Last year, government gave the go-ahead to begin a feasibility study into an independent professional body for teachers. Now, hold on. I can already hear the muttering, the shuffling of feet and the throat clearing. I can even hear the occasional delicate whisper on the wind. Yep, there it is...someone just mentioned the General Teaching Council. Well, to put your collective minds at rest, the proposed college of teaching is an altogether different beast. And in all fairness, when you strip away the waffle and get to the bottom of the proposal and the small print (which I’ll get to in a little more detail later), it sounds like a hugely positive step in the right direction for our profession and its middle leaders.
Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly this college of teaching is going to do, how it’ll function and, particularly, how it’s going to benefit you as a middle leader. These are all valid and entirely normal questions, but the reality is the actual benefits a professional body such as this can give - under the conditions of the blueprint proposed - are a little blurry at the moment. However, we’re all privy to some important proposals and ideas, so I’ll go through those with you.
The whole proposal (which I’ll provide a link to at the bottom of this vlog) is quite complicated until you get to grips with the main elements of it. For example, membership of the college will be purely voluntary, with three classes of member: associate, member and fellow. The amount you pay for membership depends on which level of member you are. Ultimately, the idea is the most super and the more über you are as a teaching professional, the more you pay, the more you get in return and the greater the prestige of the membership type. Fellow, for example, is the highest class of membership the college will offer. As an aside, I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the word fellow I picture a frizzy haired professor type with a tank top, or is that just me?
Anyways, to progress from associate to member, a teacher has to undertake what the college describes as a rigorous accreditation programme. I’m not sure what exactly this entails at this stage, but folk tend not to use the word rigorous for fun. I’m guessing whatever they’ve got in store, it isn’t going to be particularly enjoyable for those going through it. But these accreditations or assessments are to be undertaken by existing fellows, so you have a body that’s for teachers, holding teachers accountable, by teachers. That takes some of the fear out of it because at least you’ll know whoever is going to be accrediting you works in a classroom.
I’m not sure if they’ve thought this through entirely, though. For example, what if a deputy head (bearing mind these creatures are ideally meant to be the flagship teacher in any school, the HMS Ark Royal, particularly in the primary range) only manages to get to the level of member, but they’re line managing a class teacher who’s so wonderful they’ve been accredited as a fellow? How’s that going to change the dynamic of the school and management system? Will professionalism be maintained? How can you guarantee no hard feelings?
To cut a long story short, the college will be driven mainly by its members. It does aim to provide training and continuing professional development (CPD) for its members. These are to be driven mainly by peer-reviewed research, which to me is easily one of the more important elements the college of teaching seems to want to promote. After all, there seems to be a distinct lack of quality, educational research or, at least, research that anyone actually listens to floating around at the moment.
For example, and excuse me for getting on my hobby horse here, the Sutton Trust released the largest single piece of educational research in 20 years back in 2013 called the Teaching and learning toolkit. Read it, I think it’ll surprise you a great deal and challenge established classroom norms. I’m just using that as an example of why research in education is important and why, as a middle leader, being informed and armed with this research will ultimately make you a better practitioner.
It’s hard enough being a middle leader. If anything, it’s the single hardest job in teaching, but the college of teaching aims to empower you with cutting edge, research-based CPD. How can that be a bad thing?
My concern is simply this: you’ve reached the dizzy heights of fellow within the college and Ofsted decides to parachute in to check up on everyone. You’ve been through a rough week already because you’re a middle leader and you work harder than just about anyone else in the school. You have a bad observation. You know it’s bad or (at least) not your best observation, and this gets back to you.
But...but...you’re a fellow. Except Ofsted comes in and with one sweep of it’s ‘we’re never wrong’ stick, it potentially destroys the credibility of you and the college at the same time.
What happens if there’s, say, a primary school where every staff member is a member of some kind at the college of teaching. The school gets ‘requires improvement’ in its next Ofsted inspection. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Maybe this is all part of some wider movement, a huge tectonic shift or change in the way Ofsted will inspect and the way our profession won’t only view itself but also be viewed by others. The college of teaching could be pivotal and instrumental in this change. To be fair, some argue the professional body (college of teaching) is vital because it could stop government from stepping into the vacuum its absence has caused across the years.
It should set standards of performance for the profession; it aims to connect researchers and practitioners so that one informs the other. It wants to, in its own words, generate continuous improvement across the profession.
So, do your research and have a look for yourself. Make your own mind up, and don’t take my word for it. You decide. College of teaching: golden nugget or lead balloon?
Tom Griffiths began his teaching career at the age of 30 after graduating from Lincoln Bishop Grosseteste University with a BA (Hons) in primary education. Prior to this, he spent four months backpacking Australia and the far east after a successful career trouble-shooting for blue-chip companies such as E.on and BT.
In his second year of teaching, Tom decided to embark on a Master’s degree in religious studies. While completing his MA, he also completed the National professional qualification for middle leadership, deciding that having spent the last three years in study, it was time to concentrate on other areas (in other words take a break).
He became a non-core curriculum leader in his third year of teaching and was quickly promoted to phase two leader. He’s now, in his fifth year of teaching, the assistant head of a large primary school in South Yorkshire.
He loves spending time with his partner, reading, writing, watching TV box sets, playing guitar, listening to music, eating burgers and spending time with his three-year-old daughter Martha.