The College Of Teaching gives more power to the powerful

August 26, 2016

The College of Teaching popped up again today on social media.

I have blogged about this very many times. There has been a prolonged attempt by the education establishment to create a new professional body for teachers, following Michael Gove’s abolition of the last one, largely on the grounds that it was a quango that teachers had no time for.

Despite early suggestions that this new organisation might be led by the profession, it ended up being set up by CPD providers in such a way as to squeeze out frontline teachers in favour of educationalists, consultants and managers. This was done through holding events on weekdays in school time, proposing that “anybody with an interest in education” be allowed to join, and making sure that non-teachers and managers dominated the board of trustees. An attempt to crowd fund the organisation revealed a real lack of support from the profession, unfortunately politicians popped in to provide public money to get it going. There had been a few signs of hope: there was an invitation for more teachers to join the trustees and the fact that the issue of who could be a member was going to be considered by a consultation. But the signs were that the organisation had already decided that this was about non-teachers and SMT telling teachers what to do and since I last blogged about them they have asked for “teachers, head teachers and teacher trainers” to take part in focus groups for refining their “offer”, rather than just saying “teachers”.

Today they announced that the CEO would be Dame Alison Peacock, who is currently an executive headteacher, and well known for a willingness to sit on government committees and the boards of educational charities. She has been a headteacher since 2003 and Wikipedia lists 15 different boards, committees and advisory groups she is currently thought to be part of. You could not hope to find somebody who is more firmly ensconced in the education establishment and further removed from the life of a classroom teacher.

I’ve spent a lot of today seeing this decision justified. Much of the argument was based around assuming that the job was beyond a mere classroom teacher and that this does not suggest a problem with the organisation. People have referred to the organisation being “large” which given that it does not yet have members and its membership target is apparently a tiny 5000 members in two years suggests “large” refers to the budget provided by the taxpayer, which the College of Teaching claims may be be as high as £5 million (or £1000 for every member they need to reach their membership target). The plan appears to be to set up an education super-quango, not a grassroots organisation, and that cannot be trusted to an ordinary teacher.

This comes down to the problem that has been surfacing since the College Of Teaching was first suggested. A professional body for teachers sounds like a good idea, if it genuinely means developing teacher professionalism. But professionalism would mean trusting teachers, giving them more autonomy and reducing the number of people telling teachers what to do. Developing teacher professionalism would involve trimming the powers of education bureaucrats, heads, other managers and external training providers and giving power to teachers in the classroom. A professional body for teachers would be a body that sets out what teachers cannot be told to do, what they should not be held responsible for, and what they can be trusted to do.

The alternative vision, and the dominant one, is one where the education establishment loses no power to control teachers, but gains powers from government. Dame Peacock wrote a paper suggesting what power and influence a (Royal) College Of Teaching should seek. It included the following suggestions:

A new Royal College of Teaching could help to establish the core purposes and aspirations of education for all children in this country…

There are a range of organisations that primary colleagues can choose to align with including, for example, federations and Trusts, faith schools, Teaching Schools and alliances academy groups , subject associations, CPR / ASPE / Whole Education local partnerships and trusts unions and professional associations HEIs and partnership schools. The importance of a Royal College of Teachers lies in the notion that such an organisation could form an over arching network within which smaller networks would flourish independently. It could be that smaller networks would seek affiliation with the RCoT in order to enhance their work.

The role of the Royal College of Teachers would be to offer CPD that was inspired by evidence and independent of political influence. Course providers and subject associations could seek quality assurance from the RCoT in order that they could badge their CPD accordingly.

…The benefits to unions would be that the Royal College would provide a single united lobbying voice on behalf of chartered teachers… We need a national organisation to support schools against the current trend for initiatives linked to political imperatives and we need to avoid the exhaustion that comes with feeling powerless to resist…

…As a nationally recognised professional body of experts the RCoT could have influence on the appointment of HMCI. An important culture shift would be achieved if HMCI (a supposedly non political appointment) were to report regularly to the Royal College as a means of ensuring quality and accountability…

…This vision for a RCoT that is ambitious for all children, would represent the voice of English education across the world.

This is an incredible power grab. Power over CPD; over inspection; over school structures; over policy, would go to the College. It would also take on the role of representing the entire system and deciding what our education system is for. In this model, it is hard to see what role would be left with our elected representatives, other than getting to be lobbied by the College Of Teaching. For those unelected people who already have significant power in the education system – the educational establishment – this is a chance to squash all who might stand up to them. This has nothing to do with empowering the teacher in the classroom. This is about ensuring that those who already tell teachers what to do have less accountability and less democratic oversight. This is not going to increase our professionalism; it’s going to destroy it.


  1. There are a number of Royal Colleges for a range of professions, and the model proposed for teachers bears a close resemblance to them in almost all its aspects.

    Guess what, in all professions, it transpires that people with high levels of professionalism rise up through the ranks, and are appointed to senior levels in their establishments. They then gain further experience by being invited onto committees, working parties etc. before being chosen to represent their profession. This makes them *more professional*, not less. It does not mean they are no longer part of their profession! Nor does it mean they have sold out to join some form of establishment conspiracy.

