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'We must cherish and defend our professional status as teachers'

The high professional standards we hold ourselves to are one of the reasons why teaching is identified as one of the most trusted professions in the country, writes one teachers' leader

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The high professional standards we hold ourselves to are one of the reasons why teaching is identified as one of the most trusted professions in the country, writes one teachers' leader

During a recent trip to the doctor, I couldn’t help but notice the array of qualifications displayed prominently above the GP’s desk. There is clearly a sense of pride amongst doctors about their professional status.

I think it is fair to say that this is also true of many other professions, such as lawyers or accountants. Visit any one of these and you won’t be able to miss the official-looking certificates adorning their walls.

During the same visit, it struck me that as teachers we perhaps don’t make enough of our own professional status. I can’t recall ever visiting any classroom and seeing a QTS certificate displayed proudly on the wall.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps, as teachers, we are just a more modest bunch who don’t feel the need to show off our qualifications?

Perhaps we take our professional status too much for granted? And then, of course, there is the obvious question: does it even matter?

I think it does.

There is something inherently important about the professional status of teachers that we must cherish and hold on to. It is recognition of a career based on significant training and a formal qualification.

Professional status also carries with it an understanding that we work within a code of conduct and that we all have ethical obligations to live up to.

In the rare cases when a teacher’s behaviour falls significantly short of these, they can face being barred or suspended from the profession.

The high professional standards that we hold ourselves to are one of the reasons that teaching is constantly identified as being one of the most trusted professions in the country.

During Michael Gove’s time in office, there was a definite and worrying trend towards "deprofessionalising" teaching. The idea promoted was that anyone with strong subject knowledge in a particular field could enter the classroom and teach (it is somewhat ironic that at that stage in his career Mr Gove seemed to value highly the role of experts).

If you ever want evidence that it is not quite that simple, just watch a few clips of the television series Jamie’s Dream School. This programme involved Jamie Oliver getting various famous experts to teach a group of challenging 16-18-year-olds, all of whom had experienced a difficult time at school.

One such expert was the historian David Starkey. No one can doubt Starkey’s extensive historical knowledge, but it soon became clear that this was of little use as he struggled to engage the class in any form of meaningful learning.

'Teaching is an incredibly difficult craft'

This only serves to confirm what teachers already know: a firm grasp of subject matter is essential, but there is far more to teaching than subject knowledge alone.

Teachers know that building positive relationships, understanding how to communicate effectively and an ability to apply pedagogical theory into practice are all critical elements of the role.

It is for this reason that I was heartened to hear that Justine Greening had talked at the recent Chartered College of Teaching conference about the importance of teaching as a profession, telling those present that there will be "no end to QTS on her watch".

I would also welcome a strengthening of QTS and it becoming a two-year rather than one-year process. As long as this is a supportive measure by which new teachers could expect to receive extended mentoring, rather than an excuse to pay teachers less, then I think it has the potential to be a positive move.

Teaching is an incredibly complex and difficult craft and the more support and development we can give people in the early days of their careers, the better.

It is also why I am supportive of the new Chartered College of Teaching. Most other professions have such a body to recognise and promote their professional status, and teaching should, too.

The college has the potential to be a powerful voice for teachers in the way the Royal College of General Practitioners has been for doctors.

We need to continue to cherish and defend our professional status as teachers. Perhaps it’s even time to dig out that dusty QTS certificate and hang it proudly above your classroom door.

James Bowen is a former primary headteacher and now director of middle leaders' union NAHT Edge. He tweets at @JamesJkbowen

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