Why There Should Only Be Teachers In The College Of Teaching

January 14, 2015

I wrote a few posts some weeks back about plans for a College of Teaching:

I pretty much moved from outright hostility to setting out my terms for involvement. I’ve been pleasantly surprised though, at how many people currently involved responded by encouraging me to get stuck in. So much so that I now feel I’m almost a (very) cautious advocate than a sceptic now, telling people who think it will inevitably be terrible that they should try to influence it towards being good.

But, the key thing I want, remains as controversial as ever and that’s the College’s exclusive domination by teachers. My main concern when I expressed it previously, it that if it isn’t teacher dominated it will be run by the education establishment. They will push for the sort of agenda that the establishment figures, particularly in the universities, usually push for (there’s 100 of the buggers describing what they want here), and they will use the fact that their organisation is “The College Of Teachers” to present their views as that of the teaching profession.

In my nightmare scenario, five years from now, news stories about education will feature some retired headteacher or former lecturer from a university education department, with “College Of Teachers” under their name explaining that everything is fine in education, and all we need are fewer exams and more teachers who can manage behaviour by showing enthusiasm and not talking too much. You know the kind of people who used to claim inclusion was working, exams weren’t getting easier or that academic subjects weren’t suitable for working class kids? The sort of people, who even now, declare any attempt to debate their orthodoxies to be “an attack on teachers”. That’s what I don’t want to happen in my name.

However, I realise that my distaste for the education establishment is not universal, so let me address the reasons I want only teachers in the College of Teaching that go beyond avoiding an education establishment takeover.

While some people seem confused by the name (“College of Teachers” was taken) the plan is for a professional body for teachers. While there’s a lot to be decided about exactly what the College of Teaching will do, that was the plan for what it should be. Whatever things the College of Teaching does must be things that help establish teachers as professionals. This key purpose is utterly undermined if many of the members are not what would normally be called “teachers”. There were a number of educationalists on Twitter last night, utterly furious that because they are not employed to teach children, I wouldn’t recognise them as teachers. Yet, amazingly, none of them actually claimed to be a teacher in their Twitter bio. You cannot have a professional body for teachers where the rank and file are not people who would say “teacher” when asked to describe what they do, who would not join a teaching union, and do not teach anyone below undergraduate level. Part of what teachers need to be a profession, is a professional identity. Dilute that and you dilute, rather than develop, our professionalism. If you wish to speak for teachers, then for pity’s sake, be a teacher.

Another strand of this argument is that, even if they were not let into full membership, then ex-teachers have a lot of expertise to contribute. They could be associate members, or advisors. That they have expertise may well be true, but it is missing some of the the key points of a profession. A profession has expertise and its members exercise autonomy. We can all learn a lot from ex-teachers, even from some of those who have become consultants or university lecturers, but if we need that expertise we are not a profession. We are not, in ourselves, a body of experts in teaching. Worse, not only would we be declaring that those who teach now are so lacking in expertise that they need the help of outside experts in teaching, but a large proportion of those experts would already be employed to tell teachers what to do. Far from developing our professional autonomy, we would actually be replicating our lack of autonomy. Instead of saying “we are a profession, we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do” we would be inviting the people who tell us what to do in to do it some more. A professional body for teachers needs to be organised on the basis of advancing professional autonomy and professional expertise.

Now, to me, a large part of this was obvious from the beginning. The assumption that we needed a new professional body, along with the acceptance that it could not be a regulator or a government quango and that it needed to be teacher led, all seemed to imply a shared vision of what teachers needed. Teachers lacked a professional identity; they were not confident in exercising professional autonomy, and there was a lack of recognition of their professional expertise. Perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps what people really wanted was a club for anyone working in education to network with the education establishment and (if they are teachers) learn from their betters. But if it is genuinely to be about teachers acting as a profession, then they need to act as autonomous experts with a clear professional identity. None of that can happen in a organisation where eligibility for membership, decision-making power, or the expertise about teaching don’t lie exclusively with teachers.




  1. An interesting perspective. But aren’t qualified teachers who teach teachers still teaching? What about consultants and ex head teachers who teach children as part of their consultancy? How do you distinguish? What about people taking a career break to parent, care for others or study? What about supply teachers are they still teachers? Part time? Where do you draw the line? It seems that your rule is designed purely to ensure that people you don’t agree with have less chance to enter the debate. In which case, you possibly underestimate the number of acting teachers who think that exams should be reformed and that behaviour management is not all stick and blame. And as many teachers will tell you, they already work 70 hours a week. Who will cover them while they attend meetings? This organisation should represent teachers, of course, and I think anyone involved should have QTS, but I fear your demands are unrealistic.

    • I am indeed motivated by the fact that while views like mine are common at the chalkface, they are almost entirely suppressed in parts of the education establishment. But I don’t think it’s necessary to share those views to see that as a problem. You don’t establish teachers as professionals by having a professional body which replicates their exclusion from debate or makes them answer to non-teachers when they do express their views.

