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The College Of Teaching Debate

February 4, 2015

My last post, which was about why I would not be joining the proposed College of Teaching due to the ridiculous decision to let anyone with “an interest in education” join, seems to have received a lot of interest. I don’t know how many of those who responded positively to the post were already against the College Of Teaching idea, and how many were, like myself, people who turned against it because of this particular issue, but there was no shortage of agreement. Two blogs worth looking at that seemed to take a similar line can be found here and here.

Of those that argued against my post, there were two blogposts that stood out as offering new arguments.

Firstly, David Weston argued that it would be a mistake to do anything as divisive as limit the professional body for teachers to teachers:

But, as I’ve argued befor…, the huge shifts we want for our profession won’t be brought about, I believe, through divisiveness, staking out territory or denigrating groups. I feel our power lies in coming together *and* elevating our practising professionals.

This is a well-trodden path. Hugely respected bodies such as the Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Che…, Institute of Mechani… and British Computing So… (to name a few close to my heart) have levels of affiliate membership that are for everyone with an interest or association with those subjects. By doing so they bring anyone with an interest in to their tents: to influence, to unify, to safeguard standards.

It is hard to sensibly argue that these institutions are anything but prestigious and influential. In the same way we aspire for teaching, they invest powers of governance in those who have achieved the most in their practice. They create other levels of affiliate membership for those who teach the subjects (even if no longer practising the science), but constitutionally enshrine the need for practising and eminent members to maintain the purpose and prestige of the institution. By coming together, they influence more greatly and maintain standards more firmly, while having the broadest and most influential voice heard by the public and by the government.

After the way teachers have been treated in recent decades, often by those who claimed to speak for teachers, I don’t want non-teachers in the College of Teaching in any level of membership. However, I appreciate that an argument can be made on the basis of some other professional organisations for an associate level of membership for non-teachers. However, David’s response seems to miss that this associate level of membership is intended to be the only level of membership for 4 years, not some additional layer added once those in the profession have been recognised. In this way, the comparison to other professional bodies is highly misleading. I’m willing to bet none of them went four years allowing everyone to join at the same level of membership.

As for the point about being divisive, you cannot create a professional body for teachers without dividing teachers from non-teachers in your organisation. Nor can you move forward toward creating such a body without, at least, attracting the opposition of those who don’t want teachers to be established as professionals. This last point seems particularly critical. Whichever organisation, or organsiations, would have opposed a College of Teaching made up of teachers needed to be opposed not appeased. They are the enemy of this project. The price paid to win them over has been to give in before we have even started. This was not an acceptable compromise, it was a stitch-up. And while it might not have divided the education establishment, it cannot be said to have paved the way to uniting the profession.

The other blogpost defending the creation of a professional body of teachers that isn’t made up of teachers was from Alex Wetherall. His argument is basically that we cannot draw the line:

Who do I think are teachers? Well I’ll provide some anecdotal examples: My daughter is currently four years old, passing through the last year of the EYFS of her education. It started at pre-school when she was 3 and will continue until she moves up into Y1 aged 5. She is currently taught by a teacher and teaching assistant (who is a fully trained teacher – who has taken a role as a TA). She was taught in pre-school and now in school following the same curriculum and the people providing her education are subject to Ofsted judgements, and so, whilst the setting is different I would argue that the qualified people running the preschool count as teachers; all of the people in this example are teachers in my opinion. Others disagree.

My wife worked at a F.E. college, teaching students Childcare Studies. She was training to be a teacher, following the PTLLS, CTLLS and DTLLS route. She stopped to be a full time mum, but had she not, she would have continued to teach 16-19 year olds as well as the same course to adult learners in the evening. She marked, planned, wrote schemes of work, wrote reports, did parents’ evenings, and taught lessons. This sounds very familiar. She didn’t class herself as a teacher by the time she stopped as she was still in the middle of her training, but had she carried on she would have been a teacher in my opinion.

