20 Oct 2014
When the coalition came to power, there was a great bonfire of the quangos, including the Teacher Development Agency, the Quality and Curriculum Authority and Becta* , all of whom had roles in developing standards and supporting schools. The rise of academies has denuded the capacity of local authorities to help schools, too. Meanwhile, teaching schools have been growing their own alternative provision to support their local schools and national organisations like the STEM Centre have developed some excellent subject-based support. and don't forget the current National College for Teaching and Leadership, of course. Do we need any more support?
The (potentially, Royal) College of Teaching has been around for about four years and has sort of absorbed the principals of the old GTC (RIP 2012) and its Teacher Learning Academy, but it still seems to be finding its way, and wants to ask teachers to help shape its future development.
So do we need a College of Teaching at all (Royal or otherwise)? Apparently yes: according to the Prince's Trust, who conducted a (rather biased) survey early this year, among teachers and heads in order to support their "blueprint": introducing the survey, for example, with the words,"The breadth of technical, intellectual, professional and personal capabilities we expect from teachers is extraordinary. Yet teaching remains the one profession in this country with no independent body to set standards for the profession" then going on to ask respondents whether they agree, in Q1 with the statement: "I feel that there is a role for a new, independent, member-driven College of Teaching".
The blueprint is supposed to "explore the vision and promote a more detailed debate", but the Trust's intention is clearly to convince us that this is good idea. The survey report was written, it seems, by Chris Pope, who describes himself as an "honest broker" of the College in his introduction to the first (and so far, only) newsletter - which goes on to describe the support offered by several teachers and unions. So more on the promote side than the explore side, then.
Not that this is to deny that the College may be a good idea: it's just bad research leading to weak marketing. The premise that "teaching remains the one profession in this country with no independent body to set standards for the profession" depends on what you describe as a profession: in this case it seems that the definition of a profession is one with an independent body to set standards - a circular argument, in other words.
Better research would have been to ask teachers in general, what's needed to support teacher development, school improvement (etc), that isn't already being successfully provided by someone else.
So, is the College a good idea?
Well, the Prince's Trust says that the blueprint is the result of extensive collaboration which involved, if we (safely) ignore the survey results, oral evidence from over 40 "people". Clearly there is some support.
So, what's the vision:
- It will build a respected profession by advancing teaching standards*, developing and recognising excellent teachers, and promoting the use of evidence to inform practice and policy
- The College will need to be motivated by a deep sense of moral and intellectual purpose
- It would celebrate high achievement in teaching
- Advise policymakers
- Professional opportunities ... as a powerful contribution to the development of their [members] careers
- Standards determined by teachers and based in evidence
- To give the teaching profession an authoritative voice on matters of teaching values, standards, practice and research
- To raise the status of teaching in the view of society
- Provide the key to finding the answers to many of the educational problems and challenges this country faces.
Perhaps leaving aside the authoritative voice on research component, who could argue with any of these aspirations? The final words of the Prince's Trust's Executive Summary in the survey report are eloquent, though:
"Most teachers do not feel that the proposed fee of £250 - £500 for certification is reasonable, even though more than a third of them are likely to have the fee paid by their school" (meaning that two thirds will have to pay themselves, presumably).
Just to re-emphasise: in this post we aren't arguing for or against the College, just pointing our that the research quoted in support of the College does not support it as well as claimed - we feel it's our duty as professional education researchers. We're also marketing researchers and feel that the marketing here is not supported by the evidence it's based on. 'nuff said.
Read the blueprint for yourself and make up your own mind about whether you would pay for it - then tell us, via the comment box below.
Also, between November and March (starting with 6th November - Bristol; 17th November - London; 20th November - York), the College of Teachers will be hosting a series of open events across the UK where you can find out more and contribute your own views. You could also comment on the TES blog dedicated to the development of the College.
* Angela McFarlane, Becta's onetime Director for Evidence and Practice, is now CEO and Registrar at The College of Teachers
** The current Teachers' Standards are defined by the Secretary of State for Education (last revision in June 2013). Anyone any problems with them? Comments below, please!
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