The 2015 UK election will be a watershed for English education, and it is essential at such a pivotal moment for the voice of schools and school leaders to be heard.
Because of this, our organisation, the Headteachers' Roundtable, has this week published an election manifesto that is remarkable for several reasons: it has been developed from the profession's grass roots; it is based on common sense, which in this era of educational change is astonishing in itself; and it is ripe with practical proposals, not platitudes.
At the heart of our manifesto is the belief that only great teaching will make our country's education system great. It's that simple.
The Headteachers' Roundtable is a politically neutral group of school leaders operating as a thinktank, exploring policy issues from a range of perspectives. We were established on Twitter and, as the general election of 2015 looms, we want to realise our goal: to provide a vehicle for people working in the profession to influence policymakers so that education policy is centred on what is best for the learning of all children.
We believe that the next Parliament must make improving the quality of teaching in our schools its priority. When you read that last sentence over again it sounds so obvious - what else should education policy aim to do? Yet many of the reforms of the current Parliament have failed to develop teaching and learning. Our proposals form a coherent road map to delivering the high-quality education system that the young people in this country deserve.
Our desire is to create a world-class teaching profession. In order to achieve this, as our manifesto states, we want to "introduce the entitlement to a professional development programme leading to QTS [qualified teacher status] for all teachers after a maximum of two years' induction and a master's-level professional qualification after five years". No matter their route into the sector, we are convinced that all teachers should have QTS.
For teaching to become the most respected profession, research-based education policymaking must become the norm. We believe that all schools should offer a high-quality, research-informed CPD programme for all teachers.
David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, is spot on when he says: "The research evidence is clear that the most important action that schools can take to improve outcomes for students is supporting their teachers to be more effective, and the most reliable way to achieve this is to develop a professional culture where teachers are continually adapting and refining their skills and methods."
This shouldn't be optional for schools. In our manifesto we say that this entitlement to high-quality CPD should be mandatory and provide a focus for any future inspection process.
We know that the best-performing systems recruit their teachers from the top third of each cohort of graduates. If we are going to emulate such systems, raising the status of teaching is imperative. Research shows that the key to encouraging top graduates to become teachers is raising not salaries but status. And once we have attracted the very best people we have to keep them in the classroom.
Implicit in this policy is the need to look at school budgets, teacher deployment and partnerships between teacher training providers of all kinds, so that CPD entitlement is delivered coherently. We believe that if we make this investment in great CPD we will make teaching the standout, lifelong profession for graduates. And the benefits to our teachers and our children will help to secure the future prosperity of our country.
Another of our manifesto's policy proposals directly related to improving the quality of teaching is "to implement the blueprint for the College of Teaching with compulsory membership for all teachers". We must commit to the creation of this college, no matter how difficult we might find the process. Government should play a role in bringing the college into being, but thereafter it should be run by teachers, for teachers.
Improving pedagogy should be its core purpose. The college must be empowered to enforce school compliance in delivering teachers' entitlement to CPD. Its other key function should be to support the development of school leaders to meet the pressing demand for talented headteachers.
A number of other issues also have to be addressed: we launched our full 10-point manifesto on Wednesday. It is not an exhaustive list by any means but we want it to stimulate discussion about the direction of education policy. Most of all, we want politicians to listen to headteachers. Between us we have hundreds of years of experience of working in schools. We know what we are talking about.
Implementing our proposals will take the will of politicians and a commitment to investing in education. If we are going to develop great teachers and provide a great education for all, we have to invest in improving the quality of education in this country. It's that simple.