In the last few weeks, as the NUT National Executive discussed yesterday, a series of press articles have highlighted Government-backed moves towards setting up some kind of ‘Royal College of Teaching’.
On the face of it, the idea seems harmless enough. Indeed, having a professional body that, unlike this Government, supported teachers’ professional development and promoted genuine educational research, rather than ignoring it, could be useful. However, the idea that a “College of Teaching” would automatically raise the status of teaching is doubtful. Our standing is already high amongst most parents but the ongoing denigration of teachers by Ministers, Ofsted and some in the media has had some effect. Unfortunately, when the details emerge shortly, it seems likely that the latest plans for a College of Teaching will form part of this same destructive Government agenda.
While Michael Gove claims that the initiative is independent of Government, one of its main promoters is Tory M.P. Charlotte Leslie. This privately-educated former member of the right-wing think tank ‘Policy Exchange’ fully backs this Government’s anti-union and pro-privatisation agenda. Therefore, her promotion of a ‘College of Teaching’ needs to be considered with extreme caution!
Gove’s agenda has included the promotion of EDAPT as a rival to the teaching unions who have such a large overall membership density across the profession. He no doubt hopes that a ‘College of Teaching’ could also be used to undermine teaching trade unions. The Government would certainly like a new College of Teaching, run by a Board that might well not be representative of the whole of the teaching profession, to promote pro-Government educational thinking. They would then be able to use such a ‘College’ as a counter to the overwhelming criticism that his muddled and dangerous educational changes have received from across teacher and headteacher trade unions.
Of course, not even a properly independent and supportive College of Teaching could ever take the place of unions in organising the action that has the strength to really withstand this Government’s attacks on education – collective industrial action.
At the centre of Gove’s divisive propaganda lies the pernicious idea that too many teachers are ‘failing’ pupils and, therefore, that only a few deserve annual pay progression. Instead of countering this divisive criticism, the College of Teaching plans seem designed to promote this division within teaching. Rather than be a body open to ALL teachers, it seems that this College will operate more like a private members’ club for just a select few.
It seems that only a fraction of teachers would be welcomed into the ranks of the ‘College of Teaching’ through a system of certification relying on observations and meetings with management. Most teachers know through their experience with the Upper Pay Spine that such a system is open to arbitrary decision-making and discrimination. College members would have to pay fees for the privilege, probably rising in cost according to the level of membership and expertise that they are deemed to have within a stratified system of College membership. Far from being a collective voice of the profession, such a body would reproduce the divisive grading of ‘successes’ and ‘failures’ that is already blighting schools and will worsen under Gove’s performance-pay plans. If it took hold, teachers would no doubt come under pressure to pay the fees and go through the certification process in order to justify their worth and to help them be recommended for an annual pay-rise - a pay award which, certainly for Main Scale staff, should be theirs as of right.
All teachers want to improve their practice and to do the best they can for their classes. Instead of dividing teachers further, a Government that really wanted to promote teaching would provide the funding necessary to make sure all teachers had access to ongoing professional development, reduce the huge workload bearing down on teachers, and ensure that all schools had the staffing and resources necessary to fully meet the needs of their pupils.