      Oh, as for how teachers will get cover to attend meetings, a body made up exclusively of teachers is unlikely to hold meetings during the school day. That’s one of the many points teachers are likely to agree on, but non-teachers disagree.

      • But you’ve not answered any of my questions. Are ITT tutors who have worked in schools (and bear in mind that many of them still do) excluded? Consultants who work with children in schools as part of their work? And there will be so much for the college to do – meeting with politicians/Ofsted/researchers and so on. You seriously imagine it can all be done at the weekends? In which case, the college can only be represented by the childless or those with no commitments at the weekends? I do get your point about it being a teacher led organisation – it was frustrating to attend a meeting about the college last year at which there were no currently practising teachers present, but there needs to be a balance struck.

        • I can’t see how much clearer I can be. A professional body for teachers should have a membership made up of those who are currently teachers. Not former teachers, not teacher trainers, not consultants, not inspectors, not local authority or academy chain advisers, just teachers.

          As for your list of things the College should do that teachers won’t be able to join in with, I wonder why you think teachers would pay a membership subscription to fund activities for non-teachers? While there may be things best done by officers on a (short) sabbatical from teaching, the CoT organising significant events at times when most teachers will be at work would be outrageous.

          And while I appreciate that some people are busy at weekends, most teachers are busy in the week. Every effort should be made not to exclude parents, but that still is not half as bad as excluding teachers from their own professional body.

          • Any organisation calling itself a College of Teachers without being made up of teachers (11 to 18 yrs old) on the executive and dominating the membership should be legally prevented from having any say in the policies that directly affect classroom teachers –

            Consultants are not teachers – unless they teach 11 to 18 yrs old at least part time then they could participate.

            As for meetings – School Holidays and weekends are the best and an effective way of ensuring that the membership actually turns up.

            If Consultants do not teach then they should not have a say – as a group they have caused havoc in the state sector pushing expensive to pay them to tell us and for schools to implement, un-evidenced theories and activities that have caused immense damage.

  2. It is shocking and hypocritical for anyone who is not a practising member of a profession to be in a leadership position in the executive of a professional body.

    I teach secondary students, that does not mean I should be able participate in the Royal College of Surgeons or British Medical Association.

    What do university educational lecturers ( I won’t insult scientists by calling them researchers as their research does not follow any scientific protocol I know) have to say that is useful for a secondary or primary school teacher?

    I would rather trust a cognitive scientist who actually practices science than a group of people who conduct no valid experiments and then have the arrogance and greed to try a worm their way into a professional body for teachers and the nice salary, pension and self marketing that it can provide.

    If they do not teach in a primary or secondary school they should frankly buzz off and not bother applying until they have done so.

    It is as crazy as a classroom teacher wanting to be member of the Royal College of Nursing whilst never having done any extended i.e years of nursing and pretending their experience as H&S contact for a school department , or teaching health and social care makes them qualified to participate on professional medical practice undertaken by Dr’s and Nurses.

    Utterly Nuts, a a great way for progressive ideologists to wreck the system with their un-evidenced and ideologically driven agenda.

    Put some published cognitive scientists on it and teachers and it will get support from the profession and benefit it.

    Experience of teaching for a good many years say 5+ is.

    • Robert Coe, Dylan Wiliam have been quite useful to secondary and primary schools as indeed have many other academics who have explored pedagogy and practice. You argue that people who are not practising in our profession should not be able to be in the college and then immediately argue for people who are not practicing in our profession to be part of it. Hmmmm.

    • “It is as crazy as a classroom teacher wanting to be member of the Royal College of Nursing…”

      Not the best profession to choose. An awful lot of senior RCN people, people who are described on the news as “nurses leaders”, are miles away from the front line of nursing and have been miles away for years. Since nursing became “a profession” and learning moved from ward to lecture theatre, there’s more status and cash in teaching nurses than in actual nursing. Don’t think it’s just in education that the 70s sociology grads have the professorships.


      • No Debra I clearly stated that they need to practice scientific research and teach.

        My objection is to those who do not teach and / or do no scientific research.

        I would allow peer reviewed published cognitive scientists to have an input but not set policy.

        The disaster that is modern nursing is a direct result of people in charge who do not nurse at the front line.


        Progressive ideologues have been perpetrating so many lies and disinformation it’s like stepping into world of George Orwells 1984 where doublespeak and groupthink are the norm.

        Frankly they should not be allowed anywhere near education policy until they find evidence to back up their claims – just like a scientist (e.g cognitive) does.

        Nonsense such as differentiation.

