In my last, but one, post I showed how a professional organisation had in the past ended up as an enforcer for progressive education. In my most recent post, I described how my preferred option for a College of Teaching would be that no one ideological tendency could dominate and why I didn’t think evidence or research could resolve disputes between different tendencies. However, I have yet to describe what can be done practically to ensure that no particular ideology or faction dominates. In order to achieve this I think there are three key principles that must be followed:
- The College Of Teaching must be based around classroom teachers. And, by that, I mean people who are employed to regularly teach a class in a classroom. Not to lectures in university halls. Not to give private tuition in people’s homes or online. Not to produce teaching resources. Not to tell teachers how to teach, or otherwise coach or train them. Not to run an educational charity. Not to write educational books. Not to inspect schools. Not working for a local authority. Not working full-time for a trade union. Even retired teachers should be out. It must be exclusively for those working as a teacher (or lecturer) in a school or college, for some part of the working week. The various categories of people who are in education but not actually teaching classes are, in my experience, far more likely to be progressive ideologues than actual teachers. They also don’t need more representation than they already have.
- It must be dependent on classroom teachers. The GTCE had no legitimacy because it was widely suspected that most of us would have rather have kept our money. If the College Of Teaching can attract only a handful of people, then it is not doing it’s job. Worse, if it has sources of income beyond membership fees then there will be an incentive to pursue objectives related to those sources of income, rather than to respond to what its members actually want.
- The College Of Teaching must not be dominated by senior managers, or even aspiring senior managers. I’m aware that (particularly in primary schools) SMT may have a full teaching load and even in secondary many will teach more than a part-timer like me, and this is not a claim that SMT are not teachers. But organisations and events dominated by SMT have a very different flavour and culture to those dominated by the rank and file because of different priorities and different freedoms to act.
The following describes what I would suggest needs to be done to implement these principles. Those parts in bold are what I currently think are the minimum requirements for creating the sort of organisation that I would want to be part of.
To ensure that the College of Teaching is based around classroom teachers, it is necessary for the entire membership of The College Of Teaching to be currently employed as teachers. No associate members, no reduced rates for the retired. While drawing the line between FE and HE is not always easy, those who teach in HE cannot be allowed to join. If people who are employed only in university education departments, other forms of teacher training, or as consultants, can join, it’s over before we have even begun. No classroom teacher can compete with their connections and ability to organise along party lines. Some (and of course I acknowledge it is only some) of the people in this category are people who can organise letters to newspapers pushing progressive education with hundreds of signatures. The networks are there and will be used to crowd out opposing views.
As well as the members, those running it must not be divorced from teaching. Those with governing responsibilities must all be current teachers. Those with executive responsibilities must be teachers on a (time-limited) sabbatical, not outsiders. If any non-teachers are employed it must be in administrative capacity, not an executive one. Ideally anyone employed as permanent staff would be paid less than a teacher would be, so as not to attract people to leave teaching to take such a position. Similarly the organisation must not be given formal responsibilities (like teacher licensing or oath-swearing) by government. The power structures must be built around reserving the greatest influence of those closest to the classroom, which brings me to the second point about dependence on members. An organisation with income from an endowment will be a prize to be captured by a faction. Working directly with other funding organisations will also compromise independence. The only significant ongoing source of income must be from membership fees. If any outside income is needed, perhaps to start the organisation up, it should be in the form of a subsidy for membership fees, i.e. a reduction in how much teachers pay for membership, not an alternative to membership income. This may make the organisation far more modest in scale than some would like, but we really don’t need glossy magazines, or conferences in hotels, or officers with large expense accounts.
Finally, and this may be the tricky one, the organisation must not be taken over by SMT or aspiring SMT. It is there to help and represent teachers not to help manage teachers or help anyone up the career ladder. There is too much education discourse as it is where heads are treated as the voice of teachers. A big role for those who are not SMT could be one of the most important distinguishing features of the College Of Teaching. Of course, it cannot exclude SMT either, most SMT do teach, but if it is organised around the needs of SMT it will be a very different organisation and the structures should reflect that. All meetings and events must, unless there are good reasons for exceptions, be held outside of the school day. Only teachers with more than ordinary amounts of power or influence in a school can get away during the week on a regular basis and there is little point in setting up an organisation to represent those who are already powerful. Distinction should be made between involvement of SMT and non-SMT in decision-making and representation. So ballots of members should record votes from SMT members and non-SMT members separately. Positions in the organisation should be elected on separate ballots for SMT and non-SMT. This is not a minor point, or SMT-bashing, it is just an observation that there are some SMT (obviously not all) who seem to have such flexible working arrangements and great connections, that no classroom teacher could ever compete fairly against them in an election. Ending up with domination, not just by SMT, but by headteachers, is a a very real possibility and the structures of the organisation should take this into account. I would also suggest, as a further way of establishing that the organisation is not about representing the already powerful, that anybody employed by the College Of Teaching in any kind of executive role, be paid a salary similar to that of an experienced teacher, but not a manager or AST.
I should probably acknowledge this as a provisional list. I can be talked around on issues, although I’m not going to receptive to the argument that teachers cannot manage to organise without help or that a College run by headteachers would be fine. I haven’t suggested a way forward on the issue of research and evidence, despite raising the problems with it earlier, as I think that might take another blogpost some time in the future.
Finally, can I encourage everybody to go to this meeting to express their views. It would be great to have an event full of teachers trying to influence the debate. I think that even those of us who have been as cynical about a College Of Teaching as I’ve been, should at least have a shot at making it work. At the very least, I don’t doubt the sincerity of those hoping to make this work.
Scenes From The Battleground