On the face of it, what’s not to love? England’s new College of Teaching offers an opportunity for the profession to find its own feet. Instead of being buffeted by political whims, the College can be a strong voice for teachers, offering stability. If it can wrangle some powers away from government – such as the power to sets teaching standards – then the profession can look forward to more stability.
I think that there are three reasons why this argument doesn’t quite work.
The educational establishment
It looks like the College will become a part of the educational establishment. I would define this establishment as being made up of unelected officials with power over some aspect of education policy. I do not include politicians in this and I see fixed term appointments made by politicians – such as the head of OFSTED – as slightly different because they are potentially susceptible to political pressures.
The new College CEO is indicating on Twitter that the College will be a broad church that allows non-teachers to join. The past phrase has been ‘anyone with an interest in education’. We can be pretty certain from experience, and from the scheduling of College events during weekdays in term-time, that these non-teachers – CPD Providers, executive heads, university academics and so on – will end-up directing the organisation.
You might think it is good for power in the profession to be in the hands of such experts and not influenced by politics. Politics is bad for education, right? And isn’t this how other professions are run? Sadly, this does not bode well for teaching and this is because of the following points.
A highly contested space
Teaching standards are not like engineering standards. This is a highly contested space. For instance, I am convinced by the evidence for explicit instruction but others are equally convinced that direct instruction is a form of child abuse. Some support zero-tolerance discipline policies but others think these are… a form of child abuse. What are the aims that teachers are trying to achieve? I think it is imperative that children learn to read in early primary school and that standardised tests or the phonics check provide some useful information about this. Others would prioritise happiness over reading and would see tests of any sort of young children as, er, a form of child abuse.
This post is not about who is right or wrong. I am merely pointing out that there are huge divisions in education and you can’t set these aside.
A tendency towards progressive education
Members of the educational establishment have consistently shown that they favour positions that could be broadly described as ‘progressive‘. This is an international phenomenon. In Australia, for instance, our teaching standards emphasise differentiation yet you would struggle to define this as an evidence-based practice. The evidence is simply not there. Across the world, education schools prioritise projects such as ensuring teachers use ‘ambitious instruction‘ – another set of progressive education practices that appear to be pursued for mainly ideological reasons. And perhaps teachers in the UK have started to forget what happened when OFSTED was last run by the establishment. There was mandated group-work which your lesson observation grade depended upon. Progressive education does not shy away from coercion when it comes to teachers.
We need another way
Due to this history, teaching is not going to make progress in this way. The future instead belongs to grass-roots movements that allow teachers to discuss their ideas without holding official power over them. Facilitated by social media, these teacher-shaped movements have started to form and have opened up a world of new possibilities for teachers to reflect upon their work and represent themselves.
The question is: how far are teachers in England prepared to let themselves be led down the College cul de sac before they give it the boot?