Russell Hobby: `Government must step gracefully out of the way'

1st January 2015 at 00:00
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, writes:

A few years ago, a schools minister stood up at the North of England Education Conference and told the audience how to teach maths. Could you imagine a health minister standing up at a medical conference and telling them how to conduct surgery? One reason the second scenario seems unlikely is that the president of the Royal College of Surgeons would stand up and say, `No, this is what the evidence says, this is what our leading practitioners do, this is how we will conduct our profession.'

A College of Teaching is not the solution to every ill. It will not eliminate politics from education; it will not slash workload or prevent disagreements among teachers. It is, however, the best chance available to reclaim the classroom, to increase professional autonomy and pride, and to take back ownership of standards. This is not an opportunity that will return again during the career of anyone currently working in schools. However imperfect or uncertain, it would be a mistake to let it pass by.

In my view, a college should begin modestly and earn its credentials with the profession by using evidence and speaking courageously on behalf of good practice. It should be run by teachers but it should not be run for teachers - it must speak in the interests of pupils, using the expertise of those who have dedicated their careers to educating them. In doing so, the college will annoy politicians and, from time to time, challenge the profession. It will need its royal charter and it will need `no strings attached' funding to preserve its independence when its courage makes others uncomfortable. It will need good evidence and high standards to command public respect when it does speak out.

What will make this happen? The ball is rolling - the profession can pick it up. Government must step gracefully out of the way. Teachers should run the college and heads need to provide the space and encouragement for them to participate. When membership starts appearing on CVs and when it makes the difference in hiring decisions, when members turn to their college for answers, then it will have reached the tipping point. But we will need patience: it took the medical colleges decades to establish their influence. This is not a quick fix.

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