'Teachers can turn in on themselves or rally behind the College of Teaching. I know what I'm doing'

Malcolm Wilson

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I’m three days into my new role as a founding trustee of the College of Teaching – the new independent chartered professional body for the teaching profession – and it’s been quite a whirlwind.

Just as our names were being announced, we saw the launch of a crowdfunding campaign for the college and a large amount of Twitter debate. I’ve contributed to both, as an ordinary classroom teacher with little time or money. The discussion has been a mixture of enthusiasm, hope and caution. 

The caution isn’t surprising, given the history of previous initiatives that have been done to teachers. I’ve been talking to teachers, both in my staffroom and at home (my wife has been teaching for 25 years and often puts me right). My assistant head’s first response was, “Put me down for it. Where do I sign up?”

And whether it is on Twitter or face to face with teaching colleagues, I have been reminding people about the key pillars of the College of Teaching’s future. It will be voluntary, it will be membership driven, it won’t be imposed on us, and it will run for and by teachers for the ultimate benefit of learners.

It’s only day three. We’re at the start of a three-to-four-year period in which we will seek to engage our entire teaching profession – particularly classroom teachers – on key work strands, such as professional development, knowledge and standards.

As a relatively inexperienced teacher, I follow Tom Bennett’s blog and have a great deal of respect for him. His recent post raised some interesting questions around the current extent of support from teachers.

Support from the profession

I used to work in PR and I know a bit of hype when I see it, so I think I understand where Tom’s coming from. But looking beyond the headline, the Claim Your College campaign has always been clear that the development of the new College of Teaching is a long game. 

It doesn’t claim to enjoy majority support of the profession yet. How could it when the founding trustees have just been appointed and we have our first official meeting in October, before the hard work begins?

There is a legitimate appetite for the new body, driven from the outset by the teaching profession, rather than the powers that be. 

First broached at a residential event held by the Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI), the idea for a College of Teaching was then worked on by a committee of teachers drawn from a wide cross-section of the profession. 

I was at the launch event last year and it was the teachers on the stage, arguing compellingly for a college, who convinced me to become involved. This was my response at the time.

Further along the evolution of the college, the Claim Your College coalition has drawn support from more than 450 organisations and individuals from across the education sector, including teachers, unions and subject associations.

A survey by The Education Company, on behalf of the Claim Your College coalition, provides one indicator of the appetite for a college. I had a quick look at the methodology, which is available on the website for transparency. Some 13,000 people responded to this survey, three-quarters of whom were classroom teachers or subject leaders. 

Tom’s right: this is a small sample of the entire teaching profession. But a total of 13,000 respondents strikes me as significant when I remember that back in May this year, the College of Teaching didn’t even officially exist.

And looking into the detail of the survey, when people were asked about the potential benefits of membership, they said that they would most value:

  • professional knowledge sharing: 91.2 per cent
  • a common code of practice: 87.5 per cent
  • professional development: 85.9 per cent
  • recognition by schools: 84.1 per cent
  • professional standards: 82.0 per cent

These are powerful numbers, by anyone’s standards.

The recruitment of the founding trustees – five of us are teachers and three are headteachers – was led by an independent selection committee that represented the profession across maintained, academy and independent primary, secondary and SEN schools.

Impressively, this group of practising, busy teachers and headteachers have volunteered a substantial amount of their free time over these last few months to engage in interviews and selection. When I sat down for my interview, I was responding to three highly respected peers who shared my commitment.

All of the individuals and organisations involved in the early stages of the development of the College of Teaching have shared one powerful belief – that the work to date has been a stepping-stone to a teacher-led future.

The Claim Your College coalition is dedicated to making the voice of the serving teacher – people like me, who teach a full timetable – paramount over the coming years. We cannot allow anything or anyone to impose their will on the long-term future of what must be a profession-led college. I, for one, won’t be a member of a college that isn’t truly independent and reflective of my needs as a teacher.

But talk is cheap. It’s vital that we own this organisation from the outset and the crowdfunding campaign provides one of the best ways possible for teachers and the profession to show our support for the college, as well as testing our appetite for it.

Rationale for crowdfunding

I remember visiting my friend, Peter Hansford, a past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in his vast office, next to the Treasury. It was a long way from the three young engineers who founded his august institution in a coffee shop in 1818. 

Back in the Victorian era, if you wanted to found a professional association, you’d look for a group of wealthy benefactors within the profession. Now, technology allows every teacher and educator the chance to become a founding supporter – should we choose to.

The crowdfunding campaign has a pretty bold target: £250,000 directly from the profession in five months. The unique nature of crowdfunding means that pledges will only be taken if the target is reached. Tom has pointed out that there are 438,000 of us, so it should be entirely achievable.

Our pledges of support will be matched by contributions secured through charitable and philanthropic donations. If successful, the college will be the first Chartered College to use 21st century communications and e-payment technologies to establish its founding support.

Once again, it’s early days. This activity is just part of a larger, sustained awareness-raising and engagement drive that will include regional events; online, social media and media activity; and direct engagement with teachers, school and the wider education sector.

The founding of a College of Teaching creates a rallying point for those in the profession who want to come together to re-establish the professional standing of teaching. Setting up a new, independent, membership organisation with charitable status takes time to get right. It won’t just emerge, phoenix-like and fully formed.

We can choose to turn in on ourselves, when the rest of society is already doing a good enough job of questioning our competence for us, or we can rally behind the college. I know what I’m doing.

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Malcolm Wilson

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