This is an ostensibly parochial and obscure argument taking place right now in England about the relatively new Chartered College of Teaching. Andrew Old has been blogging about this debate and if you are unfamiliar with it then it is worth taking an interest. Why? Because it tells us something important about education reform.
Very briefly, the idea of a College of Teaching had been around for a while, ever since a previous attempt at a professional body, the General Teaching Council, had been abolished in 2012 amidst a mixture of apathy and resentment from teachers. The College was going to be different, we were told, as it launched a crowdfunding campaign that massively failed.
Undeterred, the College managed to acquire 5 million pounds from the UK government and went into business.
We were told that the College would be ‘teacher-led’ and ‘run by teachers for teachers’. This has led to a lot of semantic wrangling. Reasonably enough, I hold to the commonly understood meaning of the term, ‘teacher’: someone who teaches regular, scheduled classes in a school. I accept that many academics are engaged in teaching as part of their role, but I don’t think a Professor of Education and Social Justice would introduce themselves at a dinner party as a ‘teacher’ because that is not what ‘teacher’ commonly means.
This distinction is vital as teaching struggles to become more of a profession. Education is saddled with far more ideological baggage than many of the professions that we look towards as an example. Much of this ideology works far better in theory than in practice and so, although there are many excellent education researchers and consultants, the centre of gravity in university education departments is somewhat different to that in your average staffroom. For instance, it tends to be researchers who write papers calling ability grouping ‘symbolic violence‘ or who argue that the ‘behaviour management‘ concept is outdated or that there is no such thing as ‘a specifiable method of teaching reading‘. Regular classroom teachers are likely to be more interested in practical applications.
For this reason, I firmly believe that the education debate would benefit from a strong voice representing teachers. Nobody would lose. Nobody would be silenced. We would simply have an additional, and I believe moderating, voice in the discussion.
This is what was promised by the College and what it is failing to deliver. Very briefly, when it was set up, only teachers were allowed to become members. However, rather oddly, it allowed non-teachers to join as ‘associates’. The reason for doing so later became apparent when the College created a category of membership known as ‘fellows’. This was open to members and associates who met certain worthiness criteria. The College have now run the first election to their leadership council, reserving a majority of positions for fellows and lots of non-teachers appear to be standing.
So it is obvious that the College will end up being run, at least in part, by non-teachers. This will clearly tip the agenda away from the concerns of teachers and towards more ethereal kinds of matters.
What has also become pretty plain is that the College will not become a forum for robust discussion. I was sent a couple of copies of their house magazine, Impact, and it contained a few interesting articles but definitely nothing to frighten the horses. When the College announced they were seeking submissions for their (Northern Hemisphere) Summer edition, I became involved in the following exchange on Twitter with the guest editor, Jonathan Sharples of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF):
I am a critic of the EEF Toolkit and its category of ‘meta-cognition and self-regulation’ and I doubted whether Impact would have the steel to publish a critical piece. Nevertheless, I thought it would be a worthwhile experiment to see if they would print an article of mine. I submitted an abstract which was accepted but, as expected, Impact declined to print my piece after sending it through two rounds of peer review.
One of the first round of peer reviewers was Dylan Wiliam. I know this because he stated so on Twitter and his view was that the article should have been published. Impact of course did not state that the reason they declined to print my article was due to it being critical of the EEF. In fact, they stated that none of the peer reviewers had taken issue with the opinions I expressed, even though they clearly had. This led to me publishing the peer reviews so that others can make up their own mind. I have still not had an apology from Impact for suggesting I had failed to tell the truth about the contents of the peer reviews.
It all adds up to a sorry story and one that we should be familiar with. One word sums it up, ‘capture’. It happens to every body set-up to regulate teaching and education and so it should come as no surprise. However, we need to learn the lessons so that we don’t propose such bodies in the future.
Instead, the way ahead is through organising teachers at a grass-roots level. We have already seen the potential of movements coordinated through social media. They won’t all speak with one voice but I am extremely relaxed about that.
At least they will speak with the voices of teachers.