    The CEO of the Royal College of Physicians is not a Junior Doctor. Why would you expect the CEO of the Royal College of Teaching to be a classroom teacher, presumably unsullied by the taint of any form of higher responsibility?

    I think the teaching profession deserves the highest quality of teaching professional that it can find, rather than satisfying some ideological whim with somewhat Maoist overtones. Most people appear to believe that it has now got one in Alison Peacock?

    • A junior doctor is a less experienced doctor. An unpromoted classroom teacher is not a less experienced teacher. Often quite the opposite.

      • There are indeed many experienced classroom teachers. But being an experienced professional is only one of many attributes required of the CEO of a professional body. Diplomatic and negotiating skills, experience of complex budget management, and the professional respect and admiration of one’s peers are equally important, amongst many other attributes. Classroom teaching experience is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

  2. I’m already governed, as a specialist teacher, by a professional body that dictates down to me. There are positives and negatives, but will it get messy if they then have to be submissive to a higher force, who may disagree with their rigorous scrutiny of my work? In turn, what about the knock-on effect on exams and Reasonable Adjustments duties/Equality Act. It seems to me that mission-creep would be inevitable if such ‘serving suggestions’ became reality.

    I am currently on the fence, but you’re talking about teachers, ex-teachers and other relationships. What’s not being argued is the voice of the student. As ordinary classroom teachers are not ‘less’ due to the virtue of remaining ‘ordinary’, students are not ‘less’ due to the virtue of their age.

  3. Reblogged this on Mr Lyons Maths.

  4. I believe Andrew is 100% correct here, and I am finding it difficult to see why people are disagreeing with him.

    It is clear, based on the crowdfunding fiasco, that there is minimal support among the profession. This was before some of the more outrageous announcements we have seen more recently.

    Education is clearly going wrong and what better way for Government to avoid accountability than to hand over the reins to an independent body, controlled by teachers themselves. Its a clever political scam engineered by Government and those who have raved over the thing since it’s inception. The evangelists who see themselves as the saviours of the profession must live in a different reality to the average classroom teacher.

    I get the impression that the rank and file have almost given up on fair representation and I don’t think this development will help in any way at all.

    One scenario I can see is the thing being used by teachfirsters to boost their advancement opportunities, given the links between the new CEO and teach first. Most average teaching professionals will I think be too busy to get involved in much of the nonsense that will be dreamed up in their name (nay…due to their involvement).

    Andrew is spot on when he suggests that a teacher be in charge. This is not an organisation in which the CEO is in command of members, the CEO would and should have no authority (other than sapiential) over members, the CEO should be in the business of representing members.

    If one ever wanted to get a feel for who the organisation will represent, one should just look at the greatest evangelists and their situations, job titles and main interests to see how well the thing will work for teachers.

    This escapade is simply an opportunity for the few who are able to self market themselves to get into bed with Government and feather their own nests. Not a conspiracy theorist by nature but this seems to be the case from the evidence.

    For me, the day that I see middle and senior managers representing rank and file union members/workers in the majority of UK trade unions is the day that I will join this organisation.

    ps…for people who point to other similar “Colleges”, one should note that tremendous improvements in patient care that have resulted from the College of Nursing. We now have patients dieing of thirst and lying in urine soaked bedsheets. Not suggesting that the College has alone caused these problems, just looking at what a college can do for the “professionalism of a profession”

  5. In every part of the world, teaching profession has not been awarded the honour and respect it deserved

  6. The influence of “our elected representatives” over the education system and profession over the past 35 years or so has been almost entirely malign, with greater or lesser degrees of cynicism in its aims and implementation.

    The value of the RCoT will come out in the shape and extent of its democratic representation and advocacy. Alison Peacock is a serial board member, s you say, but is also stepped in ground-breaking and successful classroom practice.

    On what basis so you say that this initiative will “destroy” the teaching profession? Seems like best groundless hyperbole to me. But perhaps you think that the profession is thriving now under strong ministerial directive?

    • If your starting point is that democracy is bad, and we need a body of unelected educationalists and senior managers to run education then we will never agree on this. I am of the view that classroom teachers have never had more influence than in the last few years. This is a step backwards to the situation where the frontline are just told what to do by the education establishment. The one card we had, was that we could appeal over the bosses, vested interests and educationalists to our elected representatives. This is an attempt to take that away.

      • So the nub of your argument is that you would rather the profession be ‘told what to do’ by elected politicians rather than by representatives of the best of the teaching profession whose views you don’t like? Starting to read like you want the good old days back, when you had the ear of the teachers’ friend, Michael Gove? :)

        Me, I’d prefer not to be ‘told what to do’ by anybody, headteacher or politician, and would rather work to an agreed set of professional standards put in place by a representative professional body of my peers, as a well-set up College of Teachers should be.

        • I support democracy. I want the education system to be controlled by an elected government, not a technocratic elite. That does not mean I don’t support teacher autonomy. But for those of us in the classroom that autonomy is most threatened by excessive and unaccountable power held by managers, bureaucrats and inspectors, not by democracy.

