Politician’s Logic and The College Of Teaching

February 11, 2015

I was recently reminded of the politician’s logic described in the above clip:

Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it.

It stemmed from a number of conversations about the College Of Teaching on Twitter, and the argument of this blogpost by Tom Sherrington.

Even if the status quo is terrible, people will defend it inadvertently by resisting change and preventing initial ideas from living a while before they’re fully developed…

It sets out a process by which the College could come into being from the initial founder stage through to the mature membership stage.  If this road map is followed, it would be possible to have an influential College of Teaching fully run by teachers delivering on a number of areas relating to teachers’ professional lives – within five years.   I personally don’t have a better idea than this and I don’t know of one; I don’t like the status quo so I’m very happy to support his proposal…

It is also my experience that it’s a mistake to try to seek total agreement or have rules that are too tight before you get started; the experience of running a new initiative in practice will always throw up new possibilities; if you get too bogged down at the start, you never get going.  It’s like kids arguing about the rules of a game for so long that they never actually play it…

…But if we’d be much much better off with a CoT then it’s worth fighting for. I don’t think that message comes through strongly enough – not yet.  At this stage, I’d say it’s more important to promote the Why of a College of Teaching, above the Who or the How…

If the ongoing debate leads to a better process and a better outcome, that’s great.  Let’s have the discussion in that spirit.  But if the debate simply adds weight to the inertia; not offering any alternative except the status quo, then that’s what we’ll get.  That’s what we’ll deserve – and the chance will have gone.

Ignoring the ad hominem implication that anyone who objects to a plan to spend more than £10 million of public money on a loose and unaccountable assembly of interest groups, is somehow simply resistant to change, this argument amounts to:

We need a change from the status quo. This is a change from the status quo. Therefore, we should support it.

I suspect that this logic might indeed win over some of the politicians and the public will end up bankrolling this project. But let me be utterly clear why this won’t win me over. The status quo of having no professional body for teachers has existed for a grand total of 3 years. Prior to that there was a professional body called the General Teaching Council of England (GTCE) which existed for 12 years and which few teachers had a kind word for. So, the creation of a new professional body is not a once in a lifetime proposition, not a radical departure, but a second attempt at something that was tried and failed in recent memory.

Once we actually recall this little bit of history, we remember that the status quo of not having a professional body for teachers was deliberately chosen over an option (the GTCE)  that was seen as worse than the status quo. If we accept this as the case, then the precise details of the proposal do matter. If any professional body will do, then why was the GTCE not good enough? When the discussion of a College of Teaching started, the desire not to repeat the mistakes of the GTCE was a key theme. Only as it became clear that teachers would have as little, or even less, say over the CoT as they did over the GTCE has the GTCE disappeared from the argument.

Now, of course, it could be the case that the people arguing for uncritical support for the CoT proposal, would also have opposed the abolition of the GTCE. Perhaps they genuinely do think that any professional body is better than none. But if so, then they are keeping quiet about it. If not, then there is no excuse for suggesting anybody else accept the CoT proposal on the grounds that any professional body is better than none. For myself, I know from experience that having a professional body for teachers that is not accountable to teachers is worse than the status quo of having no professional body. And for that reason the issue of who will make up and run the CoT is not a “detail”; not something that can be adjusted later, and not something that can be decided by non-teachers and left for teachers to swallow.



  1. I’m becoming increasingly persuaded by you now Andrew. My first impulse on reading this would be to say “But with the GTC being so fresh in our minds, isn’t this the ideal time to learn from our mistakes from it and make this from a different cloth?” To which you would reply “Exactly, so have it run by teachers from the start – it’s the only way to avoid it sliding the same way as everything else.” To which I would reply…”Yeah, fair point”

  2. Hi Andrew, I’m glad you bring up GTCE as you’re absolutely right it’s an example that everyone wants to learn from.

    I note that you say “Only as it became clear that teachers would have as little, or even less, say over the CoT as they did over the GTCE has the GTCE disappeared from the argument.”

    You also say: “For myself, I know from experience that having a professional body for teachers that is not accountable to teachers is worse than the status quo of having no professional body. And for that reason the issue of who will make up and run the CoT is not a “detail”; not something that can be adjusted later, and not something that can be decided by non-teachers and left for teachers to swallow.”

    I know questions about membership remained after we published the original proposal so we published further clarification last week ( http://www.claimyourcollege.org/faqs-proposal/ ) which makes it even clearer that this will be a body run both by and for practising teachers. The cap on the number of headteachers on the Founding Trustees also remains, as I know you’re also concerned about domination of the debate from heads.

    I hope this helps answer some of your concerns on the issue. Your input is valued, as ever.

    • That clarification does seem to confirm all my worst fears.

      • How so?

        • The only recognition for teachers is for a specially selected subsection of teachers, years down the road. This is not accountability to the profession. It is the exact opposite.

          • Andrew – would you mind briefly outlining how you would see the initial launch process actually taking place, because it seems to me that it is the strategy for getting this creature off the ground which is allowing the contaminants you don’t like to creep in. Is there no need for pragmatism during this phase? Thanks

        • Here is the problem that Andrew is identifying

          “Q: How will teachers influence the initial standard-setting process when there are few full members?

          A: It is assumed that the initial standard-setting process will reach out well beyond the full membership to other practising teachers. The Associate Membership of teachers working towards chartered status is likely to be a particularly important constituency. Similarly, we believe it will be necessary to give Associate Members a voice in determining appointments to the governance and standards-setting bodies of the College in the early years, until a critical mass is achieved.”