My PGCE tutor Dr Anne Scott was a Biology teacher for 10 years in state schools after completing her PhD, including being Head of Department in a large state comprehensive school. She has been a PGCE tutor at the University of York for the last 15 years, also undertaking work to develop curricula for Biology for Nuffield foundation. I can testify that she had to mark my assignments as well as provide effective feedback and support through my 1st year of learning to teach. She taught many sessions to her students – she was and still is a teacher (IMO).

Phillip Moriarty is a Professor of Physics at the renowned University of Nottingham. He carries out research, but he also teaches courses to undergraduate Physicists and has a “very keen interest in outreach activities and primary and secondary teaching”. He has told me he would definitely consider himself a teacher (as would I), and depending on the distinction between teachers would possibly join a College of Teaching.

Four different examples of teachers who would possibly not be allowed in the College of Teaching (not Teachers, Teaching!) if some had their way. They would not be allowed to gain from the advantages the CoT proposes to provide.

Part of me just finds this absurd. Of course a professor of physics is not part of the teaching profession. Nor is a teacher trainer. Nor is a TA. By contrast, an FE lecturer teaching 16-19 year-olds is usually a teacher. Even I could have picked trickier examples than this. But this is a non-argument anyway. Even with better examples, it is still the continuum fallacy: the idea that if it is tricky to draw a dividing line precisely, covering all cases, then all distinctions must be impossible. This is a fallacy because it is not the case. Even if we wanted to argue about some cases,  there are definitely some people who are teachers and definitely some who are not. Where we draw the line might well be a sensitive issue, resulting in a controversial conclusion, but not drawing the line, or putting it off, is not a reasonable option if you actually want to invest in teachers rather than in a miscellaneous group of people lining up to benefit from public money.

The other argument I’ve heard, this time more on Twitter than in blogs, is that if teachers like myself do join the College Of Teaching, then we could seek to shape it in the way we want, i.e. as a professional body for teachers. I can’t help but think this is doomed. The powers that be have already reneged on the original intention expressed here:

One thing remains clear throughout this discourse: any independent chartered body must be of the profession, for the profession and run by its members.

If they didn’t let this idea make it into the first proposal, why should we expect their placemen to endorse it at a later date? Moreover, to me this is the ultimate humiliation of the profession. Here we have a body that is meant to have been set up to empower us, and we are seriously being asked to join on the basis of begging others to let us have control? Tom Bennett summed it up here, before this latest blow:

I’m not joining a College of Teaching to humbly request that it be a professional body for teachers. If we have to ask permission to be a profession, then we aren’t one.

12 comments

  1. Reblogged this on dancing princesses.


  2. I can completely understand your anxiety Andrew, and from experience, will gleefully endorse your concern about “people lining up to benefit from public money.” Speaking at a conference in Rhodes some years ago, I met the then Greek education minister, one George Panandreou. (Enough said.)

    But I would encourage you not to tar everyone involved to date with the same brush, or to underestimate their sincerity. I’ve worked with many, many organisations and still do, who have a remit to work positively with, or to change schools for the better. Most of them do neither. I would single the PTI out as having done more to nurture a genuinely high quality teaching profession in the UK, than any other organisation I know.


  3. A college of teaching should be where school teachers set out what support and training they need, what that support should look like to be of most use to them, and for the college to then identify who can provide this support and training. It must be a voice from the front line because this is what is currently so lacking and so urgently needed. It’s absolutely true that universities and others have valuable insight into education and teaching, but the value of other royal colleges is that its where front line staff within a clearly defined field (say GPs) can say what *they* need undiluted and unfiltered through other organisations and then try and do something to address this need. Excluding people who aren’t teachers from the college isn’t to diminish their work or expertise in the slightest – it’s just to say they are not school teachers and their support and training needs will therefore be different to a professional teaching in a school.

    Indeed this is how each of the medical colleges basically started. As medicine developed and became increasingly specialised new colleges were established out of existing ones to provide support and training to particular professionals who had distinct needs. They excluded other professionals not because they thought they were better but because they recognized that they needed specific types of support that the other professionals wouldn’t benefit from. School teachers require different training and support to those in universities and from consultants and from researchers. It’s not to say one is *better* than the others, just that this college of teaching isn’t the right body for them to receive training and support from. If university staff in education departments don’t feel properly supported in their training needs they should set up their own college.

