More on the Royal College of Teaching

In which I discuss some of the reasons for the College of Teaching, as I see it, as well as a suggestion for a membership structure.

On valid criticism


Anton Ego © Disney/Pixar

For some reason, it always seems harder to come up with positive and useful plans for any project than it does to criticise and complain about decisions made. For example (some valid) criticisms about Building Schools for the Future were made by politicians in the early days of the last parliament and most of the projects were scrapped without much apparent thought for the effect this would have on schools, schools’ budgets, and schools’ places (see, there’s another criticism; I said it was easy). The government through the DfE decided to concentrate on developing the Free Schools programme assuming it would provide the places instead of handling the places allocation directly themselves or through LAs. It is easy to criticise this decision too, and yet, as was pointed out to me last night, it’s a complicated process to ensure that places are ready for the future; it requires a lot of effort, communication and collaboration to develop the optimal solution. The same is true for encouraging enough people to join the profession through an appropriate training and qualification route, or providing an appropriate method of assessing practical work in Science qualifications. It’s easy to criticise decisions but much harder to come up with good, credible and robust solutions.

Some, or perhaps most, of the criticisms of the proposed Royal College of Teaching have been well founded. It was indeed frustrating that one of the first consultations for the Royal College of Teaching took place at the start of a new school year during the working week. The idea that £12 million (over 5 years) is to be given to a new professional body with apparently no questions asked when it isn’t yet backed by the majority of teachers appears to many to be a frivolous use of taxpayers money. The idea that membership should be open to all seems like an own goal and could turn the Royal College of Teaching into a club for everyone with no mandate from or for practising teachers. The potential conflict of interest of the four groups that are running this initial consultation can be criticised. That there has not been enough communication to teachers outside the social media bubble is a real problem. Teachers had the universally disliked General Teaching Council thrust upon them, so it’s an easy leap to suggest that this isn’t going to be any different.

There are more questions (see Helen Rogerson’s post for a whole host) than answers at the moment: Who can call themselves a teacher in the College of Teaching? Why do we need a new College of Teaching anyway – what’s the Royal College of Teachers (est. 1846) been doing all this time? What is the Royal College of Teaching for? Wherefore Royal (or not)? I don’t have answers to all these questions and I only have a few responses to the criticisms (remember, it’s hard to come up with solutions).

If we keep looking going over the history there is the danger of not making any progress at all. So what I want to do is make a suggestion on the question of membership and what I see the College of Teaching is for.

Held to Account

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales

I have been speaking to my uncle recently, who is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (for England and Wales) and has been all his working life, and I have asked him what it is about the membership model that makes it work? The bodies which look after the professionals that are able to call themselves Chartered Accountants are well respected and have a well established model of membership, training and regulations. An accountant or bookkeeper doesn’t need to be a member of an Institute of Chartered Accountants (for example ICAEW, ICAS or CIMA) in order to practice as an accountant, but if they are members, and are eligible, then they can advertise their Chartered status. The status defines their professional expertise, but also provides a level of prestige within their trade. The Institute of Chartered Accountants accepts membership from students, trainee accountants, practising accountants, as well as those who train accountants (most of whom are themselves practising but not all) and the retired.

The accounting professional landscape is very complex, and there are only a few similarities to teaching; for example there are many routes into accounting with many different qualifications that can be taken before an accountant might take on clients. One of the ways that accountants are held to account within their profession is they have to pass a practising certificate in order to be able to perform certain activities within their professional role – such as performing an audit. Teachers have a certificate system that enables us to practice, which is our Qualified Teacher Status (your mileage may vary). The right to practice as a Chartered Accountant can be removed by the ICA for defined reasons. In the teaching profession, the responsibility for administering the training of new and existing teachers in England and regulation of the teaching profession is currently handled by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, a government agency. The new Royal College of Teaching would not/should not be in a position to take on this role. And yet it’s been given a lot of money (£12 million would pay for 50-100 nurses over 5 years) to provide something for the teaching profession; but what?

