There is a lot of fuss again about the Chartered College of Teaching, and most precisely whether – a year and a half into its existence – it has become exactly what appeared to have been pledged by politicians and working groups at its inception.
Probably the single biggest issue is whether or not the College is going to end up being teacher-led, and whether this amounts to promises being broken. There are other people out there already who have addressed the counter-argument regarding just what being ‘teacher-led’ might have meant at the outset (for example, as a shorthand by politicians for saying that it would be free from politicians), and Mark Enser and Tom Sherrington have written a couple of good posts outlining these positions:
Debra Kidd also addresses the importance of us pushing-through this phase by getting behind the college – irrespective of whether it is currently exactly what we want (and she says that as someone who’s not even joined because she thinks she’s too peripheral to mainstream teaching currently).
My own viewpoints are definitely sympathetic to the view that ‘teacher-led’ was a fuzzily defined starting point, and also to the view that – by shear dint of practical reality – the Chartered College of Teaching might take years to get to where we want it to, and indeed, might never become exactly what we imagined it would look like at the outset anyway – despite being a great success. In other words it might become the organisation that we need, even if it isn’t the one that initially looked like what we wanted.
And this is where I want to highlight some distinctive thoughts regarding what it being fully led by unpromoted practicing teachers (without consultancy businesses) would look like at this point, and whether it would really ever get anywhere, both in survival terms and in actual useful outcomes.
On Twitter, if I ask exactly why it would be so useful if the CCoT was fully run by serving teachers, I get no more detail than allusions to ‘empowerment’, ‘teacher voice’ and ‘but this was meant to be something just for us!’ In practice, all that this really does is make it sound like a teaching union, but the CCoT was meant to be about “promoting high standards of practice and development” according to the government, and the heart of the existing CCoT’s mission is to “improve the quality of education for children and young people”. Ultimately then, those goals should be the measure by which a fully mature CCoT should be judged, rather than whether it had achieved them by being fully ‘teacher-led’ in a grass-roots way.
So what would be different if it was fully serving teachers filling the leadership positions…?
Time & Focus
If the CCoT is meant to be voluntary, and the serving teachers have remained unpromoted because they love the act of teaching so much, what kind of people would have the time and energy to devote to filling truly active top positions in such a big national association? It has been suggested that they would do it at their weekends and during holidays (see the comments here). Of course there are teachers who make this kind of commitment already in various union roles, but a political desire to stand-up for the little person, is perhaps a more complementary driver to action alongside a teacher staying resolutely in the classroom. Many teachers who are desperately keen on ‘promoting high standards of practice and development’ would most likely already be seeking some kind of promotion, writing books or doing paid part-time lecturing/training.
There has been a burgeoning of ‘grass-roots’ conference movements in recent times, and there is a great intuitive feel to things emerging like this. There was a suggestion to me today on Twitter that any member of the CCoT should be able to organise some kind of conference/training and have it endorsed in the name of the college. It personally seems like it would be a difficult line for the CCoT to justify, that ‘ANY meetings arranged by a member teacher will promote high standards of practice and development’. Most reasonable readers would say – ‘well obviously not just ANY old meetings’, but therein lies the rub – there would have to be SOME kind of quality assurance, particularly if down the line there is going to be accreditation available. Increasing the professional standing of teachers can’t just be based on their right to do and say whatever they want. The autonomy to go in any direction you want would be a regressive step, and I doubt would be followed by any of the 16 Royal Colleges dedicated to the field of medicine in England and Wales.
Consequently, given that there would need to be some kind of quality assurance, how easy would it be for a grass-roots organisation to create national coverage of meetings, conferences and training-events? It would seem to me that this would be more easily achieved by teachers who have experience of doing such things, have established a network of contacts, and have sufficiently left the classroom to make their time more flexible. I’m sure that the politicians who championed the idea of the college would still view this as being ‘teacher-led’.
One of the big cravings for an organisation which promotes teacher ‘autonomy’ is such that the classroom teacher isn’t following the agenda of some other group for once. Teachers are apparently fed-up with being told what to do by politicians, consultants and school leaders. It seems that – whilst teachers are particularly unhappy with any suggestion of school leaders being professional managers who haven’t come from the teaching profession – even with those who have done years of teaching, it seems that teachers don’t think that they are best placed to lead what goes-on in the classroom.
There is definitely some merit in saying “We have so many other routes through which these people already influence what we do, why can’t we have one which is driven from our side…?” Hence I support the burgeoning in the aforementioned grass-roots conference circuit. As an aside, one irony is that one of the most successful grassroots movements – the ResearchEd conferences – is focused on getting teachers to look OUTSIDE their classroom at the work done by professional researchers who are – by and large – non-teachers. Does this promote teacher autonomy…? In as much as an informed mind is more capable of making powerful choices, then yes. What tends to happen however is that – once people have read about research, they feel more compelled to have to fall into line with it.
Anyway, my main question is whether – given that the CCoT is meant to be THE organisation raising the professional standing and quality of ‘practice and development’ in teaching, is letting this be the token ‘official’ organisation where teachers get to play God, re-channelling the direction of the teaching profession, un-influenced by external viewpoints, the right choice…? Responses to this are that it seems to work just fine in myriad other chartered professions, such as accountancy, engineering and in the medical colleges, but on the one hand I suspect that these all took a lot longer to get to full professional efficacy than a year and a half, and on the other, I suspect that there is a much clearer, harder orthodoxy in those professions about exactly what best practice looks like.
I guess, at my most cynical, I’m wondering whether the fully autonomous teacher-led CCoT would just be a national network of ‘TeachMeets’, which feeds chaotically on everyone’s personal experience and never gets to any kind of accreditation stage, or whether it would be akin to people saying: “We’re fed-up with being told what to do by non-teachers such as Christodolou, Wiliam, Didau, Sweller, Hirshe, Lemov, Kirshner, Willingham, Bjork, Rosenshine et al! Instead, we want practicing teachers to stand-up and tell us what to do, such as…. by telling us to read Christodolou, Wiliam, Didau, Sweller, Hirshe, Lemov, Kirschner, Willingham, Bjork, Rosenshine et al…”
In all candidness, I actually doubt that we will ever have a professional association quite like the Institute of Chartered Accountants or the Royal College of Surgeons. As mentioned previously, I think that the professional practice of a teacher is too broad, variable and under-specified to make a clearly defined set of criteria as easy to settle-upon and implement as in accountancy for example. I also think that it would take a commitment to revising the pay scales and career structure of teachers.
However, if it is to get close to this, in its own distinctive form, and it is to eventually be fully teacher-led, where the professional judgement of practicing teachers is so evolved as to be the ultimate arbiter of what is excellent teaching, then it is likely to take a fair number of years to get there, and it will – I believe – need to go through a phase of drawing on a broad range of expertise from across the education system and the teaching ‘profession’ as a whole.
Teachers have a lot of experience of being professional teachers within their own classroom, but practically no experience of being a profession (beyond perhaps being a force of resistance). Cognitive psychologists and traditionalist teachers are keen to point out that autonomous expertise is an emergent quality, rather than simply something which gets gifted to students at the start. Even with adults, we don’t teach someone to drive by just throwing them the keys and saying – go-off and discover it for yourself. Eventually, when we do have such people as accredited ‘chartered teachers’, it will make more sense to assert that the CCoT should be fully teacher led – drawing on teachers who have developed through its ranks. In the meantime however, let’s draw on whatever scaffolded supports that we can, from a range of well-meaning and informed professionals, all of whom have – as their professional priority – the development of professional teaching, and not simply expect serving teachers to be pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, because that’s what some politicians implied would happen.