Editorial: The profession must do itself proud

12th December 2014 at 00:00

More than 40 years ago, in a British Journal of Sociology article, academic June Purvis described the profession of teaching as less glamorous than medicine or law, with less mystique owing to increased public contact and with lower qualifications than either. The perception, she said, was that the job was for people who did not know what else to do and the long holidays made it all look like a bit of a doddle.

Despite initiatives such as Teach First - which, like it or not, has sprinkled a little fairy dust - not much has changed since.

In fact, according to former prime ministerial adviser Sir Michael Barber, teaching today is a "largely under-qualified and trained, heavily unionised, bureaucratically controlled `semi-profession' ". He believes we have to get to a place where it becomes a "rigorous profession that is not modelling itself on 20th-century industrial trade unions" focusing on pay, conditions and health and safety issues.

So it is with perhaps fortuitous timing that the College of Teaching (the royal prefix is still up in the air but massively important) is this week getting a fresh gust of wind beneath its wings with the formal backing of education secretary Nicky Morgan and schools minister David Laws, as well as the promise of some cash to finally get it off the ground.

There is little to argue with in the concept of a college. What's not to like about having something that is self-governing, holds the promise of parity of esteem with other professions, offers an independent voice and could take control of professional standards and CPD? As the Department for Education puts it, "moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession".

The trouble is, it's not a silver bullet. Yes, it will help to raise the status of the profession, but despite all the hype it cannot do so in and of itself. Politicians can't undermine, sideline and infantilise teachers for years, then slap on the healing balm of a professional institution and hope that suddenly teaching is up there with medicine and law, job done. It will take much, much more than that. It demands not only that government, of any hue, step back but also that it exhibit a change in attitude and, most importantly, a change of rhetoric towards a public expression of trust and support.

The upcoming election is undoubtedly responsible for this latest revival (the idea received cross-party consensus in 2012, with a consultation in 2013, but then stalled). And therein lie the challenges. Can the various factions in the sector come together quickly enough to make a College of Teaching happen (the consultation closes on 3 February)? And if they do, will they be able to demonstrate enough value and rally the support of sufficient numbers of teachers? Organisations such as ResearchED and the Headteachers' Roundtable - an informal grouping that published its own impressive manifesto and now plans to introduce a National Baccalaureate - prove that it is possible to take control on a small scale.

This is a pivotal moment for the profession. An independent, self-governing College of Teaching is an attractive prospect, but it does bring with it increased professional responsibility. Setting your own standards is easy. Holding yourself to them is not.



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