When Michael Gove was Secretary of State for Education, he abolished the General Teaching Council (an independent professional body with elected teachers) and gave the National College of Teaching and Leadership (a government agency with civil servants) responsibility for regulating teachers. Agreeing with the Council for Subject Associations, the Labour Party now want to re-licence teachers and set up a “Royal College of Teaching” as a single professional body. Tristram Hunt, the Labour Party spokesman on education has said: “If you are not willing to engage in re-licensing to update your skills, then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom.”
Most established professions have professional bodies to “re-licience” or endorse registration – they are also 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 above mentioned and much-unloved General Teaching Council – until about two years ago when the coalition government decided to abolish it in a fit of anti-quango pique. The poor thing is hardly cold in its grave and people from across the political spectrum are supporting the idea of a Royal College of Teaching, which to be honest could hardly be very much different to the GTC.
Or could it?
What would be in it for you, as a teacher?
On a purely practical level, registration with a professional body is supposed to:
- assure the public of your training and qualifications – that you’ve actually got the BEd or the PGCE and the QTS you say you’ve got;
- assure the public of your ‘good standing’ – that you’re not a reprobate or a recidivist criminal;
- assure the public of your ‘fitness to practise’ – that 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 rather than parents) 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 sometimes 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 assumed 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…
What else does a professional body provide?
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 selected professions. For example, it’s illegal in the UK to pass-off as a ‘Social Worker’ if you’re not fully qualified as one. In my view, 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 himself once said: 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?
Join the debate @CollofTeaching #collegeofteaching
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in March 2014.