The teaching profession has suffered, perhaps more than any other profession, from ill-judged, ill-timed and poorly-evidenced policy interventions in education provision. The most serious result of this has been a decrease amongst teachers of their sense of professional agency – rooted in a loss of control over core elements of their work, including approaches to the curriculum and professional discretion over teaching and learning practices. It is for this reason that ATL supports the vision for a College of Teaching as a vehicle for the profession to achieve greater agency and autonomy.
Giving ownership of professional standards to the teaching profession is a key part of the proper independence that the College should protect and the role of the College in the development of aspirational professional standards shows what a powerful force for professionalism it could be.
ATL has long championed excellent professional development for teachers through our policy, our CPD offer for our members and our publications. Our vision of teacher professionalism includes a foundation of excellent initial teacher education, supported by universities and schools, on which effective, career-long CPD that meets professional needs is built. The College will have a key role in providing a structure for that career-long development and for providing a forum for professionals to discuss how CPD can best serve the needs of the profession and ultimately, the children and young people in our schools.
It’s also vital that the College of Teaching supports professionalism where teachers are informed by, and instrumental in development, research and evidence. This is not only a tool against the narrow pet projects of ministers but an enriching approach and tool for teachers, one which needs to become an integral part of teachers’ professional development and the decisions they make in their practice.
The expectations and hopes for a body such as the College of Teaching are high. Lessons need to be learned from the experience of the GTCE, not only around independence but also on the need to engage the profession from the beginning and to work closely with other organisations who share similar aims; the education unions, subject associations and universities. We have welcomed the high level of consultation and engagement in the process of developing the College thus far and the commitment that this will continue.
There is no doubt that a College of Teaching is needed, as teachers endure wave after wave of major educational change, in an environment of local cuts and within a political ideology that undermines their qualification and training. While this has created a need for an independent, member-driven College and all that it hopes to offer, the same circumstances have led to reduction in teacher morale, pay and retention. Discussions around subscription fees necessary to support independence but affordable to teachers who have suffered a fall in their actual incomes, should model the engagement and teacher voice that the College promises. It won’t be easy but then that which is worthwhile rarely is.
What we need, and this conversation around an independent College of Teaching must stimulate, is a re-awakened sense amongst teachers of their right to make decisions about their practice. A sense that has been dulled by years of being dictated to, by heavy workload and by living in fear of punitive judgement. The voice of teachers must be heard in order to create the learning and non-compliant culture in schools in which teachers can make well-informed decisions around curriculum, teaching and learning approaches to achieve the best outcomes for our children and young people.