          So you allow Associates to help set the standards, yet they are the same ones working towards the standards.

          “Q: How would teachers and others become involved in the College before they achieve full membership?

          A: The original PTI Blueprint envisaged 3 levels of membership: Fellow, Member and Associate. A Fellow is a particularly distinguished teacher, who has demonstrated teaching excellence over an extended period. This status is about professional standing as a teacher and teaching skill, not management position in a school (though clearly it is open to all Members who can meet the standards). Those working towards Chartered (i.e. full member) status would be Associate members.

          Why not simply specify that it is for teachers currently teaching at Primary and Secondary schools and sixth forms?

          Not sure about 6th form colleges as they do not have below 16y olds in them. But in principle they could be included.

          Not post 18 yrs.

          Why do you have a such a lose definition of Associates?

          This way those who are not teaching and at University do not have a say in how school teachers are assessed which is exactly as it should be.

          • Thank you Socrates. I’m interested in who you think should be setting the standards. Obviously it couldn’t be people who have already passed them.

          • Sarcasm?…Is a poor defence.

            They have not passed the standards that’s his point. They are claiming to have passed the standards without evidence and a lot of self serving justification.

            What should be happening is cognitive scientists and primary and secondary school teachers should be setting them.

            The former because they can supply evidence for their claims and the latter because they could envisage what these would look like in the classroom and vice versa.

            I.e classroom teachers could conduct randomised controlled trials in conjunction with cognitive scientists to test the claims.

            University lecturers, and other groups that are outside primary and secondary education should not be able to set the standards because their teaching environments are different, they teach adults who pay fees.

            That also includes excluding non-teaching union officials as well as other non-teaching management, with the exception out of necessity being headteachers.

            Firstly the start of this organisation should be controlled by classroom teachers.

            Secondly they should then set standards which the rest of the profession can work to.

            If they do not teach they have no business telling others how to.

            Hence the need for cognitive scientists valid claims to be tested and confirmed by classroom teachers.

          • Thank you again Socrates – I appreciate your time. I’m not trying to be sarcastic with this, simply point out a circularity here. Who are the classroom teachers you have just identified as being the ones who should set the standards? How are THEY selected, and by who etc. etc.
            Also, why are cognitive scientists privileged over lecturers in education? Isn’t that just a personal preference?



          • – Just to add, so I don’t waste your time – I too am biased towards cognitive sciences, as that was my academic area before coming into teaching. However, for example, there is a huge amount of social psychology involved in running a successful classroom environment as well as cognitive science, so agreeing the definition of who has ‘valid’ credentials to oversee the setting-up phase is a process which will not resolve neatly into black and white.

          • I stand corrected re the sarcasm, hence the ? thought it could read that way or not. So thank you for clarifying.

            Why cognitive scientists and not educational lecturers?

            Because firstly the former actually use scientific protocols for their research, i.e controls and large sample sizes with proper statistical controls.

            The latter do not and then pretend the resulting ‘action’ ‘research’ as validity.

            Secondly cognitive science has demonstrated its validity in a range of domains outside of the research itself here is one important example.


            Educational research having never moved away from Piaget’s false paradigm and Bloom’s taxonomy created a ‘progressive’ ideology that has come to dominate state education and underpin the performance criteria in it.

            Any claim of what is useful should have the published science to back it, and only that should be used to set the standards.

            Now for the role of the classroom teacher.

            Set up a wiki, allow as many participants as possible to write and edit the standards, assess each line for its scientific validity and then sort the standards into necessary, advisable and anecdotal with the referencing to back them up, every other profession can provide the referencing as to why they have adopted a certain set of standards.

            Associates should be classroom teachers currently teaching and headteachers , the rest should be affiliates.

            As to who should be on these panel(s) – vote them in from ranks of the Associates and give them a online platform webpage and a submitted video to make their propositions and allow the rest to vote for them, several rounds of voting would provide your panel.

            This is far better than a bunch of self appointed managers setting the criteria, and if the current proposals continue be prepared for viral memes, blogs and tweets lampooning them that will be far more effective than the criticisms against the GTC.

            In today’s online world anything less than transparency and accountability is going to fail with the profession.

          • Thank you again Socrates – this is an excellent outline of what you would propose and why you would propose it. I think that the merits of such an idea would certainly have my vocal support.

            It sounds like it would be a workable balance between rigour and realism, and would certainly set the tone for how the college was to continue.

            Thank you once more for your time and your clarity.

          • Thank you for your kind words.

            I really can’t see a viable alternative to the one I suggested, if the COT sponsors were to back that framework then it would have sufficient traction to avoid a situation where it is set up and attracts a few % of the profession eventually collapsing.

            No one in teaching is interested in passing standards that are not scientifically evidenced in order to gain membership, that will not lead to to career progression.

            If the standards do not lead to better EXAM outcomes for students then they will be ideological and with the performance management system set up to focus on EXAM outcomes it will be a waste of time trying to meet them.

            Personally if students cannot leave school with good grades aka knowledge then the school needs to change its approach.

            They are the minimum we should gift to our students and subsequent generations.

  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. The failure to reflect on why the “other” British GTCs, most especially the GTC (Scotland) currently ploughing steadily forward towards its 50th anniversary, should have taken firm root whilst the GTC(E) remains little more than a sour historical footnote is striking.

    Well it is for me.

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