I don’t know. That’s why I want to find out.

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.

@collofteaching

#claimyourcollege

http://www.claimyourcollege.org

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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:

Representation
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.

Career development
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.

Status

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.

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The Thing with a College of Teaching – Part One

It’s the teaching that’s the issue for me; the college must support the teaching; the teaching comes first

I’m wondering about people. People are precious, and teachers as people are even more precious because so much rests on their effectiveness. But teachers are fallible and can make mistakes; they’re less effective at some times than others and sometimes (I would argue throughout their careers) they need nurturing so that they can continue to develop. Very few, if any, teachers can be 100% effective 100% of the time. But many, hopefully most, make really positive contributions to the lives, learning and opportunities of young people.

A College of Teaching needs to be made up of teachers – real teachers. By this I mean teachers who teach regular timetabled lessons to classrooms of children, and who are deemed accountable for results. These are the teachers who understand what teaching is currently all about. Yes, there will be many others who will have a role, valuable roles, in an ‘associate’ capacity, but a College of Teaching for teachers, to teachers, by teachers, must be made up of teachers. At the level of the organisation of the Colleg, this in itself is going to need the cooperation of schools – secondments are likely to be needed to enable these teachers to take time to train, travel, attend meetings, visit other school, devise training events, generate communications, etc, etc. I’d love this sort of position – what a great job, and all that. But no. This sort of role shouldn’t be someone’s forever job. Real teachers are needed back in the classroom when they have done their College stint. And times change. The teacher who has remained in the classroom while I was out of it will now be in a better position to advise me – so we’d need to keep these positions fluid.

Currently the issue of teacher workload is, rightly, being debated at all levels. Real teachers do not, however, need to debate this – it’s a reality – and let’s face it, they probably don’t have the time. I’m a terrible advert for work-life balance…but out of choice because my teaching is effectively my hobby as well. No joke, I am a total education junkie/geek/whatever you will. I have looked up the term dates in other counties, and visited school when they’re open and we were on holiday. I am that school nerd. But I would not in a million years expect a normal real teacher to engage in this sort of craziness! It’s often said that ‘great’ teachers “go the extra mile”, putting on early morning, Saturday, after school and holiday classes. I take issue with this – the hours that we work are already open-ended and increasing – the expectation that it still isn’t enough actually offends me.

A College of Teaching needs to campaign for realistic workload. Most teachers, effective, hardworking real teachers, work about 60 hours a week. That’s a week and a half’s normal ‘work’. So for the 40 weeks or so of a school year (keeping the numbers rounded for ease, I admit) means we work about 60 weeks’ worth a year, and that’s with no holidays, bank Holidays, etc. Many teachers are permanently shattered. Family life does suffer. There are two or three main issues here. One is the ‘diktat’ issue – teachers having to repeatedly jump through new hoops because ‘somebody’ has decreed a new requirement. A second is contact hours, and linked to that pupil numbers – for every class, there is planning, resourcing etc, which takes time. Then there’s the marking and assessment time – x minutes per child, multiplied by the number of children in the group. You can tell me class size doesn’t affect pupil outcomes – try telling that to teachers of  GCSE English classes with 32 compared to a GCSE ‘option’ class with 16. Whose marking would you rather be doing? Is this teacher working twice as hard to ensure pupil outcomes? Is this right/fair/changeable? A College of Teaching needs to look at this.

Accountability and performance management are very real and very necessary parts of school life. A new teacher builds on observation feedback, develops their practice to new targets and steadily progresses up both the pay scale and the ladder of expertise. Focus on their development is fairly intense. Individual teachers, line managers, senior leaders all have a part to play and all have a stake in this teacher’s success. And then the input, in some schools, starts to fizzle out. Some schools or academies put a lot of thought into long-term teacher and teaching development. They use UPS status as a way of ensuring teaching discussion happens in school. They aim to keep things fresh without them becoming a treadmill.

A College of Teaching needs to investigate and coordinate the dissemination of best practice here. This needs to be thorough and wide-reaching. Training schools were excellent in developing great CPD schedules which impacted on learning, but they weren’t always the best in sharing this work, except among other Training Schools. Teaching Schools in more recent years have taken a step closer to engage in real partnerships, but are patchy in geographical terms. Then there are so many other systems happening – there’s ResearchEd and lesson study systems, there are teachmeets, commercial CPD providers, there’s Teacher Development Trust and many, many, many more – senior leaders’ and subject leaders’ networks, SLEs, National College projects, university research…. A College of Teaching needs to act as a hub, and perhaps a collator of all this work. We are all judged on the same Standards, so should all have access to the same routes to improvement.

Then there are schools. I can see a role for a College. I can see plenty of teachers wanting to be involved. What I’m not so sure about – perhaps because I’m not a senior – is how school organisation fits in. It’s another aspect of partnership that needs to be looked at. In places which set their own pay and conditions, can the recommendations of a College work in the same way as in any other school? A College of Teaching needs to be clear about what its power and remit can be, and will need to work WITH, but not be part of, government, unions, etc. Its aim must always be to protect the long-term interests and status of the teaching profession, while at the same time contributing to the quality and effectiveness of those teachers.

The challenges of the job itself are ever changing. Hardly a week goes by without a News feature beginning with “Schools should teach….” – usually something to do with gardening, pornography awareness, road safety – adding to the list of demands teachers and schools face. These tend to alternate with “Schools are failing to…” stories – and they focus on our performance in PISA rankings, or other perceived inadequacies. Encouraging negative public perceptions in this way does nothing for the morale of teachers who are already struggling to keep up with ongoing real demands such as changing curriculum planning and delivery, changing assessment characteristics and purposes, changing practices regarding children with different social or educational needs.  A College of Teaching needs to face the media and stand up for teachers who are being pulled in so many different directions, to focus on what pupils, and communities, actually need from teachers and schools, not just what is needed to make the world a better place.