The Prince’s Teaching Institute’s Blueprint looks to ‘a college with widespread membership [that] will change the educational orthodoxy to one in which standards are determined by teachers and based in evidence, not determined by political cycle’. Such a change is long overdue. Teachers have listened to politicians espousing their own opinions on the curriculum, standards and accountability, but have seen little sign that the profession’s views are heard or its priorities and goals are grasped. It has been notable that government education policy has often been set in the absence of support from research or evidence, and in the face of professional opposition.
Alongside this, the academic and professional learning of teachers themselves is insufficiently valued. The government’s removal of the requirement for qualified teacher status in academies resulted, we recently heard, in a rise of 16% in the number unqualified teachers in state funded schools last year. Meanwhile there is no hint that teachers will gain a right to access to professional development, as opposed to an obligation to attend whatever is offered, much of which is of dubious quality. No surprise then that teachers see a yawning gap between the energy and commitment they have for their pupils’ education and the tone of the public debate about accountability. And no surprise that parents are bewildered at the mismatch between their overwhelmingly positive feelings about the schools their children attend, and the public debate focussing on supposed failure.
So a space for practitioners and academics to discuss and debate, to learn from each other and foster and develop innovation, will be welcome. This would fill a need: Professor Jo Boaler of Stanford University recently noted that her move to the US gave opportunities for cross fertilization of ideas between practitioners and academics that was sadly lacking in the UK.
The Government has indicated its support for a College of Teaching and has called for expressions of interest. What is clear is that such a body will need to win the support of teachers. Teachers are passionate about education and take every opportunity for discourse for development, but a College will have to be attractive to teachers who have seen their pay fall in real terms while their working hours have climbed to 55-60 a week. It will have to be for teachers and by teachers. Most of all it will have to offer real value in supporting professional aspirations, and be able to add its voice to those calling for more trust in teachers.