Some Questions About The Proposed College of Teaching

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A college of teaching is to be set up to: “Protect standards and to raise the status of the teaching profession”. “Ms Morgan says she wants teaching to be seen as having a similar status as professions such as medicine and law. In a joint statement with Mr Laws, the education secretary says teaching is “almost unique amongst the professions in lacking such an organisation”.”

This is fascinating on a variety of levels, the most salient being that teachers do not lack such an organisation. There has been a College of Teachers since 1846 and its current patron is His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T. I still can’t fathom why this is overlooked in the press releases or interviews about setting up a College of Teaching. Perhaps teachers are almost unique amongst professions in that everyone, including most teachers, ignore or are not aware that we have a professional organisation. The College of Teachers claim that: “Everything we do is driven by a commitment to raise standards in education and improve learning for all.” This is a noble aim and seems to aim higher than the College of Teaching which seems only to want to protect standards… It does make one wonder though that if this organisation has been committed to raising standards since 1846 why are we so in need of another ‘college’ in 2014? Maybe people think there is something lacking in the current college but are too polite to say so…

Even the old college seems happy about the new college, as are the Teaching Unions but will teachers be happy to join a Union, and a couple of colleges of teachers? Surely something will have to give. There are a growing number of teachers who seem not to bother to even join one of these organisations. If you look at what makes most teachers stressed it will be the organisation that does most to challenge the day to day drudgery of unnecessary paper work, pointless meetings, long hours chasing targets and sorting out bad behaviour that would be the one to join. Will this new college do that?

What is this new college for?

Ministers say they will provide the dosh for: “Evidence-based professional development, led by a network of more than 600 outstanding teaching schools”. Are ‘outstanding’ teaching schools fit for purpose? Do these teaching schools become superior partners in a College of Teaching? Can the imposition of leadership by a minority of schools be tolerated by an independent College of Teaching? Who said that these schools are outstanding? Ofsted? Do teachers trust Ofsted to make the judgement about these schools and who is to say that all the practice in these schools is ‘evidence based’ or, if some of it is, it is not affected by stuff that is not ‘evidence-based’? What is the measure by which evidence is obtained, who pays the Piper? If evidence is to be the tune to which we all must dance is the evidence based on current testing models? What happens if someone wants to challenge those models? Can teaching ever be ideology and value free? Would we want it to be? Should a College of Teaching have an ethics committee to raise concerns and ideas about the purpose of education? If the college is to be free of political interference does it also have to sign a Faustian pact: a pretence of political impartiality as it divests itself of ideology?

The Guardian sees the statements today by Morgan and Laws as an attempt to outflank Labour. Can a non-political organisation be set up in such circumstances? What stance will a College of Teaching take on political interference in education? Will it campaign against a National Curriculum? What relationship will it want with OfSTED and OfQual? What will it say when a PrimeMinister makes great play, as Cameron did yesterday, of ensuring that it is: “absolutely vital” to the country’s success that maths, science and computing are taught in the “modern way”… “This set of skills and this new way of teaching is for everyone”… The ‘modern way’? Is this evidence based? Cameron seems to think we are in a global race and that we must win! Is this race winnable? Where is the finish line? Will a college of teaching call the Government to task for hyperbole and, if so, what will be the role of Government in education in England, will it lead the College, follow the College, see it as a thorn in the side, ignore the College, or starve it to death financially if it becomes too troublesome… Or is the college meant to be meek and mild?

Morgan and Laws say that this body will “Allow teachers, like other professions, to set their own high standards for their members.”  What happens if a teacher doesn’t want to join? The College of Teaching is to be voluntary but if a teacher is ‘struck off’ does that mean they will no longer be employable? What is the difference between a teacher who has been struck off and one who doesn’t want to join, will they have a similar status? Will schools be urged to only employ teachers who are members? Will someone who is struck off have to divulge as to why they have been struck off and will they have legal recourse to the decision and, importantly, will they have access to legal aid?

Michael Gove made much of the idea of allowing Academies to employ people who aren’t qualified as teachers as teachers, could this create a further problem? Will it be possible to discern whether someone is a teacher or not? Or will it be perfectly acceptable to say: ‘I teach, therefore I am…’  Could anyone come along and say, for example, I’m a teacher, I teach an adult class once a month in origami at the leisure centre and I want to join this college of teaching to raise my status and ensure I have access to an evidence base of the latest and most efficient paper folding techniques.

((This is what the college says about itself. Though this doesn’t quite answer the questions above) And here is the consultation document launched by the DfE today)

(One way to make the status of teachers as high as lawyers (how high is the status of lawyers , I wonder?) and doctors  would be to pay us more and enable us to buy and drive to school in posher cars, wear posher clothes and bedeck ourselves in much bling. That would impress da kidz anyhow.)

