Perhaps the biggest surprise about a College of Teaching is that it doesn’t already exist. How come those who teach don’t have a chartered professional body akin to the Law Society or the Institute of Mechanical Engineers? Government tried to fill the gap with the General Teaching Councils, but then decided the English one was not working and closed it. But the very fact they could shut it down illustrates that it was never a real equivalent to those other professional bodies. Other professions have independent associations, founded by members of those professions who come together and ultimately achieve a royal charter to incorporate their organisations. Such bodies cannot be closed by anyone but their members – neither can they be told what to do, who can join, what works for their profession or what effective practice looks like. In all these ways they are not sisters to the form General Teaching Council for England.
The new College of Teaching – as proposed by the Claim Your College coalition in February this year and now backed by more than 200 educational organisations including five teaching unions – will be an equivalent to all those other institutes, colleges and societies that set and uphold the standards of professional practice in areas as diverse as surgery and marketing. It will be independent and voluntary. The college cannot and will not require all teachers to join. It must create an offer to members that is so compelling teachers will want to join. Joining this professional community must become a key part of their identity as a teacher, helping them to develop and grow in the classroom, sharing experience and expertise.
As with similar professional organisations, it will be possible to work towards and achieve recognition of developing experience through chartered membership and fellowship. The standards set must be recognised as valid and authentic, devised and upheld by respected teachers. This career structure should recognise excellence in teaching and offer a respected complement to advancement through management responsibility. Teachers should seek this recognition and schools and colleges should support and value it.
Some commentators have suggested teachers will not want to join such an organisation, and they certainly won’t pay for it. So we decided to ask teachers themselves. We received more than 11,000 responses in April, 75 per cent of which were from classroom teachers and subject leaders. So far 45 per cent of teachers have heard of a College of Teaching, which is not bad for an organisation that does not exist yet. More than 80 per cent see the ambitions of the college as important and the benefits it promises as valuable. Some 50 per cent – more than had heard of the college before the survey – indicated they would be willing to match-fund start-up "no strings" grants from philanthropists or government. That would be more than enough to get started.
Prior to the election there was strong support from the prime minister and education secretary, along with offers of start-up funding for a College of Teaching. We expect those discussions to continue once the election dust settles. It seems that there is sufficient support for a no-strings grant should one now be offered. Some £400,000 has been secured from donations, the most significant of which is a grant from the Mercers’ Company.
So who will set all this up? There is a wide and growing body of individual and organisational supporters who want to see the foundation of a College of Teaching. In order to get things started, a selection committee has been established to recruit a board of founding trustees. The selection committee is composed of 15 representatives from across the profession who have volunteered significant time. They have been nominated by the National Governors' Association, Local Government Association, Independent Schools Council, Teacher Development Trust, Prince's Teaching Institute, SSAT, College of Teachers and five of the six main unions. Unfortunately the NASUWT did not respond to their invitation to take part.
The selection committee members have experience in primary, secondary and special educational needs education, are mainly working in the state-funded sector (including direct and local government funded institutions). They are an impressive group and it is a privilege to support them. It would be hard to argue they do not represent the best of the profession. The selection committee are committed to ensuring the College of Teaching is established to enable the teaching profession to take responsibility for its professional destiny, set its own aspirational standards and help teachers to challenge themselves to be ever better for those they serve.
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