Is teaching a profession or just a job? The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a profession as "a vocation or calling, especially one that involves some branch of advanced learning or science". Put in these terms, there is no doubt that teaching is becoming increasingly professional. This process has been going on for decades.
Forty years ago, when the first comprehensives attempted to raise standards for all, teachers enjoyed the freedom to innovate, but the quality of teaching varied hugely. Since then, it has become a graduate profession. A series of curriculum and assessment reforms, and the creation of Ofsted and league tables, have made teachers ever more accountable.
The result is professionalism of a kind: today's teachers are expected to perform to increasingly high standards and closely monitored to ensure they get results. But something is missing. This something, as Keith Bartley points out (see page 27), is the freedom "to take responsibility for our own professionalism". His call for a debate on how teachers can best achieve the independence they so desperately need is both timely and welcome.
There is a growing consensus that higher standards can be sustained only by empowering teachers and loosening Whitehall's grip. The General Teaching Council for England should be applauded for its contribution to building professionalism through its continuing professional development work and new Teacher Learning Academy.
We also report today (see page 1) that teachers involved in assessment are being asked to sign up to a set of standards designed to combat cheating. Though such a code has its place, it will have little effect as long as the pressure on teachers to deliver ever-higher results remains unaddressed.
If we truly want teaching to be a profession, we need to create the conditions in which staff are not just trusted to get on with their jobs without meddling, but also properly supported. Redbridge Community School in Southampton offers a perfect example of what can be achieved when teachers are well looked after (see page 22). The award-winning school has adopted a practice that has proved hugely profitable in the business world. The idea behind it is simple: if you have a happy staff, you will create the conditions to be successful.