Twitter seems to have exploded with anger at the proposals:
@sharpeleven: I think @TristramHuntMP may have lost #Labour hundreds of thousands of votes with his idiotic bash-teachers grandstanding. #NoToLabour
@NewcastleNUT: Well done @TristramHuntMP 3months in post you finally find something to say and alienate the whole teaching profession at once @TeacherROAR
@senornunes: Tristram Hunt in danger of becoming more unpopular than Gove. Incredible. Teachers expect Labour to respect them and education @TeacherROAR
@itvnews: Furious teachers react to licence MOT proposal http://t.co/3NKJpLUwfK
The big issue we have as a profession at the moment is anger. Tory education "policy" has been so fast paced and erratic that teachers have been placed very much on the back foot. We find ourselves constantly under attack - we are on the defensive and want to hit back. We demand an end to Gove's meddling. We want Ofsted to be abolished. We want a system which is supportive and doesn't encourage schools to battle with one another. All of these issues are core to the development of the teaching profession, we care deeply about them, and rightly so. But in among all the anger and frustration, there is also an element of hysteria. Every announcement made in education is greeted with a similar level of vitriol (though often by different groups of people with their own sectional interests). To many on the outside, the profession seems to be just raging against the machine. This is a dangerous position to be in. Now I am not arguing that a huge proportion of the changes which have been brought in don't deserve such a response, however, I am also concerned that the reaction of the profession means we sometimes miss the positive opportunities when they arrive.
The removal of National Curriculum levels is one example of a potentially liberating move which has been lost under a blanket of other measures and therefore is going unnoticed. Too many schools seem to want to continue with the old Levels system and not innovate, despite the fact that this is the greatest degree of freedom the KS3 curriculum has been given since 1991. We seem to have lost faith in the political system to such an extent that almost any proposal is treated with suspicion. Hunt's licensing idea does have drawbacks, and yes it may well be abused, but if properly implemented it could well be a positive move for the profession - especially if teachers are brought into its creation from the outset. The devil, as Christine Blower rightly says, will be in the detail. So why should we give this a chance? Why might this actually be a good thing for teaching?
I got into quite a heated debate recently when someone ridiculed a man who held two masters' level degrees for having only survived a few days of teaching. The person in question noted with glee how his mother had come in to pick up his things. What had he done to deserve this? He tried hard in school, worked through the education system and then wanted to give something back. Sometimes we seem to revel in the failure of the highly qualified more than others for some reason. Sadly this experience is not isolated. I can distinctly remember, 2 years ago, being told not to bother interviewing a history candidate with a PhD as he would be "no good at relating to kids." Now, as it turned out, he was not the best candidate for the job, but that was nothing to do with his qualifications. We have to stop attacking our own. Teaching needs a mix of people - it should never be dominated by a single group so why do we give those with high academic qualifications such a hard time? To some extent, embedding CPD into teacher licensing may level the playing field here too. It allows teachers to be respected for their experience, but also for the fact they have continued to develop their understanding of the profession.
I think Hunt is right when he says that in order for the teaching profession to be of the best quality, it needs to have its own standards body. With the demise of the QTS standard, a Royal College might be a suitable protection of professional freedom. Of course we had such a body previously with the creation in 1998 of the ill-fated GTC. But this has the potential to be different. For starters, the GTC was treated with suspicion by teachers from the outset, reducing its potential impact from the beginning. Yet when QTS was abolished along with the GTC, many teachers saw this as a loss. If teachers can be part of the RCT from the start then it may well become a trusted body by government and teachers alike.
If Mr Hunt wants to create a well-respected teaching profession, then teachers need to broaden their knowledge of what and how they actually teach. The latter in particular needs to be rooted in evidence.
If teachers are then recognised for this in a positive way we might be getting somewhere. Of course, this is highly personal and changes with time. When I began teaching I asked for a lot of my CPD to be around issues of classroom management; even today I like to have a good read of Tom Bennett's behaviour blogs just as a refresher. These days, my main focus is on improving my understanding of the historical subjects I teach. Whatever system Hunt wants, it has to recognise that teachers are able to take charge of their CPD. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have access to some excellent subject CPD - I WANT to be judged on these - I WANT people to know I do them. Some of the items below give an idea of the kind of CPD I have found useful over the years.
- Lectures and sessions on various historical periods and events - usually attended in my own time, though occasionally sanctioned. These have given me some excellent ideas for teaching and have add depth and character to so many lessons.
