It's time for the profession to contemplate its future and for teachers to thrash out details of the next four years' progress
Imagine the scene: teachers with the freedom to use their professional skills and judgement to innovate and lead learning in the classroom; schools with time free of excessive test preparation to develop a wide and tailored curriculum; parents working in constructive partnerships with teachers.
We all have our ideas about what teaching could look like if our profession were set free from needless bureaucracy and central direction, and actively supported by parents.
I believe we can achieve this and more. But we will need not only to do a good job but to demonstrate to policymakers why and how things could change. We must be seen to take responsibility for our own professionalism and high standards and be recognised as the key to achieving what we all want from our education system - and must be liberated to do so.
The significance of school in a child's development is vast, so the temptation for policymakers has been to lay down in increasing detail what and how schools should teach - to maximise this benefit.
Meanwhile, the environment for teachers - and other public-service professionals - changes apace. Increasing expectations of what schools can achieve in a child's life and of our society, the complexity of that society as reflected in our school demographics, the growing impact of consumer choice in public services - these are just a few of the influences affecting teachers.
How can we achieve the independence we seek for ourselves as a profession? And what part should the General Teaching Council (GTC) play as a professional body?
I believe we need a debate about what we want our profession to be like in the future, and how we can get there. I am not convinced that a consensus among all those with an interest in teaching could ever be wholly achieved - there are many and varied interests in education. It is an emotive topic. Those working in education do not lack forthright opinions. But exploring the limits of consensus and establishing common ground would reassure the Government that we can be trusted to work towards agreed aims without unnecessary central involvement in the level of detail that should rightly be left to professionals.
One of the important attributes of a profession is that it works in the public interest. Recent research for the GTC indicates that this concept is seen as admirable, but not straightforward. For many - but particularly for the teachers asked - the phrase "public interest" is not one that resonates greatly.
Practitioners saw the idea in much more practical terms, linked directly to the trust vested in them in the classroom by parents and pupils alike. Daily experience in school reveals the sometimes conflicting demands and expectations on educators, the competing ethical views that teachers work with, and the ethical tensions around decisions they take. I believe the council's position as an independent professional body means that it is very well placed as an upholder of high standards to broker the debate about the future of teaching.
As a body created by government but independent of it, the GTC has faced scepticism, lack of interest, and even hostility. Turnout for our recent elections was low. Teachers tell me they are not always clear about what the council has to offer, or why we need a regulatory body.
So we have a way to go to show many teachers how we add value. Since I joined a year ago, I have assessed the progress we have made: the practical contributions we are making to many teachers' lives through our support for better continuing professional development opportunities, our professional networks, and the Teacher Learning Academy. I want us to be as much a part of the landscape as the regulators of other professions: nursing, medicine or law.
The debate about our future must involve government, the public and the wider social partnership, but should be led by the profession. I believe strongly that the GTC should speak up to the public about the profession and to the profession on behalf of the public. The council is not government, and so is not responsible for policy. It is not an employer of teachers, although it has a remit to regulate. It is not an employee organisation that represents the interests of individual teachers. But, importantly, it is an organisation that supports teacher professionalism on behalf of the profession as a whole and "in the public interest", and which uses evidence from teachers in the advice it gives.
To launch this debate, the GTC has drawn up a working draft of what teaching and the profession could look like by 2012; the aspirations the profession might set in the short to medium term. You can see the statement on our website (see below). It describes a profession that motivates its teachers to "achieve progressively higher levels of professional practice" and teachers who are proud to belong to it. It foresees a "growing respect for the high quality of the teaching profession" among the public, and a relationship with government that will demonstrate "confidence in the profession to raise pupil attainment, to employ the most effective teaching methods, and to manage learning environments with skill and expertise".
I welcome the contribution of as many teachers as possible to the statement, and to the debate that I hope it will spark.
Keith Bartley, Chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England.
Email your ideas about teaching in 2012 to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the GTC's draft statement on the future of teaching see: www.gtce.org.uk2012.