White paper lacks surprise, but 'licence to teach' delivers a jolt

10th July 2009 at 01:00
The prospect of five-year `MOTs' will unnerve many teachers

The policy document, Your Child, Your Schools, Our Future: Building a 21st century schools system, was unveiled last week by England's Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

The plans propose that all teachers and heads will have to prove they are worthy of their "licence to teach" every five years. Teachers will have to demonstrate that their classroom skills, knowledge and training are up to date.

The concept was first proposed by Keith Bartley, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for England. It will now be charged with hammering out the detail.

But it could prove to be another short-lived measure for education in England. The Conservatives have indicated they will not support it if they form the next UK government. Michael Gove, Shadow Schools Secretary in England, dismissed it as "another huge bureaucratic measure that will cost a fortune and cause all sorts of problems".

Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said she feared the scheme could amount to a "bully's charter" for rogue heads.

It is planned to be introduced gradually from September 2010, when all newly-qualified teachers beginning their jobs this September will have to gain a licence, along with teachers returning after a period away from the profession.

Mr Balls said returners would be able to teach without a licence until they had spent enough time teaching to allow heads to judge whether they should be awarded one.

John Dunford, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said he would be pushing to ensure there was an adequate appeals process for teachers; otherwise, schools could find themselves embroiled in court action.

Some teachers' leaders seem hopeful that the licence will just be about teachers being able to show they have had the required amount of continuing professional development. But that is contentious in itself, because of wide variations in the amount different schools spend on CPD - between 0.25 and 15 per cent of their budgets, according to figures accepted by the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

Although the licence proposal was unexpected, another is as old as the hills (or at least dating back to 1997): Gordon Brown dished out money to help struggling pupils with extra tuition in English and maths virtually every year when he was chancellor.

Now it has been wrapped up in a broader pupil guarantee, legally- enforceable, which will extend an entitlement for one-to-one "catch-up" tuition in primaries to first-year secondary pupils at risk of falling behind. It will also require schools to offer five hours of sport a week and operate a fair admissions code.

But policies have a habit of morphing. The school report card, originally billed as a serious alternative to league tables which would include parent and pupil perceptions of the school as well as attainment data, was confirmed this week as no such thing.

Mr Balls said: "There are some people in the education world who would like me to abolish league tables. I am not going to do that. Even if I wanted, I couldn't - the information is publicly available."

OTHER POINTS

End of national strategies and centralised prescription of teaching methods and oversight of literacy and numeracy hours in primary schools.

Strengthened home-school agreements. Heads able to apply for parenting orders against those who don't comply. Possible Pounds 1,000 fines if orders are broken.

Chains of schools run by "accredited schools groups" to be encouraged, with a Pounds 20 million fund to help them build capacity.

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