What could a College of Teaching do for Teachers?
I first published this in early Jan 2015. Since then, the Claim Your College proposals have been submitted – and accepted. The College of Teaching IS going to be a reality. Now it really is up to teachers to shape the future of the profession.
Original post –
I have a lot of questions about the proposed College of Teaching. There’s a lot we don’t yet know. But as a teacher, I think I should be getting involved in this discussion, and be finding out.
Since the first mentions of the development of a new body, a College of Teaching, there has been discussion and speculation about the various forms and functions such a body might operate, and the approach to teaching, and teachers, it might take.
The composition of the College has been one topic under discussion. It is not yet known who, in the future, might lead the working body of the College or what sort of committee structure might be exercised, or what democratic structures would exist, or how membership will be promoted, or how the College will be funded, either in the initial start-up phase, or later when it might become self-funding through sponsorships, charitable donations and subscriptions. These issues are to be dealt with during the two to three year start up phase that is just underway. It is less contested, however, that teachers themselves should be at the centre of the organisation. Many academic, training, political and other commentators will have their own value to add, of course, but a College of Teaching needs to revolve and evolve around current members of the profession.
There are a number of key reasons for this:
Early information asserts quite strongly that the College is not taking the place of any teaching unions. Neither is it to take part in pay and conditions negotiations. It could be there to voice teachers’ interests, opinions and concerns, though, in the light of policy decisions, media appraisals and inspectorate judgements. It could also mediate between the world of academic research and the day-to-day world of schools, and could aim to ensure that communication and cooperation exists between these two fields of experience for the good of ongoing developments in classroom practice. As time goes on, the College, representing the expertise of its membership, might exert more influence over curriculum design or assessment models. Teachers work with the realities of the educational world – the temporal and social contexts, the school priorities and local populations – so information gathered from them and their experiences could enable workable projects to move teaching and learning forward. Allowing teachers this contribution into national strategy feels very different from the work of recent years. But if teachers want to see such possibilities, they need to engage in College of Teaching discussions.
Long-term improvement in teaching performance is an aim of any organisation associated with providing the best opportunities for children. Recent reports have highlighted the importance, not of technology, or of particular ideological stances, but of straightforward teacher quality in ensuring effective experiences for pupils. There are still some differences of opinion in terms of whether subject -specific or general pedagogy is the key determiner of effectiveness, but to enable teachers to move on after initial qualification it makes sense to allow for development in both routes. Comments have been made about points in a teaching career where developmental ‘plateaux’ occur and about what can be done to ensure that developed performance through improved classroom strategy is consistent throughout a teacher’s career. Retention within the profession is also key here, with many new entrants into the profession not staying as long as their older colleagues. Teachers need to take the time to discuss, as the College is being developed, whether a long-term career map can be outlined, particularly one which continues to develop and reward teachers who remain in the classroom rather than moving into management positions. A further consideration is the manner in which this career progression would be reflected in the membership structure of the organisation through levels such as ‘member’, ‘associate’ or ‘fellow’, each with its own qualifications, or, perhaps, responsibilities to contribute to the professional development of others. As yet, these issues are undiscussed. Teachers should watch out for opportunities to engage in consultations in their local areas, through social networking and though national consultations as time goes on.
The recent government consultation document claims that the establishment of a College of Teaching would help us become a “world-class teaching profession”. But how do we judge the ‘class’ of our profession? By Ofsted Quality of Teaching judgements? By GCSE and A level results, as shifting as those goalposts are, or by international measures such as PISA with its attendant statistical and cultural quirks? Or do we set our own standards, the standards of the College, and therefore the profession, itself? And if so, who does the setting, and what qualities do they prioritise? Comparisons are often made between teaching in the UK and in other countries. Finland is a well-noted example, yet the status of teachers is higher than in the UK, and it is estimated that it could take over thirty years for the UK to match Finland in this respect. Where we might prefer to look would be at the status of teachers within our own communities.
The first question, ‘What could a College of Teaching do for a Teachers?’ might after all be the wrong one. Maybe ‘What can teachers do for teachers, for teaching, for schools and for the generations of pupils to come?’ should be considered with the College acting as a vehicle through which teachers themselves can become agents of change for the future of the profession.