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The Chartered College Of Teaching and conflicts of interest

October 14, 2018

I had thought a conflict of interest was a well known concept. I googled it and Wikipedia said pretty much what I already thought:

conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interestsfinancial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, this relates to situations in which the personal interest of an individual or organization might adversely affect a duty owed to make decisions for the benefit of a third party.

The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs. A conflict of interest exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that a decision may be unduly influenced by other, secondary interests, and not on whether a particular individual is actually influenced by a secondary interest.

A widely used definition is: “A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”[1] Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public officer. Secondary interest includes personal benefit and is not limited to only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement, or the wish to do favours for family and friends. These secondary interests are not treated as wrong in and of themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. Conflict of interest rules in the public sphere mainly focus on financial relationships since they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable, and usually involve the political, legal, and medical fields.

An absolutely key part of this is the idea that nobody has to do anything wrong, or be shown to have acted corruptly for a conflict of interest to occur. I thought everyone in education, particularly anyone involved in leadership or governance would know this.

Apparently not.

Last week I blogged about the elections to the council of the Chartered College Of Teaching. I noticed that, despite there being more than 30 000 schools in England, 2 council members were the executive headteacher and deputy head teacher of the same school. And then it emerged that this school had paid for teaching staff to join the College and, therefore, have a vote. Partly this concerns me because I have been arguing since 2014 that SMT would have an advantage over non-SMT if they were competing in the same elections. But there is also the more general question of whether elections are fair where some candidates can use public money to pay for dozens of people who know them to have a vote. And, there is also, a conflict of interest here, if a schools leaders can make the decision to spend the school’s money on College memberships, and benefit personally from the results of a vote of that membership. This was not an accusation of corruption, it was simply pointing out that this was a conflict of interest.

I was expecting people involved in the College to admit this was not ideal and to say it was not intentional and they’d look at it next time. Instead, the line of defence from one of the officers of the College was:

Yes, as long as the people given a free membership were not “pressured” to vote for the person they both knew and owed their membership to, there was no issue at all.

But worse was to come from the head of the school in question. A blog post appeared arguing not that the conflict of interest between being a head paying for memberships and being a candidate seeking votes didn’t exist, but that she was too honest to be criticised for the conflict of interest.

Professional Integrity is something I pride myself on. I am an ethical, moralistic person. I work hard for our community, I strive hard for our learners.

As a Headteacher, I do the right thing, I make the hard decisions, I stand up for what is right.

…..

A character tribute that some of my peers could do with developing.

My tenacity, my grit, my character, my resilience are what get we through the hard times.  So imagine how I felt when one of my colleagues after congratulating me for being elected on to the Chartered College of Teaching Council as a Fellow, asked me how I felt about Andrew’s Blog. I of course did not know what they meant, as the sub-tweeting and the sub-blogging had not tagged me to discuss, but had been done instead in a surreptitious way so that I could not respond.

Yes, staggeringly, the argument was that she was very honest, and that for me to criticise the elections of a publicly funded organisation without telling her personally (as if the argument was about her, not the Chartered College Of Teaching) was unfair.

It’s bad enough that nobody from the College is able to address why they have elections that run in such an unfair way. But it seems ridiculous that they cannot tell the difference between dodgy procedures and accusations of personal impropriety, a basic concept when talking about conflicts of interest.

During this, I remembered that the issue of conflicts of interest had come up before in discussion of the College. When it was being set up, the founding organisations were all CPD providers (including at least one private company) despite the fact that the College was going to be helping teachers access CPD. At that time I’d pointed out that this was a conflict of interest and again came across the argument that these were all good people and, therefore, it didn’t matter.

The CEO of one of the CPD organisations defended the organisations at the time.

If that tweet is familiar, it’s been shared before on my blog because David Weston who wrote it, subsequently forgot that he was stepping away, forgot that he had repeatedly said the College should be teacher led, and stood against teachers for a position on council and won.

Because the promise to be teacher led was broken, we now have a situation where there are people in charge of MATs, university education departments and charities that provide CPD, not to mention an actual consultant who presumably provides CPD as a private operator, holding officer positions in the College and sitting on the council. Presumably none of these people see this as a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the decisions the council makes will have significant impact on the CPD industry in this country.

And is that the end of it? Can we see any more conflicts of interest? Well just this week, I saw that the Chartered College of Teaching Wiltshire SEND and Inclusion Network were advertising an event (here and on the College’s website here) for an event where the keynote speaker is Andrew Hampton and the description accompanying this announcement is:

Girls on Board is an approach which helps girls, their parents and their teachers to understand the complexities and dynamics of girl friendships. The language, methods and ideas empower girls to solve their own friendship problems and recognises that they are usually the only ones who can. By empowering girls to find their own solutions, parents need worry less, schools can focus more on the curriculum and the girls learn more effectively – because they are happier. Dozens of schools and hundreds of teachers across the UK are now supporting thousands of girls in their friendships.

