A manifesto for an Australian College of Teachers

A recent tweet by Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of England’s Chartered College of Teaching reminded me of debacle surrounding that organisation:

I’ve watched it unfold from afar, from a failed crowd-funding campaign to fistfuls of UK government cash, an odd episode with a Russian TV channel and an election that resulted in the promised ‘teacher-led’ college being run largely by non-teachers. The only way the organisation could become worse is if it gained the power to regulate the profession. Teachers in England are almost universal in their criticism, with the main split being between those who still think its worth joining the organisation to change it from within and those who think it is beyond redemption. It clearly is beyond redemption and teachers must boycott this institution to deny it any credibility, making it harder for the UK government to give it any powers.

Nevertheless, it was not always obvious that the College would turn out this way. In the years prior to the crowd-funding campaign, there were some grounds for optimism. Teachers would value professional body focused on the practice of teaching rather than pay and conditions. And there is clearly a need to give voice to teachers, the most patronised and talked-over of the professions, which is why the fact that non-teachers muscled-in and took over the College caused such a deep psychic wound.

So, I began to think about what an Australian College of Teachers  – one that learnt the lessons of the English experience – would look like. Firstly, do we need one? Possibly, yes. There is a patchwork of state-based unions and teaching institutes in Australia but none of them really do this job. Our unions are far better than something like the absurd NEU in the UK with its ideological flights of fancy, but the focus of our unions is pay and conditions rather than teaching practice, as it should be. Our teaching institutes, on the other hand, are simply regulatory bodies. We hand over the cash and they give us permission to teach for another year. There is much to question in this regulatory model, but the fact that it would be pre-existing to any new Australian College of Teachers means that the probability of the new body being drawn into regulation would be low.

So, what would be the point? To test that out, I propose the following draft manifesto.

  • Membership of the Australian College of Teachers would be limited to those who currently teach classes in an Australian P-12 setting for at least three hours per week. This would include independent and government schools as well as specialist provision. Members who cease to meet this teaching commitment could continue as non-voting affiliates but nobody could join on that basis. School leaders, such as principals and deputy principals, and academics would not be barred from being members provided that they met the teaching load requirement. However, they would be barred from holding leadership positions within the College.
  • All leaders and officials would be drawn from the membership and explicitly not from any affiliates.
  • The proceedings would be conducted entirely virtually. There would be no physical meetings. The tyranny of distance in Australia is worse than in most countries and so if the College was based in a city and conducted in-person meetings, it would end-up being dominated by teachers from that city. By conducting all proceedings online, anyone with an internet connection could participate with no need to spend time travelling. A remote Northern Territory teacher could potentially lead the College. All meetings would be open to all members and affiliates as observers, making the College’s processes transparent.
  • The College would regularly survey its members (not affiliates) to establish the balance of membership opinion on matters such as workload, behaviour and the implications of government education policy. It would also commission a series of systematic narrative literature reviews on different aspects of teaching practice. This would improve on meta-meta-analysis by not trying to shoe-horn a complex issue into a single spurious measure. Members of the college would decide upon and pre-register the search and inclusion criteria and academics would produce the report which would then be peer reviewed. Different kinds of evidence such as correlational studies, quasi-experiments and randomised controlled trials could all be included in different sections of each report, with the authors suggesting overall conclusions which would be considered as advisory and provisional. There would be a rolling programme to update these reviews over time. These reviews would be published open-access on the College’s website.
  • When representing the College, leaders would be informed by the results of these opinion surveys and literature reviews e.g. “70% of our membership thought… A review we commissioned found…”
  • The leadership would seek to develop connections with journalists and organisations in order to 1) represent the position of the College in the media and in government consultations and 2) suggest teachers who would be available to give interviews and sit on conference panels in a personal capacity with the idea of injecting the views of actual teachers into education discussions.
  • The College would draw up a code of conduct based on ethical behaviour alone and membership could only be withdrawn on that basis. Any future attempt at turning it into a regulator of teacher competence or accreditation would therefore have to overturn these constitutional provisions.
  • Given the current climate, the constitution would also need an explicit commitment to free speech.
  • Service to the College would be voluntary and membership fees would therefore be low.

I am interested in your thoughts. Do we need such an institution? What do you think of my draft manifesto? What would you add? What would you change? Are there dangers I have not foreseen? Can any such body be designed in a way that avoids these dangers?

Also, to those of you in the UK who are familiar with the Chartered College of Teaching, what lessons can we learn?


