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Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT blogs about his thoughts and passions and the work of the National Association of Head Teachers.

One step closer to a college of teaching

A couple of years ago the then minister for schools addressed a conference of teachers and told them how to teach maths. They had been doing it wrong apparently.

I have tried to imagine a minister for health standing up at a conference of surgeons and telling them how to do surgery. It doesn't seem very likely. 

Why is this? We all know that teachers are trusted, far more so than politicians. Why is such a respected profession told how to do its job?

There are many reasons but I think one is that, should a health minister attempt to lecture surgeons on their techniques, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons would stand up to challenge them. And they would command wide authority if they did so. 

We have a vacuum in education which we leave to be filled with political announcements and interference. We need our own college to eliminate this vacuum. Independence is earned through responsibility. 

This week we have moved one step closer to getting a college. Following a great deal of discussion and work within the sector, ministers have announced that they would welcome a sector-led proposal for a college of teaching. Should a credible proposal emerge, they may be prepared to cede some powers and functions to it, maybe even a little funding to get it started. And then, above all, they would get out of the way and let it do its job. This is wise, to succeed such a college must be entirely separate from the government. 

The function of such a college would be to determine teaching standards and practice, based on the best available evidence for what works. It would translate these standards into high quality professional development. Such a college would be run by teachers, but it would be run in the interests of pupils. It would not be a regulator, it would not strike people off, it would not be compulsory. 

We would be mad if we let this opportunity slip through our fingers. We would deserve all the interference we get. 

Yet there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. It might be worth reflecting on how we could mess this up.

We could ignore the chance. We could compete among ourselves for control. It could get captured by special interests, in government or outside it. We could rush it (how many decades did it take to establish the colleges of medicine?) We could be too grandiose in our vision. 

It is hard for a profession to create a college when it really needs a body like a college to act as an independent voice in setting it up. It is a bit 'chicken and egg'. The college should work hard to engage everyone before it begins but it must also keep working afterwards to earn trust and define it role. It must be a feisty college to begin with, not a part of the establishment. People will be watching to gauge its courage, integrity and credibility. These don't come as a starting endowment. They are built over time. 

Above all else, the college must be independent of government and exist outside the political cycle. A charter will be an essential feature to provide this protection and autonomy. And we will all need to give it time to grow. 

All these hurdles can be overcome and the prize is great. I look forward to seeing it happen. And NAHT will play its part. 


09 December 2014