From The Ground Up

Reading about head teachers creating their own league tables didn't make me think about whether they were good or bad - a reaction dealt with heavily by some great blogs already - it made me think about whether this could set a precedent for what else the teaching profession could do from the ground up. It made me think about self-regulation.

The DfE will never set up a body which is completely independent. Ofsted is and never will be truly independent. This is not new and I'm sure the view is widely accepted. Any regulator set up by the government will be influenced by politicisation. Education is too important to be a bargaining tool for votes and elections and it is therefore of the highest priority that the teaching profession self-regulate.

The body which regulates any profession should be two things: trusted and independent. Without trust it loses legitimacy. Its ability to be a voice of teaching, for  teaching, is diminished. It needs to be independent, free from political, social and economic restraint. The regulator mustn't look at what is in the best interests of the 'moral fabric' of society nor whether they can get the best value for money, it must look at the best interests of education.

Ofsted is not free from political influence. The DfE appoints the Chairman of the Board of Ofsted, as well as its Chief Inspector. A significant amount of noise has been made over the appointment of David Hoare as Chairman of the Board of Ofsted, mainly because of his ties to Academies Enterprise Trust, but also because of the firing of his predecessor Baroness Morgan. With such ties to the DfE it is hard to imagine that Ofsted will ever lose a level of politicisation.

Similarly, Ofsted doesn't have the trust of the profession either. The politicisation doesn't help but also the way in which Ofsted goes about its business. The way it is seen as battling against teachers 'for the benefit of children' and the way in which its Inspectors sometimes have little experience in education and more often than not don't have specific knowledge of the areas they inspect. It is commonplace for Inspectors with secondary experience to inspect primary schools and subsequently spend their time trying to understand early-years. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough for the profession to distrust the voice of Ofsted. The impact of this is a polarisation of the profession. SLT dragging the school to meet Ofsted criteria and teachers trying to maintain what they know to be beneficial to their children. The teaching profession is getting too many splinters straddling the fence of: changing political standards v pedagogy.

The government will never relinquish control of an area of policy that can be used in the political game and I can understand why. Education policy is a great vote winner with core voters. If the Conservatives need the support of their core they engage in some education bashing of the 'teaching-left'. Equally if Labour want to rally support they let the Shadow Secretary loose on a 'listen to their concerns' campaign. All the while the teaching profession is rolling its eyes and listening to no one. It is enviable that all of the press recently has alienated the teaching profession even further. Some reforms are good, some are equally terrible, but none are being trusted by the teaching body. A lot of teachers will try as much as they can to continue to shut the door and get on. This is not healthy for anyone that is involved in education.  

An answer to this problem could be the setting up of a body that represents and regulates the teaching profession. The General Teaching Council of England sought to do just this in 1998. It was responsible for awarding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), it regulated the teaching profession and advised the government and other agencies on a wide range of issues that affected the teaching profession, including standards, teaching and learning. The problem was it was constructed under heavily politicised terms and the result was a body that the teaching profession may have trusted slightly more than politicians, but a body that was definitely not independent. It was set up to appease teachers and did nothing but just add to bureaucracy. Michael Gove swiftly abolished it in 2012 as meaningless. Stating that:

"The GTCE does not improve classroom practice, does not help professionals develop, does not help children learn - in short it does not earn its keep - so it must go.

"And for those who argue that we need a body to help police the profession, let me say this: this government wants to trust professionals - not busybody and patronise them."

Regardless of what the GTCE did or did not do, it was certainly within a swipe of the governments whims. This shows that the teaching profession can't be regulated by any Council or body which is within an arm's length of Westminster. It can't be an Ofsted, set up by the DfE to be 'independent', it can't be set up with powers given by the government like the GTCE, it has to come from the ground up. 

In 2013 there was recent talk of a Royal College of Teaching. A lot was made of it a year ago, there was political consensus that it needed to be trusted and independent, but this seems to have died away. I think a lot has changed since 2013 and we're in even more of a need for a professional body. The idea is there but instead of being proactive towards it, we remain reactive to education policy. I would like to see blogs and tweets that take this idea seriously. 

Similar to medicine, law and nursing a Teaching Self-Regulation Council would gain the trust of the profession and the public by:

·       Taking into account current study of pedagogy

·       Influencing Initial Teacher Training

·       Maintaining a code of conduct holding teachers to account

·       Being peer-reviewed

·       Not being a trade union

·       Being a voice against politicisation

These areas would make the profession more than just an extension of the Civil Service, it would raise the image of teaching in the public eye and restore the confidence of teachers.

Enough background, the real question is: How do we create a professional body that is truly independent and trustworthy? I would argue it has to be done from the ground up.

This has to be a slow process, no grassroots revolution - however muddy school playing-field that sounds - no raise your banner and strike until we have independence, it has to gain the confidence of the teachers, the public and the government. Politics has to be completely taken out of education. There can be no trade union influence. Trade Union's have had their role in protecting the rights of practitioners and this should continue, but their role in speaking up about education policy would have to stop. Trade Unions would have to readdress their role and represent the worker not the educator. They would represent the worker on pay, conditions, pensions and workload but their voice representing the educator on issues such as the new curriculum, teaching styles and ITT would have to stop.

To gain enough widespread respect and support from all it couldn't be a radical voice. It couldn't speak out against policy. It wouldn't work if it was reactionary to every new policy by different governments, it would only serve to be seen as just another educational lobbyist group. Its integrity and independence need to be paramount. In being apolitical it could seek out as broad an appeal for the best pedagogy in education as possible. There are people out there currently who are apolitical and voicing these concerns. There are groups that are apolitical and voicing their concerns to the government. I would argue that that is their problem, they are voicing them to the government which clearly has decided against such appeals. It takes a body to stay out of politics during both Labour and Conservative governments for it to gain a level of apolitical integrity. It has to be a slow process because it would have to work alongside Ofsted, DfE and the Government in power until it could prove itself. It would have to have a long-term view and rise above current frustrations in pursuit of the greater educational good.

If it could attempt to be as apolitical as possible to gain the confidence of the public and the government, how could it gain the confidence of the teaching profession? It would have to be solely represented by them. It would have to include trusted voices on pedagogy, members of ITT, head teachers and be significantly populated by teachers. It would have to speak as a unanimous voice by these different levels of educators. There would exist no 'them and us'. They would speak on behalf of what was best for educating children. They would set standards of professional conduct, not criteria for educational practice. They would provide the best possible information available in the most beneficial way for schools. They would not state a preference for anything. They would provide answers to problems so that schools themselves could decide how best to solve their own difficulties. Graham Nuthall produced a great paper on research informed change it can be found here and he stated that '...we should first find out what kind of knowledge would be most useful for informing teachers' thinking and guiding their practice.' This could be the main guideline for the body. 

This all sounds great, I hope it would be a more independent and better world for education. Whether it sounds too good is an argument I accept, but I would say something has to change. Are we able to get behind the proposal for a Royal College of Teaching? How long does the teaching profession leave it before they lose even more faith in the people representing, governing and controlling them? How long do we continue to be reactionary voices against the latest Ofsted policy or the latest government in power? Are we to continue to roll our eyes, tut and say "Whatever next?"? Do we continue to just be a branch of the Civil Service or do we establish ourselves as a professional body?

When are we going to realise that the only way for fair regulation, that we trust to be independent and in the best interests of children, is to act from the ground up?

 


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