If these problems can be overcome then a College of Teaching can’t do any harm.

Can it?

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8 thoughts on “Some Questions About The Proposed College of Teaching

  1. David Weston (@informed_edu)

    Hi Martin,

    Some really important questions, elegantly presented as always. I shan’t pretend to know all the answers here, I’m just one of a number of people who have volunteered our time to help out with pushing the idea forward because we really believe in a teacher-led College. So, don’t take any of my answers as definitive, I’ve just been in lots of discussions with people who care and are working on this. Ultimately, practising professionals need to be steering and leading this, and my personal impetus has been to ensure that their voice is paramount.

    Firstly, on the existing College of Teachers. It is a very old institution with a long history. As far as I understand it (and I’m not a member), for various reasons, over the past 50 years or so it has increasingly turned its attention away from the UK and toward international teachers. It has a very old Charter with some slightly out-of-date language in it, and it isn’t very well known in England.

    The current College has, I think, realised that its journey has taken it a long way from the sort of modern, member-led College that is focused on England, which has been called for by various people over the past three years. And yet they also recognise that such an institution would be of huge value. I think it is extraordinarily big of them to offer to take part in a root-and-branch re-fresh, or new start, and offer to be part of a consortium to bid to the Privy Council for a new chartered body.

    I guess the lack of mention of the current College of Teachers goes to show why they are right in their thinking that a fresh start would be really helpful. However, I do think that we can learn a lot from the experience within the institution, and I believe that having representatives from the College in the pursuit of a new chartered College is absolutely vital for future success.

    You flag up their rather noble aim as a laudable one. Given that no new charter has yet been written, and that everyone I’ve spoken to is determined to make sure that it is teachers who set the principles for the new one, then perhaps with your voice involved the new body might adopt something similar? Great efforts are being made to ensure that nothing is being set in stone, balanced against a need to get *something* concrete up and running as a vehicle for teachers to join and influence, in the first instance.

    Your point that many teachers will not automatically want to join is important. Supporters and (eventually) members need to shape this project so that it has a compelling membership offer – something that also speaks to schools as possible members who could, perhaps, commit to offering the time and protection from other tasks in order to engage in the meaningful professional development and learning that I believe should be at the heart of a new body.

    On teaching schools, my reading of today’s consultation is that there are two completely separate strands. One is funding, through Teaching Schools, for CPD activity. The second, an open call to the profession, is for ways for government to support a College. I think some articles artificially conflated the two, and they are separate. As far as I know, the Teaching Schools Council have made very warm supportive noises about a new College, but they, like so many others, would be just one voice – it should still be representative of all schools, and all teachers.

    On evidence-base – a fascinating question. I look forward to a new College being a forum for this to be debated and constantly questioned. The boundaries of ‘evidence-based’ or ‘evidence-informed’ and to what extent these should be mandated, encouraged or disseminated is a fascinating one for us all to engage with. I certainly don’t have a fixed answer to this, but I’m sure many wiser heads do and would like to put their cases to future supporters and members to see where the debate leads us.

    On independence from government. As far as I personally understand it, the current Coalition and the Labour Party are all in favour of a teacher-led College. All conversations that I’ve been involved in about seeing how we can get teachers setting this up suggest that there is a clear determination that all funders are most welcome to donate start-up funding, but not at the cost of having strings – indeed I think the consultation makes clear that any funding would be no-strings and both this and any future government must be held to this at the point of any funding, and the same is true for any other funder.

    As to what a College’s position would be? Well, I guess that depends on what members vote for. I’d hope that it takes a position that is based on a sober reading of evidence, but of course we all know that evidence and values intersect strongly and produce a range of arguments, so this reading of evidence needs to be informed by values expressed by members, I’d say. Again, nothing set in stone here – your voice (and all others’) are so important in shaping things now at this formative stage.

    On membership, there seems to be broad agreement from people I’ve personally spoken to that voluntary membership is key. For me, I’d hope that any attempt to coerce people to join is resisted or else this value is lost. Details about being ‘struck off’ (if members decide they want such a thing, which I suspect they might?) would of course be worked out – it would be wrong for anyone to start predetermining these sorts of operational details.

    Finally, you’ve linked to the document from the Claim You College campaign (of which I’m a proud supporter and helper) and the Q&A document. This really is just start from our group of enthusiastic volunteers. We’re not pretending to *be* the College, we’re just a group of people with ideas trying to persuade an understandably cautious profession that this could be a wonderful opportunity. The Q&A represents some of our hopes and ambitions but the most important point is that we’re all clear that if supporters want something else then anything is up for grabs to change. It is right and proper that people try and ‘sell’ their ideas about the future vision, but it can only be teachers who decide what they want.