    Others with an interest in education would therefore still be involved, a college isn’t the Freemasons, it’s not all secret knocks and totally closed doors to anyone who isn’t *in*. Teachers would still debate these ideas with others – the college could even invite people like me to events or to debate with others, or to advise, and non members would probably deliver much of the training selected by the college. But they wouldn’t be in the college as members, because that must be reserved as a place for teachers, and teachers only, to say what their experience is telling them they need. The whole point is to establish teaching as a profession, where professionals set out what they need, not what someone else says they need, so when the decisions come it must come from a body that *only* consists of people from the profession.

    In this sense not only does it have to consist only of teachers but it isn’t clear what anyone who wasn’t a school teacher would even want to be involved – if you’re not school teacher what would you benefit from getting training and support in how to be a teacher? Dealing with people who leave the classroom for a while are easy to deal with as they can just re-join when they return to the classroom.

    It’s feasible you could set up a rather complicated constitution that allowed non school teachers to join but not vote but that’s complicated and it’s still not clear what benefit they’d get from being in the college so why would you bother asking them in in the first place? If it’s to keep their voice involved I’ve already explained how they can kept “involved” without the danger of providing membership. The only reason I can think of for why someone who wasn’t a teacher would want to be involved at that point would either because you want to be part of a cool club, in which case – become a teacher – or because you’d be worried somehow teachers on their own might pick the “wrong” type of support or training. However the whole point of a college of teaching is that it’s a body where teachers set out as a profession what *they* think they need – if you don’t think they’ll make the right choice as professionals then the whole idea of a college is redundant.


  4. Hi – just being a bit of a devil’s advocate here – my mind’s not particularly made up either way, and I certainly respect your passion on this topic:

    Wouldn’t some form of broader membership make it easier for the College’s voice to be heard by other organisations that it will need to dialogue with? Is there a danger otherwise of it drawing an ‘us and them’ line in the sand and becoming increasingly militant and union-like?

    Furthermore, what is your hope now? That plans are dropped…? Plans are changed…? That it starts up but withers on the vine…? What if it goes ahead, gets established, but then becomes all the things you’ve feared it will be because good teachers heed your warnings and boycott it? Are we in danger of ensuring that it becomes a rather nice self-fulfilling prophecy?


    • Wouldn’t some form of broader membership make it easier for the College’s voice to be heard by other organisations that it will need to dialogue with?

      If it’s not made up of teachers why would I care if its voice is heard? In fact, if its just going to be another voice of the education establishment, I’d rather it wasn’t heard.

      Furthermore, what is your hope now? That plans are dropped…? Plans are changed…?

      That the politicians realise this is not what it was meant to be, and refuse to fund it.


  5. […] Teaching in British schools « The College Of Teaching Debate […]


  6. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.


  7. […] The College of Teaching is a body that has been championed (and rejected) by a number of teachers in the UK. One whose aims is to provide professionalism and a voice for teachers. Former teacher David Weston argues an all inclusive membership model whilst a current teacher wants none of it, if it includes none teachers in its membership. […]


  8. […] written about membership and what defines a teacher before, and while there are those who feel my argument suffers from the continuum fallacy, others see the teacher question as a key […]


  9. […] The College of Teaching is a body that has been championed (and rejected) by a number of teachers in the UK. One whose aims is to provide professionalism and a voice for teachers. Former teacher David Weston argues an all inclusive membership model whilst a current teacher wants none of it, if it includes none teachers in its membership. […]


  10. […] The College of Teaching is a body that has been championed (and rejected) by a number of teachers in the UK. One whose aims is to provide professionalism and a voice for teachers. Former teacher David Weston argues an all inclusive membership model whilst a current teacher wants none of it, if it includes none teachers in its membership. […]



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