Free Education Campaign: Professional autonomy is there for the taking (Part 1)

Reblogged from Pedagog In The Machine, aka the Free Education Campaign (@FreeEducation

Pedagog in the Machine (@_FreeEducation)

The news of plans to establish a College of Teaching – or rather to put rocket boosters under the existing one – is welcome indeed. The collection of essays published last week is both considered and inspiring, as have been some of the responses – including the revolutionary idea of asking children what they think (!)

Perhaps what is most surprising and welcome is the sheer unanimity with which this idea has been embraced by so many different organisations and interest groups. Amid the increasingly bellicose and hysterical discourses that surround education, the stars have aligned and an ocean of calm has appeared. It feels a bit like when the class goes quiet and a kid goes “somebody say something, this is freaking me out”. Or the Christmas Day game of football in No Man’s Land perhaps.

We should probably not examine this fragile harmony too intently, lest we shatter it with our gaze. There is a lovely sense of momentum to the whole thing, and it would appear that we are uniquely poised to bring about a step change in how our education system runs its affairs.

This undoubtedly is a *good thing*. However, as a number of the authors point out, it is vitally important for this new organisation to be – not just to feel, but actually be – owned by teachers themselves. The Select Committee report stated that in order ‘to be successful, the impetus for such a body must come from the profession itself.’ Well, so far the impetus appears mainly to have come from the impressive but distinctly not-a-teacher Charlotte Leslie MP, and as Debra Kidd has pointed out, teachers’ views were notable mainly for their absence from last week’s collection of essays.

So it would appear it’s already a bit late for ‘impetus’. However there is still a lot at stake, and we must take care not simply to wave the flag of approval (or weary dismissal – especially that) with one hand as we mark books with the other. (Any excuse to not do the marking).

Key questions remain as to how the College will be organised, how it will be funded, and in particular the extent of its remit – none of which is currently very clear.  Which must mean they are to some extent up for discussion. As such it is important that teachers engage critically at every stage of this process, to ensure that this does not become just another thing that is “done to us”. As we repeatedly tell the kids – getting what you want is all in the planning.

What follows is the first part of a response to the latter of these questions: what will be the extent of its remit? I will follow up the other points in subsequent blog posts – one for each night of this week. These musings are intended as the basis for further debate, rather than a final word on the matter. To serve this aim, some of what follows is intentionally provocative.

What will be the extent of the College’s remit?

Part 1: Status anxiety

The subtitle of last week’s report is ‘Raising the Status of the Profession’, and this message comes across clearly in a number of the essays. For example, Charlotte Leslie suggests that the college should “promote and protect the status of the profession” and “enhance the prestige of the profession”. Striking a similar chord, Andrew Hall declares that “teaching deserves higher recognition”, and that the College should “promote the quality of teaching” and “enhance public perceptions about the profession” to ensure that teachers’ “collective professionalism is recognised”. It would be “a guardian for teaching standards that maintains confidence in the quality of teaching”.

This is all very agreeable. The problem is that this development is taking place on the watch of a coalition government that has raised and lowered the status of the profession more times than Tower Bridge. First teachers needed a 2:2 or higher; then ex-soldiers were to be fast-tracked into the classroom (what could go wrong with that idea?); then all teachers would need a masters; except those that don’t even need QTS; then they need a GCSE grade B maths… it’s all so bewildering, when I tell people I’m a teacher I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to do so with a sense of pride or apology.

There is a lucid passage on this matter in the essay by Chris Keates, which is worth quoting in full:

The de-professionalisation of teaching, resulting from the policy agenda of the coalition government, must therefore represent a matter of profound concern for all those with a stake in ensuring that the highest standards of educational provision continue to be established in our schools. The removal of the requirement for teachers in state-funded schools to possess Qualified Teacher Status, considered alongside the effective deregulation of teaching, serve to highlight the current government’s conceptualisation of teaching as a ‘craft’, learned simply through mimicking the practice of others, rather than as a complex professional activity.

These considerations emphasise the fact that meaningful work to establish a Royal College of Teaching cannot precede action to place teaching on an appropriately regulated, professional footing in all sectors, both state-funded and independent. Rather than enhance the status of the profession, attempts to establish a royal college without dealing with the regulation and accreditation of teaching would simply serve to diminish the standing of teaching in comparison with other professions.

I have nothing to add to this at this stage – however it would certainly be interesting to get a sense of how widely this is felt throughout the profession.

Alison Peacock outlines a framework for how membership of the college might work, and suggests that teachers should not get automatic entry as they did with the GTC (which seems a bit counterproductive if the point of the college is to represent the interests of teachers and children and to share good practice as widely as possible… more on this later in the week). Rather, more experienced / accomplished teachers would be able to undergo ‘rigorous selection processes’ to gain the approval of the college through a tiered structure of memberships and fellowships.

All of which seems perfectly reasonable, while leading irresistibly to the intentionally incendiary question that concludes this opening post:

Is the proposed College merely an elaborate mechanism for handing out chufty badges?

Chufty Badge


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