrued to shape the direction of the College will this really be in the best interests of practising teachers? Obviously in my case I would be a wise and benign dictator but what of other, less scrupulous types? (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/support-college-teaching/)

Except for the names, and a few other changes, if you talk about me, then the story’s the same one.

Secondly, management.

Well, actually, it’s governance but that doesn’t start with an ‘m’. Yeah, yeah, style over substance!

It starts with a Founding Company with 14 Founding Directors. Of these, five will be practising teachers and two will be headteachers. I’m then puzzled by the sentence “They will be representative of the profession with regards to phase, sector, gender, location, etc.”. If the intention is to be representative of the teaching profession why is the ration of headteachers to classroom teachers 2:5?

But lets leave that to one side for a moment because that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that of the fourteen founding directors only five are classroom practitioners (and I notice the document is silent on the issue of full/part time).

How are these Founding Directors selected?

The process to appoint the Founding Directors will be managed by a recruitment company and a Selection Committee will select candidates. The Selection Committee will comprise six practising teachers and headteachers nominated by six of the main Unions: four practising teachers and headteachers nominated by organisations who have initiated the Claim Your College campaign; and six representatives from other key stakeholder groups (three heads nominated by the Local Government Association, the Independent Schools Commission and the Commission of Academy Principals, and three Teacher Governors nominated by the National Governors’ Association).

A selection panel of eighteen people. Minimum of three headteachers. Minimum of three classroom teachers. Theoretically this could end up as fifteen headteachers and three teachers. Now, this is not some prejudice born out of an anti-SLT streak. I was a Deputy Head myself and, dare I say it, some of my best friends are members of SLT. But sure as eggs is eggs a group of founding directors chosen by a selection panel of fifteen headteachers and three teachers will be a very different one from that chosen by a panel of three headteachers and fifteen teachers. It is also the case that the organisations nominating the members of the panel are unlikely to select individuals with aims that differ from their own.

I accept that this is difficult. To be fair, most any method chosen to select such a panel would have aspects that could be criticised. I think there are some simple guidelines I would follow. There are around 400,000 teachers, of whom no more than 10% are headteachers. That’s the ratio to stick to. I would not have anyone selected by the organisations who have put together this vision document. That’s the best way to show the altruistic motive behind all this work. I would increase substantially the number of Teacher Governor nominees. These are people who have already been voted into a position by their peers. They already have status in this respect. In my view they should form the majority of the panel.

Then we get to the intersect between governance and membership.

In 5.2.5 the vision is very clear as to how the trustees will be elected going forward:

The Founding Trustees will resign in phases over three years, to be replaced by Trustees whom the College’s members have elected.

So, within three years the carefully selected board of trustees will be replaced by a group of people elected by those “…with an interest in education…”. At this stage the College of Teaching ceases to be a carefully crafted teacher-led organisation and becomes…., well, who knows? I would expect this to be addressed in the articles but it must be clear about who is allowed to sit as a trustee.

And so to mission.

Section 3.3 could not be clearer:

The new College must not present a threat to other professional organisations that are providing value to education and command significant loyalty from their members. The process of achieving chartered status should recognise, not replace, experience and expertise gathered elsewhere, e.g. through subject associations or learned societies. In particular, it should recognise and offer credit for chartered status in a related membership organisation. As an example, we see the College process as adding value to the possession of specialist subject chartered status through wider recognition and understanding of their worth.

Similarly, the new College will not compete with Union membership: it will not represent individuals or have a role in negotiation of pay and conditions and its primary mission will be the ultimate benefit of children and young people.

The new College will offer value to other membership organisations and look to hold a category of association that offers joint benefits and reduced fees for individuals who hold joint memberships, in recognition of the financial pressures on teachers.

Given the above, I’m not really sure what the College of Teachers is going to do? There are already many professional organisations offering what the CoT sets out in this vision document. Here it seems to say that it won’t compete with them. In order to become the de facto home of teachers professionalism a College of Teaching is, I’m afraid, going to have to elbow a few people out of the way. You may not think that’s very collegiate of me but that’s the world I see.

But there is a bigger problem.

The document sets out some of the things that the College will not do:

  • Regulate

  • Be compulsory.

  • Have a disciplinary role.

  • Be a commercial organisation – any surpluses will be reinvested towards teachers’ continued professional development.

Yet it later suggests (rightly, in my view) that the College could in the future define the Teacher Standards and set and assure standards for initial entry into teaching. These are regulatory issues that require there to also be a disciplinary role.

As to being a commercial organisation the College is projecting that 60% of its funding would come from outside of the membership fees. Clearly it will be a commercial organisation, with all the compromises that will entail.

I can see why these “will not do’s” have been stated given the professions previous bad experience with the GTC, but ruling these things out, for the short term gain that it is, will prevent the organisation becoming the body it needs to be.

In summary

I wouldn’t take the time to write at length for any other reason than I want this to happen. The past 10-15 years have shown that there is a desperate need for a professional voice for the teaching profession. If this proposal goes ahead without the three issues I have raised being rectified then unfortunately I believe it will not succeed in its stated aims.

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