Should teaching have another professional body?
It is “utterly bewildering how a profession as vitally important as teaching still does not have a single, effective body that encourages and advances good practice in education.”
These were the words from a joint statement by the Council for Subject Associations, recently considering the proposal to set up a “Royal College of Teaching” as a single professional body.
Most established professions have a professional body – charged with duties like maintaining a professional register, devising codes of conduct and practice, regulating incompetence and misconduct and setting standards of entry etc.
Teaching had one in England – the much-unloved General Teaching Council – until about a year ago when the coalition government decided to abolish it. The poor thing is hardly cold in its grave and now Michael Gove – the Education Secretary responsible for its abolition – is supporting the idea of a Royal College of Teaching, which to be honest – could hardly be much different to the GTC.
But what would be in it for you, as a teacher?
On a purely practical level, registration with a professional body assures the public of your training and qualifications – in other words, that you’ve actually got the BEd or the PGCE and the QTS you say you’ve got; of your ‘good standing’ – in other words, you’re not a reprobate or a recidivist criminal; of your ‘fitness to practise’ – in other words, you’ve got the skills, knowledge and character to practise effectively).
Indeed, inclusion on a professional register enables members of the public (in reality, that usually means employers) to check the register of professions like medicine, nursing, law, dentistry etc, to see if the person claiming professional status is fully qualified and fit to practise.
The GTC used to get over 600,000 such requests each year about teachers on its register, mainly from employers but often from parents wanting to be re-assured that the person teaching their child was properly trained and qualified to do so.
I’ve never actually checked to see if, for example, my doctor or dentist is registered with the GMC or the GDC. I would guess that most people don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t value the fact that my implicit expectation is that they have to be registered before they are allowed to put a stethoscope to my chest or tell me to “open-wide”.
I take comfort in knowing implicitly that my doctor is a member of a profession that requires registration with all that implies – training, qualifications, adherence to a set of codes and standards, a requirement for CPD, accountability, regulation, etc. Knowing this – and that he or she has gone through the process of registration – helps me to trust and have confidence in my doctor’s abilities.
So the first thing we might get from a professional body is the public’s confidence (though to be honest with you – as teachers – we’ve got quite a lot of that already, though you might not think so if you read the Daily Mail… But you take my point.)
Registration and membership of a professional body isn’t just about public assurance. It would also mean a lot to the individual teacher.
For one, it would be a ‘quality mark’ to the public of your considerable achievements – which is no small matter.
Secondly, it would (or should) protect your ‘title’ as a recognised professional. This happens in many other countries and even this one for some professions. For example, it’s illegal in the UK to pass-off as a ‘Social Worker’ if you’re not fully qualified as one. It should be the same for teachers – ‘Teacher’ should be a protected title.
Thirdly, a well founded professional body would be a focal point for professional debate, research and as Michael Gove says: for “identifying, exemplifying and defining best practice in the teaching profession.”
To my mind, these would be substantial and tangible benefits for teachers and for the teaching profession. They would not impinge upon the aims and functions of teacher unions either – which seem to me to have quite a distinct role in furthering the professional conditions, pay and status of their members through collective action of a quite different sort.
So… now that rigor mortis has finally set in on the General Teaching Council for England… do you think teaching should have another professional body?