The raison d’être

The conversation I had with my uncle, where he asked many of the same questions that other have posed over the last few months, revolved around what the purpose of this professional association is going to be. The initial proposals for the College of Teaching have suggested (see the FAQ sheet):

  • Challenging professional standards with validity, portability and accreditation
  • Professional recognition and status
  • A robust, respected portfolio demonstrating teachers’ development
  • Guidance and support from a College Mentor
  • Access to up-to-date research evidence to support more effective classroom practice
  • Access to professional knowledge that will draw upon academic research. Members will have the opportunity to contribute to a growing knowledge base that will help all professionals
  • Being part of a College that is recognised by schools who are committed to accessing professional learning, accreditation, sector-led standards and peer-to-peer review
  • Work towards better outcomes for young people as they enter an ever-changing and challenging global job market.

As I see it the primary objective would be to provide me, as a member, with the ongoing training and professional development support that I will continue to need throughout my profession. Why did my training, access to research on teaching, and certification suddenly stop after my PGCE (and QTS year)? Sure, my school has provided me with training on certain aspects of my practice, but there’s nothing really to take with me apart from what is in my head, or written down on my professional development record. I want something more, that I can measure myself against and commit to working towards as part of my professional development. Now, I could do this by myself or through my school, but not necessarily in a way that will mean my development is valued across the professional field. If, and when, I move jobs, what aspects of my professional development are transferable? I see the College of Teaching as an avenue for providing me with the resources and the development route throughout my career.

Who’s in? Who’s out?

One main sticking point is membership. I’ve written about membership and what defines a teacher before, and while there are those who feel my argument suffers from the continuum fallacy, others see the teacher question as a key point.

My suggestion to help smooth the impasse is that at its inception the College of Teaching should have a membership structure that identifies practising teachers, but not to the exclusion of others who would be able to contribute to the College’s raison d’être. To not include people who teach or train teachers in the College of Teaching seems to me to hobble the College in being able to give the development I want it to provide.

Here is what I propose (loosely borrowed from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales):

  • Membership should be available to anyone training to be, currently practising or having previously been a classroom teacher.
  • Associate membership should also be available to anyone who provides ITT and ongoing training for teachers.
  • There should be a number of faculties that members and associate members can join starting with, but not limited to:
    • Practising Teacher
    • Trainee Teacher
    • School Leadership
    • Development and Training
  • Membership of a faculty should confer specific voting rights to you as a member with Practising Teacher faculty members having most privilege. I suggest that College of Teaching members who are not members of a faculty would have no voting rights.
  • There should be a number of special interest groups that relate to the sector / subject area that members can join including by way of example, but not limited to:
    • EYFS
    • Primary
    • Secondary
    • Maths
    • Science
    • English
    • Humanities
  • There should be the opportunity for members of affiliated teaching associations and unions to join the College as part of their other association membership (e.g. Association for Science Education) with the same faculty rules applying.

Out: Plans, experts and above all, leaders. In: Adapting – improvise rather than plan; fail, learn, and try again

These are my suggestions only – I offer them out to be critiqued and criticised without fear or favour as I’m sure they will be.

I also think if we stick religiously to the plan outlined in the initial proposal by the Claim Your College cohort or even the membership structure I suggest here, that we will come unstuck. It’s not currently an optimal solution but with bottom-up adapting and experimentation with these structures as the College takes shape we should get a solution that is.

All aboard?

The selection committee for the first board of trustees is being nominated for the Royal College of Teaching. For what it’s worth, the wheels are being set in motion. There is a lot money from the taxpayer being put on the table to push this body forward (that I would argue is largely unnecessary; I do want to know more about how this money is to be spent and whether it actually needs to be). The four groups who have set the initial course have said they will step out the way to let the College follow the route these trustees and the members wish to take. I know I want to be along for the ride, The question is: who else does?