          • I can think of few professions offering the degree of autonomy afforded to the classroom teacher. If the children thrive and do well under their care, there seems to be relatively little interference UNLESS there is a top-down political agenda?

            I have seen teachers thrive despite the inadequacies of less competent managers, bureaucrats and inspectors. The major threat to me always appeared to be the interference by ill-informed politicians given undue powers over the curriculum, the demands placed on children, and, more insidiously, requiring and demanding that those very managers and inspectors increasingly interfere in classroom practice, in the furtherance of their political dogma.

            So on this we must disagree…. though I would suggest that history would that teachers were more content with their professional lot under the ministrations of an informed Estelle Morris, than they ever were under a demanding Michael Gove?

          • Just because Estelle Morris spent her time after resigning in failure cosying up to the education establishment, let’s not pretend that things were good when she was in office. I started teaching then, and the chaos caused by inclusion then remains one of the worst experiences of my teaching career.

            As for autonomy, what? Most professions have clear areas where their bosses and/or clients cannot overrule them. This is not the case in teaching. Managers retain the right to write a policy on anything teachers do, from the colour of pen they mark with to where they stand at the start of the lesson. No politician has ever called for this. Micro-management is down to the bureaucrats and managers working in the system. That is what we need protection from, not democracy.

        • Tony

          “by representatives of the best of the teaching profession”.

          The best in the teaching professional are teachers.I find that statement to be insulting.

          “and would rather work to an agreed set of professional standards put in place by a representative professional body of my peers, as a well-set up College of Teachers should be.”

          Who best to represent my views than my peers, not some supposed group of mainly non-teachers who it is assumed will be a representative body.

          Head teachers should have an input to the dicussion but it should not be via the College of Teachers.

          Consultants should have an input to the dicussion but it should not be via the College of Teachers.

          Academics should have an input to the dicussion but it should not be via the College of Teachers.

          Parents should have an input to the dicussion but it should not be via the College of Teachers.

          The “naysayers” statement from the new CEO was for me a clear indication of things to come and the extent to which she represents me.

          “representative professional body of my peers, as a well-set up College of Teachers should be”.

          I believe all teachers would agree with this statement and I am unable to reconcile this statement with the body that has been created.

          The COT seems to be a body that asserts that it represents the views of the “profession”. I believe that it should strive to represent the teachers who are after all the profession.

          I think of this issue in this way…..”who could be removed from ‘the profession’ and it still function as a profession?”.

          The only individuals I find in this category are teachers, and the COT should be their professional body.

          • Brian Headteachers ARE teachers too. The clue is in the name, and the route by which they arrived in the post…?
            It seems more insulting to me for a headteacher to be told they are no longer a teacher, merely because they have achieved a promotion?
            Accountants are still accountants even when they become Finance Directors; chemical engineers are still chemical engineers even when they become Plant managers. Is teaching the only profession in which some of its denizens believe that promotion somehow removes professional competence and status?

  7. In the last 30 years, education spending has doubled in real terms. Over this period there has been an explosion in non-teaching positions both inside the school and out. Yet at the same time the Chair of Durham’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring–Robert Coe–has admitted that standards have not improved. Indeed, some research by the CEM suggests that they have deteriorated alarmingly, especially in STEM subjects.

    We now have a generation of NQTs emerging with degrees from the new universities whose subject knowledge is so woefully inadequate that the exam boards are producing PowerPoints to wet nurse them through their lessons. And these hapless NQTs are so overworked producing specious ‘evidence of progress’ that they have neither the time nor the energy to make good their woeful lack of subject knowledge.

    All of this has been engineered by education experts who are woefully ignorant of research from the cognitive sciences. AfL is a prime example of a concept which has absorbed the energies of the profession for almost 20 years and still lingers on despite an almost total lack of evidence for its efficacy in improving learning outcomes. Marking pupils’ workbooks–perhaps the major source of excessive teacher workload, especially in secondary education–has not been shown to raise achievement, yet Ofsted inspectors still consider it essential to demonstrating pupil progress.

    If there is any real purpose to the proposed College of Teaching, it is to provide yet more career opportunities for teachers who don’t, can’t and never will teach.

    • Amen to that, Tom Burkard.

  8. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  9. My head teacher hasn’t taught for fifteen years and has openly exclaimed that the thought of standing in front a class of nine years olds now fills them with fear. And, that’s not just an isolated example: the majority of academies are headed up by principals who’ve never planned and taught a lesson, or left the classroom behind prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum.

  10. Another major article on this blog regarding the concept of a professional body for English school teachers and 19 comments to date.

    Yet once again the name GTC(E) is not even once mentioned. Neither for good nor for ill.

    Ditto: GTC (Wales), GTC (sixCounties) and GTC (Scotland).The latter being the first ever statutory professional body for teachers anywhere in the world and currently sailing forward into its second half-century of existence.

    Might this be yet another example, post-Brexit, of English “exceptionalism” ?

  11. Discussion of the CoT has gone strangely quiet in both bloggershpere and twittershpere. Quite why may become clearer in the near future one feels.

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