We can't miss this opportunity to set up a professional body for teachers

The proposed College of Teaching will benefit teachers everywhere, and we must show our support, writes a curriculum expert

Lisa Pettifer

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When you’re snowed under with marking, report writing and parents’ evenings, it’s easy to overlook a particular one-off email that didn’t seem that urgent. It’s easy to miss an item in morning briefing when you’re already preoccupied with your priorities for the day. We’ve all done it. We do it all the time.

But there are new opportunities out there for teachers and we are missing them. The biggest one at the moment is the potential for the development of the College of Teaching – a member-led professional body for teachers of all career stages.

Surgeons, midwives, engineers and other professions can use the resources offered by their respective colleges, for networking, peer mentoring, tried-and-tested methods, research materials, courses and portable accreditations that they can take from job to job to prove their worth – why on earth haven’t teachers had a College of Teaching before?

The college could offer so much towards professional learning; for ourselves, irrespective of our employers; for career development and enhancement of professional status – but it needs a shift in mindset from teachers, or we will miss out on the momentum to make this happen and to bring this tiny baby of an organisation to maturity over the next few years.

A College of Teaching board of trustees has now been appointed (eight of these individuals are teachers and headteachers) and the college has in small steps been consulting and reaching out to teachers: if you listen carefully, you will hear the calls.

We can’t just sit around and wait for this to happen. In teaching, it seems like everything happens "to us", or is directed "at us". This has to be different. Teachers have to grasp this one before the chance is taken away from us. Part of taking responsibility here means the college will be paid for "by us" to ensure its independence. A crowdfunding campaign has been set up to start off this process. 

The educational system is changing, grassroots organisations and local alliances are being listened to more readily, and an opportunity for more professional autonomy has arrived. Consider what could be lost if, as a profession, teachers don’t act collectively and claim their right to this organisation.

If you haven’t already, visit the site for more information. In the resources section, there are a number of factsheets that tackle some of the key questions you may be asking.

It almost feels like it’s being kept from us – but in reality, it’s just so hard to set up, and logistically it's difficult to make contact, teacher to teacher, without such an organisation already in place acting as a hub for teachers. It’s difficult for the College of Teaching to take shape without more networking, local organisations, regional discussions and increased involvement.

The education system is set up with a space where the College of Teaching should be. The next two to three years will see a start-up phase and gradually developing organisational structures. There will be consultations and lots of opportunities for teachers – real classroom teachers – to take part in the decision-making. That’s what The Big Staff Meeting – a national consultation for all teachers across every phase and a stage to explore the future membership scope and benefits of the college – is all about, and events are taking place in January and February.

The College is supported by a number of academy chains and teaching unions, by headteacher groups, by the Teaching School Council, and lots of individual and local networks of teachers.

The time’s right now for grass roots discussion of what teachers need and want from this organisation - while the momentum is there to build it and some infrastructure exists to carry it forward.

The College of Teaching would be independent of government. Whilst the College is still exploring the promise of government support, it remains clear that any offer would only be accepted on a ‘no strings attached’ basis. Funds would not be accepted if they compromised the independence of the College.

While governments come and go, the College of Teaching will remain. Because it will be governed by serving teachers, it will represent the interests of its voting members only - teachers. 

And then you remember, didn’t you get an email about something like that? Wasn’t there a mention of a College in that briefing a few weeks ago? Or at that TeachMeet you went to? Or an article that you read somewhere? You’re sure you’ve seen something on Facebook, or was it Twitter? There was, how did you forget?

So many teachers have joined the profession and been overwhelmed by policy after policy, change after change, often poorly informed, poorly researched, motivated by opinion rather than objectivity. Teachers have been ‘done to’ for a whole generation. The College of Teaching offers a new opportunity for teachers ‘to do’ for ourselves. It will be a professional body led by teachers for teachers.

This will take time but we need to ensure time doesn’t run out on us. This is a chance we can’t afford to miss. We owe it to generations of teachers, and pupils, to claim the College of Teaching and make it our own.

Lisa Pettifer is curriculum lead at the Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton, Cumbria

Find further information on the College of Teaching and the Claim Your College coalition here. The College tweets at @CollOfTeaching #claimyourcollege and can be found on Facebook.  

Would you welcome the introduction of a professional body for teachers? Share your opinions on TES Community.

You can download The Big Staff Meeting resources here

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Lisa Pettifer

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