Twenty years ago, teachers were not ready to take the responsibility from politicians for improving standards. Today they are, and they need to seize the initiative, says Estelle Morris. This is from the Guardian…
Timing can be everything. The idea of a national organisation to promote the status of teaching has been around for decades, but there hasn’t ever been the momentum to get it off the ground. The General Teaching Council was the Labour government’s attempt to create such a body. Despite its many achievements, the GTC’s recent abolition hardly brought squeals of anguish from the education community.
A professional body might, however, be an idea whose time has come. It may not yet be a talking point in staffrooms, but there is a growing consensus for an organisation such as a royal college of teaching. There has been a view for some time that the absence of an independent body to regulate standards and oversee professional practice makes teaching less of a profession than, for example, medicine or nursing. This is still a persuasive argument, but the present policy landscape makes the proposition more compelling than ever.
An independent professional body could be the answer to two policy gaps. First, the shift to “trusting teachers” gives responsibility to the profession, but provides no reliable, impartial evidence base that can help inform their decisions. The pupil premium is a good example of the risks. Money given to schools with no guidance on how it should be used meant that it wasn’t spent in the most effective way. A royal college of teaching could fill this gap and give teachers access to evidence bases of proven good practice.
Second, the development of standalone schools, de-coupled from the partnerships that sustained them, has fragmented the system and could leave teachers isolated. A royal college would be a uniting force that would bring the profession together around common standards and shared professionalism.
If the idea is taken forward, lessons must be learned from the mistakes Labour made in setting up the GTC. The legislation that established that body did little to help it succeed and it is a tribute to those who led the GTC that they made it work as well as it did.
In retrospect, we seemed to define professional self-regulation as dealing with professional misconduct. So while this was devolved to the GTC, the responsibility to set professional standards, influence training and qualifications and build a framework for professional development were all retained by the government.
Together with the unhelpful approach of some teaching unions, which treated its creation as a turf war, it wasn’t perhaps surprising that the GTC didn’t win the hearts and minds of the profession.
So, any new body must do two further things. It must be part of the process of re-drawing the lines between politics and education. Unless responsibility for its quality and qualifications are owned by the profession itself, the adversarial relationship that exists between the two and its debilitating effect on the education system will continue.
Second, it must champion the importance of the quality of teaching. There can be no better way of enhancing the reputation of the profession than to establish in the minds of the public that it is teachers’ professional skills, not the structural change so loved by governments, that will improve standards for children.
Timing is always important. I know some will disagree, but I’m not convinced that the profession was ready to take on these responsibilities 20 years ago. It is now. The government and the media so often paint our schools as declining institutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The improvement in teacher quality and professionalism is one of the achievements of the years of reform.
The idea of a royal college of teaching has often been seen as an optional extra. It is fast becoming essential to the next stage of school improvement. But it will only succeed if teachers and their representatives want it to happen. I really hope they do.
More at: Time for a royal college of teaching