    I don’t think I’ve answered everything you’ve said, partly because I don’t know that everything has an answer yet. I’m really pleased to be able to engage in the debate though and would, again, urge you to get involved and help shape this wonderful project and ensure that teachers are at the very heart of it. Everything I’ve said is just my personal view.

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your kind words and thank you for taking the time to address some of the questions I’ve raised.

      Let me answer some of the points you raise. The existing college has turned towards having an international perspective. This opens up two questions: Firstly, why? Is it because there is not enough interest in England for a College of Teachers? Secondly, an international perspective might be a good thing, how parochial would an English College of Teachers be? Is it only for English teachers and/or teachers who teach in England? Would an Antipodean teacher qualify for membership but then have to relinquish their membership if they went back home? Would an English teacher, teaching abroad, say at an international English speaking school also not qualify? Will the existing College continue or ‘cease to be’?

      An old charter with slightly out of date language is a good thing. Thank you for asking me to be involved in writing the charter, I’d prefer stone to concrete 😉

      Teachers need to know what they get for £70, if it’s more stuff to do then I’m not sure that is attractive… What about offering bursaries, sabbaticals, get a load of funding to carry out research etc.? If Bill Clinton can give out a million dollars to one teacher for five years why not tap him up (and others) to offer that kind of money to enrich the teaching of many more teachers. I think you need to show you offer something much more than a bit of CPD.

      The teaching schools bit is what a ‘college’ does really… it offers ‘training’ passes on the ‘craft’ from one generation to another so by being involved with training is essential. Personally, I think a college of teaching should be in charge of substantial amount of ITT or, again, it becomes an unnecessary addendum to what is already on offer. This way you help bring people into the profession, if you don’t then it will be more difficult to recruit.

      OR you are only for ‘trained’ teachers, those who have a qualification and a certain number of years under their belt at a certain standard. Then these teachers are ‘invited’ to join the college in recognition of their quality and experience. (How would this be judged…?) Again this offers something slightly more, membership is an honour ‘bestowed’ and not everyone is eligible. Within that you can have a membership hierarchy should you so wish, recognising ‘better’ teachers over time… Perhaps giving teacher of the year awards of a couple of dollars etc…

      If politicians are in favour of a teacher led college more than teachers are you have things the wrong way round. having a certain number of politicians against it might be better… 😉

      Coercion might be a bad thing but then your ‘carrots’ have to be VERY tempting.

      If the college is to be a forum, then it will need space to debate and probably it would require a variety of forums, meaning lots of people to organise this – subject/stage/type of school etc. – I take it there would be votes for officers etc… Who would do these jobs, would they be voluntary or is there a way people would get paid, in which case, how many ‘positions’ would there be and how much money will these people have in salary?

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  2. Gareth Alcott (@GalcottGareth)

    Like David, I am a volunteer and fervent supporter of the new College of Teaching (you can sign up here https://www.research.net/s/College_of_Teaching)

    As an Assistant Head Teacher of a large secondary school, I have had a full day……after an hour and a half of grid-lock on the A34 trying to get to work, my car breaking down and therefore having to drop it at the garage, then with Year 11 teaching the finer points the Circle Theorem, swiftly followed by dealing with 2 particularly challenging students, an SEND annual review, lunch duty, 2 meetings, Year 8 Intervention group, after-college clubs, 5 phone calls to parents and then picking my car up on the way home…followed by all the things a husband and father needs to do when you gets home….it’s now past 11pm, I’m tired and I’d really lie to go to bed…….bed or post, bed or post, bed or post…?

    Your reading my answer…

    Tonight, I find myself in a novel, yet happy, position…..it’s about this time in the evening, when I would type the varying iteration of College of Teaching, Royal College of Teaching, RTOC, CoT…etc into the search bar on Twitter – trying to generate some interest for a new College, signpost people to the blog or website, sifting through retweets and favourite trying to identify interested individuals or institutes that I think may post something interesting or retweet a link about the new College of Teaching.

    Over the past month……business has been slow! But today, on the day of the announcement I find myself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people tweeting the links and document associated to the new college story…….while waiting at the garage today, I managed to retweet a number of things, but your post caught my eye and thought I would try to add to David’s comments above…..not on the historical context of the existing College……or on interesting debate of whether all Outstanding School are Outstanding….. or even whether the Training Schools are best placed to support the new college….