5 thoughts on “A manifesto for an Australian College of Teachers

  1. Mike says:

    I would go even further than your seventh dot point there: I think that, for teachers to be likely to treat it with anything other than cynicism and suspicion, there would need to be a cast-iron clause in the constitution stating that it would NEVER become an accreditation or regulatory body, and that any attempt to alter (or even reinterpret) its role as such would require immediate dissolution of the organisation. Once bitten, twice shy.

    Also, for various reasons I would bar Ed academics from membership (re your first dot point), although not senior exec.

  2. Chester Draws says:

    Three hours a week is hardly anything (although it would limit the number of principals qualifying).

    Given that meetings would be virtual, the usual reason why teachers can’t be leaders in education organisations — because they can’t take that much time out of the classroom for the travel — stops being an issue.

    I suggest that the requirement be working at least 20 hours a week in a school and having a current teaching licence. I wouldn’t mind a principal, who at least works with teachers full time and knows their woes, represent me. Better that than a person who does three hours a week of something like Year 12 Media Studies in a private school — and thinks that the methods that work for their situation will work elsewhere.

  3. Richard Noone says:

    I think there’s merit in such a body. It would seem all we have re teaching practice (for good or ill, and mostly ill) is the somewhat arbitrary interpretation of AITSIL standards. This body would give teachers a ‘voice’ and be more about evidence than pushing an ideological barrow.

  4. Andrea says:

    This is a good draft. We need to create such an organisation or someone with questionable intentions will claim to fill the void for us. If we had of come up with our own teaching standards the AITSL nonsense would have had less of aleg to stand on.

    However, I do not think your membership criteria is strict enough. For the organisation to work, have credibility among teachers and survive incursions from outside agendas, its members must have teaching in a P-12 school as their main job. They should teach enough that were policies and guidelines relating to teaching to change, it could significantly impact on their wellbeing and work/life balance. They must be someone who is directly confronted with the practical reality of any ideology they espouse.

    It is not enough to rock up for half a day taking one period for three different classes where the bulk of the work for a class falls on someone else. Nor I would argue is it enough to causally teach one day a week where negligible preparation or marking is required. Neither is working at a school enough if you teach less that half of the periods in the day because you are dreaming up policies to inflict on the rest of the school, often to pad a resume.

    Teachers who do not meet this requirements along with principals, deputy principals and academics should only be able to join as affiliate members, unable to become a leader, official, spokesperson or participant in any survey. We hear enough from admin, academics and consultants during mandatory PD and staff meetings. We need something for and from ourselves alone.

    I do not believe an Australian College of Teachers should conduct literature reviews alone as it will only be able to discuss research already conducted, often funded by those with vested interests in the outcome. I would like to see an organisation that seeks to replicate key studies and fill the gaps in the research literature that teachers are interested in filling, both hypothesis and experimental design-wise. Having a say in what gets researched will help make the wider profession more engaged in what research is already out there and allow us to begin to take more control of our profession.

    Additionally, any research or literature reviews conducted by the organisation should be given a tick of approval by a group of statisticians before publishing, when choosing any articles as part of a review and at the experimental design phase. Before the experiment is conducted, the scientists should preregister their study designs and afterwards the experimental data should be freely available. There are several reasons I suggest this. The first is that it will be a long time, if ever, before the vast majority of the profession have a solid enough grounding in statistics to identify and understand enough dodgy experimental designs and statistical furphies not to be lead astray by educational consultants. An Australian College of Teachers should therefore assist in this. The second reason is that any research conducted by the organisation must not waste members’ money nor lead the organisation into disrepute through the quality of its research. Thirdly, the social sciences are known for a poor grasp of statistics, particularly when compared to the harder and more respected sciences. We cannot afford to wait for educational academics to raise their quality of research of their own accord. If we are to be respected as an evidence-driven profession, the evidence on which our decisions rest must be more respectable.

    I realise that my suggestions regarding statisticians and research would significantly add to the cost of the organisation and that I don’t know how it would be funded, other than to suggest we also extending membership to those from New Zealand. However, I believe that if teachers are to ever be able to regulate their own profession, through another organisation, this is the kind of environment and one of the supports it would need to occur.

  5. Stan Blakey says:

    This seems to overlap a lot with what ResearchEd does. If that was 10x larger and funded research and added a membership system similar to the IEEE where journals and conferences were cheaper for members would there be any remaining need for a CoT?

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