The Creation Myth of the College of TeachingNovember 6, 2015
A while back on Twitter, there was some discussion of the plans for a new professional body, the College Of Teaching. Having understood the idea was largely the brain child of the House of Commons’ education committee, who recommended it in their report on “Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best” in May 2012, I was surprised by this exchange:
At the excellent Politics in Education Summit which I attended last Monday, (I don’t think anything from that has been put online, so please be aware that what follows is mainly from my notes/recollections of myself and others who were there), Angela MacFarlane of the College Of Teachers, one of the groups setting up the College Of Teaching used a slide with a timeline suggesting that the current process started at a meeting of teachers in February 2012, and claimed:
There has been a lot happening over a long period of time and the most recent debate around the need for such an organisation dates back to February 2012 and it was not initiated by government, actually, the debate was ongoing before government got involved. The recommendation from the Education Select Committee was very helpful but, of course, it actually derived from the evidence they were hearing from people who were coming and giving their testimony…
The Claim Your College site gives a chronology which claims “The idea of a new College of Teaching was first broached at a Headteacher Residential held by the Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) in 2012” (this seems to be the February 2012 event) before acknowledging the role of the Education Committee of the House of Commons.
The discrepancy with the mention of 2011 in the earlier tweet seems to have been an error, and when I investigated it, it was indicated, again, that the idea for the College Of Teaching was suggested at that same event in February 2012:
So it would appear to be the case that the idea came up among teachers in February 2012, and was then fed into the House Of Commons Education Committee’s consultation on attracting, training and retaining teachers, leading to the committee endorsing it. And that this is the version of events shared by some of the people involved in the formation of the College.
Unfortunately, there’s a little problem with this. Even if the February 2012 conference is where the name “Royal College Of Teaching” was suggested, the idea for a new professional body was being suggested by a politician in the weeks beforehand. If you look at the minutes of the education committee’s evidence gathering sessions in January 2012, you will find one session where Conservative MP, Neil Carmichael directed the following to educationalists Alison Kitson and Chris Robertson:
Neil Carmichael: That is a really interesting point that you have just raised about the parallel between teachers and doctors, and indeed lawyers. The one thing that teachers do not have, which the others do have, is a professional body to represent them and effectively corral the very things you are talking about. Have either of you thought about the fact that the teaching profession might benefit from having an effective professional body looking at the issue of training and professionalism and career development on their behalf for them, rather than allowing teachers effectively to be subjected to a huge variety of options and possibilities, as currently happens?
Neil Carmichael: You are making the assumption that this would be something created by Government for teachers. It does not necessarily need to be, and perhaps should not be, created by Government. It should arise from teachers wanting to have a professional body to look after their profession, in their interests, and obviously, as Graham quite rightly pointed out, the interests of pupils too. Fundamentally, this is a question of how teachers themselves want to see things happen.
Later in that session, this time addressing representatives of the College Of Teachers who were giving evidence about their plan for “Chartered Teachers”, he made the following comments:
Neil Carmichael: We seem to be heading in the right direction, because there is a strong consensus developing that we do need to go down a professional approach to teaching, and a professional body to represent teachers. It would be best if that were organic through teachers.
Neil Carmichael: It is interesting; this Committee is coming up with something that could be quite a significant policy initiative, so let us develop it. … There are … 460,000 teachers in England, as far as I know. That is quite a big number that we have to get involved in this process. I think Graham [Stuart, the chair] has asked the question already, but I will ask it: how do you think we can move in the direction, if this is the direction that we want to move in, to get those 460,000 involved in a professional body?
At another session a week later, and still a week before the PTI meeting “invented” the idea, Neil Carmichael asked Michael Gove, as secretary of state, the following question:
So moving towards a professional body for teachers might be a way forward-to encourage them to take charge of their own destiny?
Now given the fact the Education Committee’s support for the College Of Teaching is seen as pivotal, and given that the idea of a new professional body was being raised by that committee in the weeks immediately before the PTI meeting where headteachers are meant to have come up with the idea, I’d suggest that Neil Carmichael MP (now chair of the education committee) be given more credit for getting this idea off of the ground.
And why does it matter who came up with the idea, politicians or teachers? It matters for two reasons. Firstly, because The College Of Teaching that is currently being proposed is not in any way a grassroots organisation. It’s an education establishment body set up by the vested interests, that so far has shown little interest in teachers, particularly those who aren’t SMT. The myth that teachers began this process is necessary if teachers are to be convinced that the College Of Teaching is something other than an attempt by the usual suspects to cash in on political good will.
Secondly, if the College Of Teaching was the child of the education select committee, then it is worth considering what evidence they found that it was needed and how much of that evidence came from people who wanted a new regulator, or a new way to judge and classify teachers, rather than a new voice for teachers. The point and purpose of a new professional body for teachers has always been confused and unclear. The actual circumstances of its birth, rather than the myth, serve only to highlight this.