Girls on Board offers comprehensive training, both at face-to-face events and online, to enable teachers in school to adopt the approach. For more information visit [website and Twitter address]

The Girls on Board website shows that this it is a private company. How on earth can the College advertise the work of a private company in this way?

And this led me to look at the other local networks. Many are based around schools or universities. But a number of these are based around organisations that provide CPD. Now, as far as I can tell, those organisations with affiliated networks are charities, not private companies. But even charities that provide CPD have a direct financial interest in the CPD industry. If the Chartered College is making decisions that affect that industry, how can groups with such an interest affiliate directly in this way?

We are looking at an organisation which, with public money, has become a big player in CPD, and at every level, the potential for conflicts of interest with organisations and individuals providing CPD seems to have been ignored. And what makes it worse, is that teachers were repeatedly sidelined in favour of “experts” because teachers would not be able to set up an organisation that operates professionally. I genuinely believe that had the organisation been led by teachers, these conflicts of interest would have been spotted and prevented.

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9 comments

  1. I think your observations here are astute and require genuine contemplation and monitoring. I fully understand your points regarding conflict of interest in the two members of the same school getting voted-in, as well as the situation with CPD leaders etc. having commercial interests which end-up getting work through the Chartered College.

    In defence of the response of the school leaders, I think it’s only natural that they would want to point out that there was no pre-meditation when paying for all teachers in the school to become members of the college that this should increase their chances of being elected. I myself have contemplated whether our school should do the same for teachers, and I have no interest in going for leadership.

    I also though, still remain disappointed at the level of official response to these points, as the CPD one is potentially going to become critical.

    Ultimately, I personally still think that it is inevitable that the organisation will need its leadership drawn from a spectrum of people experienced in the teaching profession. Without doubt, there are practising unpromoted teachers with just the level of experience, wisdom and personal qualities to make them excellent leaders of the CCoT. However, I think that there will be very few of these who, as well as having shunned going-up the leadership route, aren’t already writing books or doing paid speaking/CPD (conflicts of interest) AND who will actually have an interest in leading a national organisation. Even if they go for it, how would people voting for them know that they would be any good at actually doing that role? They wouldn’t be able to point to any leadership experience of note, and there are plenty of great teachers who turn-out to be not the greatest school leaders.

    School governors are volunteers who have to declare conflicts of interest, but they are deliberately drawn from wider professional perspectives. If it’s inevitable that leaders will be needed from a wider pool of teaching professionals who have experience of engaging with the education/political world outside of the classroom, and it’s also inevitable that a fully impactful CCoT ends up working with a large number of the best CPD providers, then I agree that they need to introduce conditions to avoid overlaps between the two.


    • A few points.

      I haven’t suggested anyone would “get work through the Chartered College” directly, just that influence on the College is a conflict of interest if you work in the CPD industry as the College will affect that industry.

      I have not commented on the “unpromoted teachers” generally, I just see a problem with an organisation dominated by SMT and particularly heads.

      That said, I am always amazed at how often we under-estimate the unpromoted teachers. There are teachers who have led organisations and who have qualifications in relevant fields, whose experience before teaching or through voluntary activities while teaching is relevant. We need to stop talking as if those who are currently employed only to teach will not have any expertise beyond teaching. It’s a graduate profession and not everyone went into it right after graduating.


      • Points taken, and I do agree with your last paragraph. I just doubt how many such teachers would be motivated to take-on that level of responsibility if they’ve already shunned other things they could be doing beyond the classroom (and indeed already turned their backs on leadership positions).


  2. I no longer assume that people in education ‘know’ anything at all. The profession and those associated with it seem to have had a collective lobotomy. I suspect that is because of the vested interests introduced into the system in recent decades, and the pressure of accountability, such that people simply cannot afford to take objective stances any longer. If you understand the concept of COI it limits your wriggle room.


    • Agreed. Thanks to AO for his continued monitoring of the situation; which is another example of corruption by the elite and those seeking membership. It is amazing that a line of argument: “I’m an honest person, there corruption is impossible” is so wholeheartedly believed. Everyone has (unconscious) bias, but people such as some members of the “college” are in denial.


  3. These points regarding ‘conflicts of interest’ are important.
    They appear all over the place.

    Whether it’s charities like the chartered college, teach first, researchEd and companies…
    or LEAs and MATs with friendly suppliers…
    or RSCs getting nice jobs after leaving early…
    or ministers and MPs close to decisionmakers…
    or members of DfE working groups…
    or providing lucrative courses for your next book….

    It’s not, as you say, they are necessarily bad or malicious, but we should be vigilant, including the ones getting more and more involved.


    • Some of those things differ a lot. Some are already highly regulated. Some refer to voluntarily work for organisations that don’t employ anyone. The problem is where public money is involved but there is insufficient scrutiny.


  4. […] The Chartered College Of Teaching and conflicts of interest […]


  5. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.



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