At the heart of our proposals is a belief that teaching should be a learning profession, whose members have access to high-quality, evidence-based development and improvement opportunities throughout their careers and are committed to seizing those opportunities.
None of the proposals set out here is about Government telling teachers what to do or how to do it; our role is to create the conditions for teachers to take the lead. Our commitment is to listen carefully and take action in response to what they tell us.
These fascinating quotes lie within the government’s most recent proposal about the development of a College of Teaching, and represent, if they are to be believed and trusted (and there is work to be done by HMG in this department), some of the best opportunities that teachers have had for a long while to be taken seriously as contributors to our society. There are societies in the world, not too far from us, where teaching is seen as one of the top two or three professions to be aspiring to. Anything that restores the education of our children to the top of the cultural tree is to be welcomed. Anything, furthermore, that removes teaching and their development from the vagaries of electoral politics is also to be welcomed. And this proposal seems to be pushing in that direction. Paragraphs 2.4 and 2.5 of the consultation read:
2.4 Critical to the success of a new College of Teaching would be its independence from Government – a College should provide effective support for the teaching profession as a whole. As such, it must be free of political influence; indeed it should have the confidence and authority to speak independently of Government, and with real credibility.
2.5 While fully understanding and respecting this need for independence, we are persuaded that Government can play an initial role in supporting and enabling the establishment of a professional body, facilitating the efforts of those who are leading from within the sector. We are therefore proposing to take concrete action in support of further work – which must be led by teachers – to make the College of Teaching a reality within a clearly defined timeframe, with the aim of it opening for business in 2016.
If they are serious about this, this is fantastic, and widely to be welcomed. What is really interesting about the whole document is its tone. There is no stridency, rather a sense of service and a longing for the common good through the quality of teaching and learning. It is, I am glad to see, not going to be a Royal College of Teaching. The other thing about it is that it is an early document. There is not much policy here – rather a set of parameters that might work. Funding is proposed as a start-up, but the later stages of how it would be funded are left to ideas from the consultation (2.12). Where funding is proposed (3.5) is in the CPD field -to “drive the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based professional development for teachers. This will be delivered in a way that has the broadest possible impact, reaching schools across the country, particularly those most in need of support.”
I am not sure, for reasons that I have explained elsewhere, that the Teaching School model is, by itself, going to do the business, and the proposal from the DfE yesterday does hang too much of its expectations on the Teaching Schools. Some, I am sure, must be good. Others, I know for sure, are not! High quality work from universities will always be needed and the teaching schools that hang their ITT programs on good quality university departments will always have an advantage, in my view.
That being said, the need for high quality, sustained, career-long professional development is widely acknowledged throughout this proposal, and the creation of a national standard for professional development (3.11 to 3.13) is to be welcomed. If it can challenge those of us as school leaders to provide or make provision for high quality professional learning, then it will give a much needed entitlement to teachers, whilst at the same time, raising their expectations of themselves and the places they work. The questions in the consultation are, unlike the dreadful and trivial ones that were set out for the Performance Indicators in Maths and English (that consultation closes a week Thursday, 18th December, by the way!), are wide ranging and challenging to considered thought:
- What are the greatest impediments teachers and schools face in regularly undertaking high-quality professional development?
- To what extent, and how, do teachers currently evaluate their professional development? What would support more rigorous evaluation?
- Where should the balance of responsibility lie between teachers, schools and Government for ensuring that appropriate professional development is undertaken? How, in the longer term, might responsibility sit with a new independent professional body?
- Despite the growing reach of the Teaching Schools network, are there areas where coverage of schools would remain a concern? How could any gaps be addressed?
- What should the funding criteria be for Teaching Schools wishing to draw on the new funding pot for professional development? Should there, for example, be a requirement for Teaching Schools to work with a predetermined proportion of schools which are not already “good” or “outstanding”?
- Will teachers benefit from an online platform that collates and presents evidence-based best practice?
- In addition to the proposals outlined here, what other approaches would help schools to remove barriers and incentivise effective professional development for teachers?
Apart from the awful word incentivise, that has crept across the Atlantic in an unwanted skiff, these are great questions, and reach deep into the sort of thinking that all teachers have wondered. I would be really disappointed if these questions did not find resonance with teachers, even jaded ones. People might even find themselves reinvigorated by such a concept.
Some final thoughts.
- Teacher training remains paltry and ineffective in this country – we cannot be seen on the same level as doctors and engineers if we are to have PGCEs and three year degrees. We need a proper, highly selective approach, rooted in research and developing practice, to get teachers to a level where they deserve the respect that doctors get, simply on the basis of their professional learning and understanding.
- Evidence-based is a term that is being bandied around a lot. The government has wrecked its credibility by being highly selective with its evidence and consigning the research and researchers that disagree with its chosen (pre-determined?) conclusions as “the blob”. This infantile approach must stop; possibly simply having a woman in charge of the DfE will help.
- Gaining trust is still the top priority of the government when dealing with the profession. This document goes a long way towards the required humility. But it is a fragile thing, and one false move, one dissing of a consultation response or half a dozen ill-advised words from a special adviser will sink the whole thing.