        And excellent post by David Didau on Afl

  3. While I am sympathetic to most, if not all of the arguments made here about the need for a College of Teachers to be dominated by those still working in schools, I think it is basically impossible to draw the line between teachers and the sort of people you want to exclude in any sensible way. Staff teaching 16 to 18 year olds in FE colleges would, presumably be allowed to join, but do they have to resign if they suddenly start to teach level 4 courses? If not, what happens when their teaching becomes predominantly level 4 but with some level 1, 2 and 3 work? In some schools, teaching assistants do the same work as teachers. In the past we could have used the fact that they do not have qualified teacher status to distinguish them from teachers, but now, since many schools can choose to employ as teachers those without formal teaching qualifications the line between teaching assistants and teachers will be impossible to draw fairly. And what about those with part time jobs, teaching in schools and doing other work? Many instrumental music teachers have teaching qualifications, teach a few hours each week in schools, but also have jobs as professional musicians. Would they be able to join the College of Teachers? Excluding part-timers would be at the very least odd (and possibly even illegal).

    Perhaps even more importantly, decisions will need to be taken about whether headteachers can join. Many heads teach, but many do not, and in the future it seems likely there will be a significant number executive heads who do not have a teaching qualifications.

    It might make sense to require office-holders in the College of Teachers to be teaching at least 50% time in institutions where the majority of students are of compulsory school age (for example) but I think restricting the membership in a sensible and fair way will be impossible.

    • I think there is a danger of falling into the continuum fallacy here. There are cases where the line is hard to draw, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a distinction that can be made in most cases. Heads in schools who don’t teach are a difficult case, in that while they could be considered not to be teaching, it’s not practical to scrutinise their timetables so would probably have to be let it (although elsewhere I discussed how to prevent them taking over). Because FE is having its own debate over its own professional body, I can’t imagine that many people from FE will want to join if they don’t teach school age children. The possibility of difficulties drawing the line in a few cases shouldn’t be used as a Trojan horse for letting in hordes of educationalists, consultants, inspectors etc. I’m already finding some ITT people on Twitter utterly aghast that anyone wouldn’t want them to “share their expertise”.

      • All Headteacher should teach a full day once a week.

  4. As a member of a professional body outside the teaching profession but working in education, I’m far from convinced about equating membership of a union as being a touchstone for the strength of the profession.

    Whilst I agree with the need to lead the professional body with established and committed practitioners, I think you lose out by excluding those within the broader education community, both in terms of broader thinking and also understanding of the profession by the outside world. Far better I think to have the articles of association (or equivalent) direct that key decisions must have the majority support of practising teachers (in a sensible way to be defined).

    • My feeling about that sort of set up is that it allows practising teachers an upper hand in their own organisation. Yet there’s no real reason why anyone else should have any hand at all. If anything this arrangement would emphasise that teachers are not trusted to run their own organisation.

      • I agree with that sentiment Andrew, and I don’t think I was clear in my first comment about what I meant by the broader community and how that would work in the context of entry to the professional body.

        What I would imagine is that the professional standards for membership of the professional body are defined by recognised practitioners (i.e. teachers in the way that you and Dylan define them). The route of entry to the professional body would be by verifiable demonstration of those standards through conduct, experience and professional development. This would not allow direct entry for non-teaching educationalists, but would allow for the blended careers that Dylan describes. For me, part of being a profession is sharing knowledge about standards and building capability and capacity within the profession. If that is an explicit aim, then it frames the roles of those moving out of the classroom as well as those moving into the classroom.

        When you then look at the leadership and official structure of the College, those positions would be elected from the general membership, all of whom should have qualified to be such by being practising teachers. That should provide a sufficient check/balance on the leadership of the profession being hijacked as you suggested could be possible in your post.

        I am a professional engineer by background, and the route the engineering profession typically takes is associate membership of the relevant institution whilst working towards demonstration of the qualifying standards for full membership. Continuing membership/registration is then dependent on maintaining and developing those professional standards through formal and informal development (with appropriate supporting evidence).

        So there is a natural through-flow, with mutual support available to members at all stages of their development. I would commend that approach for the design of a College of Teaching.

  5. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  6. As a maths teacher I’ve a choice of two main professional bodies to join – one is largely dominated by mathematicians and the other largely dominated by university lecturers who teach teachers. Both are interesting – and both fall short of having enough to help classroom teachers.

    We seem to be crying out for a group of actual teachers to discuss and advise and help the rest of us.

    Please lets keep out people who used to teach (or who never have taught) and who think they know how to do our jobs.

    The college of teaching could be the best thing teachers have ever had ….

  7. Great to finally meet you and shake hands yesterday Andrew. Did not expect us to suddenly agree – but I was surprised you did not find yourself open or influenced by some of the ideas that came up. I wrote about some of them here http://goo.gl/37cxMf including a solution to the “Who is a teacher?” question that you seem to have such a basic (flawed) solution to).

  8. […] Teaching in British schools « Why There Should Only Be Teachers In The College Of Teaching […]

  9. […] some time ago, as a teacher with no intention of leaving the classroom.  When Andrew Old began advocating that College of Teaching membership should primarily be reserved for teachers, I wanted to be […]

  10. […] consensus on what constituted a teacher. Should membership only be open to practising teachers as suggested by Old Andrew? Or could anyone who had once been a teacher – people like me – be able to have a say […]

  11. […] are two posts that oppose non-teachers joining the CoT by Andrew Old. I agree with his points about the 4 […]

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