Some recent reference posts:


7 Responses to More on the Royal College of Teaching

  1. Helen Rogerson says:

    I haven’t brought myself to write a blog post about the college of teaching because I have more negativity than positivity at the moment. So I am happy to use your blog to express them instead!

    I agree that the CoT has to happen and I like your different faculties. It may need to consider areas and regions too. We need to give it a go, and with all the different agencies, businesses and organisations involved in education one that brings everything together without too much politics has got to be given the opportunity to come into existence.

    What worries me is the interest of teachers in it. I am not sure many practising teachers will see the need to join as in reality it won’t be obvious how the CoT makes a difference. For example, I worked in a federation where collaboration was a key term banned about by management. It didn’t make a difference to us in science, in fact it felt like the federation took more than it gave.

    This is going to be the struggle for the CoT: how to prove the practical advantages of its existence and not just of its lofty ambitions. I believe only by doing this can it attract members and without a significant membership base it can have no voice.

    • Thanks Helen. You say you agree it has to happen. Can you articulate why? The main argument I’ve encountered against (apart from the membership issue) is its a waste of time and money and doesn’t need to happen.
      Apart from potential for improved CPD what does/could the CoT offer us as professionals?

      • Helen Rogerson says:

        Too late to argue against it, the money is allocated and money has been spent on it. The time is now.

        My positivity comes from my involvement in the ASE. I am just a slightly crap head of department with a big mouth, yet I am made welcome. I know others with a higher level interest in UK science education feel that the internationally recognised expertise is a direct result of the collaboration that the ASE facilitates. A college of teaching could do this for everyone.

        Unions (rightly) complain about working conditions, SLT are running scared of ofsted, parents complain of the long holidays and governments pile additional responsibilities onto schools to solve society’s ills, I won’t mention the press. A college of teaching could add a level of positivity to this mix. We do education well in this country, let’s find out how and why, then let’s share it.

      • I wholeheartedly agree. We should aim to promote positive and useful collaboration at the centre of our professional. Your voice is a strong one because of your attitude towards science education. You always seek to improve the situation around you. This is the attitude that needs to pervade the CoT.

  2. MrsDrSarah says:

    Alex, I think that you’ve made some very valid points here and that if the organisation does go ahead, then looking at existing models is an important consideration.

    I think one of my biggest concerns with the College of Teaching is the requirement for paid membership. I already pay membership of an organisation which will represent me legally, and one that represents my subject interests. Through the subject association I hold Registered Scientist status (as granted by the science council & available through different professional scientific bodies) – to hold that I need to record my CPD and its impact on my teaching & wider school.

    So, for an indeterminate membership fee (if it’s equivalent to unions/professional associations) that may be about £100 per year. Which is more than I have to spare! I don’t want to give up my ASE membership and think that unfortunately legal cover (although I don’t have it through a union per se) is an ongoing necessity. If it has no membership fee, where does the funding come from in the longer term, and does it ‘devalue’ the organisation?

    What would I get for my membership? The chance to attend (paid?) conferences or additional training? The chance to engage with other professionals? The chance to maintain a CPD record and gain a chartership of some kind? I mostly feel that I have access to all of these through my existing memberships and a CoT wouldn’t add to this.

    And what about the chance to have my voice heard to influence the profession? If I already respond to consultation documents, would a CoT do any more?

    But then what if I’m not part of it? Or if most teachers are not part of it? It can’t represent a profession when the membership is not the practising professionals – can it? If current teachers are obliged to be members, where does that put subject associations? Integrated or in competition?

    I don’t know!

    • Thanks Sarah, I think affiliation (cheaper) membership through other subject associations eg the ASE would be a way forward here. I think you hit on a key point that was the focus of my conversation with my uncle. Why would teachers join voluntarily? What is in it for them? What would it provide that my union or subject association combination already not provide. I have to say we’re spoiled with the ASE; it really is an excellent association for Science teachers. I get the impression the landscape isn’t as rosy in other disciplines.
      These are excellent questions and need answering.

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