    ….I want to continue with a point David mentioned……which is key to the success of new college……the MEMBERS……the teachers who will create and drive this new college forward!

    Nothing is fixed yet. Nothing is tied down to the level of detail it needs to be for when the college is up and running…….but everything is to be gained by teachers (future members) engaging with this opportunity now that it has presented itself……the college has been called a once in life-time chance to reform how education operates in this country……no we don’t have all the answers and why would/should we…..this is our starting point…this is Day 1 of the new building project…yes we have many questions unanswered, but we have hundreds of thousands of teachers who can answer them……and they are passionate about teaching, as well as ensuring young people get the best start in life by giving them a good education – so perhaps these are the best people to answer?

    All your questions are valid and ones which MUST be answered by the members if we are to truly get an autonomous body that represents teachers……Yes, it will be voluntary, no there will be no nudging (heavy or not!). Yes, we have aspirations of an evidence-based profession…why wouldn’t we!!

    On research – Tom Bennett says teacher should be Research Literate and Research critical – sounds like a good starter for 10. John Tomsett thinks any research needs to be much more valid through effective control groups – again a sensible suggestion. I think we should have much more teacher Action Research supported by Universities to ensure validity, using existing links through the Training schools – not a bad thought. Phil Wood thinks Lesson Study could be the way forward – thanks Phil. All good ideas and hopefully just the start as any new college would have members who could bring other ideas that would be put forward. The members are the key, we have to get teachers on board so they can have their say and do their bit.

    Politics – any seed funding will have to be “no strings” this is not up for negotiation….teachers have had their fingers burnt too many times. With regards to all your political queries – how will the college jump if x, what will happen if y, shouldn’t the college say “boo” if z!! Again, all good points, but perhaps the most important point is that the teachers who want to join, who want to base their practice around evidence, who want to engage with the professionalisation of teaching and challenge existing thinking will have views on this, and their views will form the answers to all your questions.

    If teachers want to make a difference and influence how teaching will look in the future – this is there chance…sign up NOW on the claim your college site (https://www.research.net/s/College_of_Teaching)

    No, we don’t have all the answers, but yes we want to begin the debate and through engaging blogs like yours and comments like this, I hope that maybe we could get enough to create a critical mass of teachers who can get this thing moving so in the future we can feel proud in the knowledge that we stood up when the call came and we did something (…..and it only cost them 70 of your English pounds!).

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    1. Martin Robinson Post author

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your reply.

      When you say: “Once in life-time chance to reform how education operates in this country,” you seem to imply the ‘college’ will have a great deal of power. Who is relinquishing their power and giving it to the college?

      Re: research, won’t this occur whether there is a college or not?

      Teachers ‘who want to base their practice around evidence’ ignores values… should this be a concern, will the college be value free? Evidence is only worthwhile if one agrees with the question being asked – what is being investigated and the measurement used to justify it.

      Do you think ‘professionalisation’ is actually a good thing? Why?

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  3. dodiscimus

    I think that if membership is voluntary, as it must be, then a new College will fall pretty flat unless what it offers somehow outweighs the cost (and hassle) of joining. It is not clear to me how this will be achieved – I don’t think it’s going to happen because of the inherent status of membership (any more than the GTC or the IfL did or do succeed in this). Many professional bodies succeed because of the preservation of exclusive status (it is illegal to call yourself an architect etc. unless a member of the appropriate professional body). Some succeed because they offer membership benefits that cannot be ignored. It’s obscure (but since I was involved in it in a previous life, it is an example I can comment on) but the Association of Mountaineering Instructors works because it offers massive equipment discounts with suppliers, professional indemnity insurance which is a very specialist market, and a fairly significant advertising benefit for self-employed instructors. Cost of membership is expensive for cash-strapped mountaineering instructors but pays back quickly. The benefits listed above are not relevant to teachers and it’s not clear to me what the benefit is that would attract typical teachers (unions already offer a variety of minor discounts of the sort that might be offered but have never struck me as much of an attraction. At the moment CPD is a mixed bag (to be generous) but it’s generally paid for by employers and done on their time. Even if a College offered much better CPD teachers still have to get out of school or give up weekends, evenings or holidays. The success of ResearchEd, #TLT etc shows that some will but not, I think, the majority of the profession. What other tangible benefit am I missing? Get Branson on board offering holiday flights at term-time costs to members and the thing will ‘fly’! Get the DfE to mandate that all schools must allow members 5 days/year out-of-school to members attending College accredited CPD and it will be joined in droves. Otherwise, I would love to see this pulled off, but I’m not overly hopeful.

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  4. Pingback: The College of Teaching – some background reading and a range of views | Over the Rainbow – Lisa Pettifer

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