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.