- Schools History Project and Historical Association sessions looking at specific aspects of teaching history in the classroom
- Discussion and dialogue with colleagues
- Reading - I cannot stress how much my own practice improves when I get the chance to read about the subjects I teach, even those that I have taught for a long time. Reading gives me the stories of human interest, the debates, the discussion - frankly it keeps the subject alive. Equally I read articles on pedagogy in teaching journals when I get the time.
The above point of course also means that there must be a concerted effort to stamp out these pseudo-CPD courses which latch onto the latest teaching fad. To name a few disasters I have attended in previous schools:
- iPads for learning - a course on how making videos and finger paintings on iPads improves kids' understanding of history. "How?" I hear you ask... well because it makes history fun and accessible...and Wikipedia has all the answers anyway!?!
- Learning styles - a bastardisation of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences. I have been "taught" on a number of occasions how roleplays are the solution to learning as well as top tips to get all "learners" engaged through "VAK" techniques...
- Questioning Strategies - Another "Bloom" based CPD session where we were told that asking "higher order questions" was the key to quality learning and subject knowledge was irrelevant.
- Any number of "teacher led" CPD courses where the person taking the session clearly has never investigated the area on which they are supposed to be expert. I won't bore you with the details here, but a previous school moved to a CPD programme run exclusively by staff in-house. It was a disaster but the school made a lot of money farming the courses out to the LA.
- AFL - Ah... AFL... or as I like to call it, "teaching properly"
- Opening Minds - enough said
- Middle Leaders Development Programme - The mother of all crap courses - so bad that even the NCSL abandoned it as "not rigorous enough". Essentially a course where current "leaders" tell would-be "leaders" how to bully staff to "improve results." All of this coupled with a project to "improve results" which nobody checks and nobody actually cares about.
The list goes on! The simple fact is that few schools give teachers access to good quality CPD in terms of resources or, just as importantly, time. Just look at the issues around the teaching of WWI at the moment. In order to really access that debate, history teachers need to be reading the most recent scholarly arguments in the historiography of the topic. We teach such a broad range of historical areas that it is sometimes hard to keep on top of this. If this proposal meant that we were given time and money to develop our subject knowledge, then this must surely be a good thing. I would love the chance to go and read about the Georgian period (sadly neglected in the current curriculum) and bring this into my 2014 curriculum. I desperately want to help other people love my own subjects of expertise (the Middle Ages and American West bizarrely enough), but unless people have a chance to read great history about it, it is hard to get them enthused. It is surely a prerequisite of a good history department that teachers are given the time to read about their subject? In this way we might see some really interesting new topics appearing alongside the old Medieval Realms to 20th Century World courses.
Teaching, especially in a subject like history puts a high demand on professional knowledge, which in turn demands engaging with real CPD. A licensing system, if enacted properly would act as a seal of approval on those teachers, the vast, vast majority, who are always engaged in improving their knowledge and pedagogical understanding. Of course, this also means the rhetoric has to change from government - this policy must be discussed in the same way that professional development in law and medicine is discussed, as positive proof of a high quality profession, rather than as a means to root out under performance.
There will always be the worry that a qualification might be a stick to beat teachers with. In previous schools, I have seen teachers pushed out of the profession by narrow minded managers who wouldn't know high quality teaching if it hit them with a stick. We have to protect good teachers from this kind of pressure. But I honestly believe, if properly controlled and regulated, a "teaching MOT" might also be a passport to independence. Again, in previous schools, I have had to bite my tongue when yet another ill-conceived initiative was made into one of my Professional Development targets (integrating iPads into the history classroom springs to mind, or indeed completing the NCSL Middle Leadership qualification). And I have seen staff attacked for not teaching in a specific way. A system of teacher controlled, independently accredited CPD, would allow teachers to break away from the narrow interests of a particular leader or manager and focus on high quality CPD. They key is having some control over what constitutes good professional development, and that is exactly why we need to be part of building this from the ground up. For too long CPD has been in the thrall of educational fads and people out to make a quick buck. It has to stop - a Royal College could be part of the solution.
A Labour government will have their work cut out to implement a system such as this - however, if they were able to make it work it has the potential to change teaching for the better. We desperately need to break out of the business model of professional development and the Ofsted model of assessing teacher quality. We need to be united as a group of professionals. If there is a system which might take us in that direction, then we need to grab onto it and help mold it into the kind of system we want to see.