Nick Rose is a ‘Leading Practitioner’ for psychology and research, and teaches at a comprehensive secondary school in Hertfordshire. His blog can be found here and he occasionally tweets as @Nick_J_Rose.
The College of Teaching is looking to teachers to ‘help shape’ its direction and priorities. Whether you’re enthused by what you’ve heard about the college, or sceptical about the direction it appears to be heading, I’d encourage all teachers to pitch in and offer their honest opinion. Having completed the survey myself, I was left with many more questions than answers about what the college will actually be doing.
One question relates to the ‘aspiration’ of the college to create a new set of ‘aspirational’ standards for teachers. There are several mentions of standards in the college survey. For example, teachers are asked to rate the importance of:
“That sets its own aspirational standards and helps teachers to challenge themselves to be ever better for those they serve.”
“Professional standards. Members will be accredited against valid, portable, respected, sector-led standards; these will provide opportunities for career development, confer status and inspire respect.”
“A common code of practice that reflects aspirational standards of teaching, an evidence informed approach to practice, ethical behaviour, promotion of the profession and the best possible opportunities for learners. “
All sounds very worthy perhaps, but it left me rather wary. Accountability in teaching is already pitched way beyond the reliability of the judgements about the quality of teaching; so, I’m a bit unsettled by this heavy emphasis on creating another set of standards for teachers. After all, there are already statutory teacher standards which, for any limitations, have the great virtue of being short!
In what way will these new standards be ‘aspirational’? I can only imagine that the intention is to extend the list of things a teacher must or should do to be considered to be fulfilling professional standards. After all, reducing the number of standards which apply to teachers hardly seems very ‘aspirational’. I thought I already fulfilled a valid, portable, respected set of standards as a teacher, so why is the college implying there should be additional hoops for members to jump through in order to earn such professional ‘status’ and ‘respect’?
Another aspiration listed in the survey was a college: “That is led by teachers, enabling the profession to take responsibility for its professional destiny.” What is the anticipated model (or possible models) of the process by which these standards will be created? Surely, there is something that can be said about it? Will ordinary classroom teachers create these standards, or will it be an ‘expert group’ – perhaps using a similar process to the selection of trustees – overseeing the process? If this group comes up with standards which teachers feel are bureaucratic, burdensome or simply bonkers, will members who are classroom teachers have the power to reject any proposed addition to their standards
Who might judge whether a member has met the new set of standards created by the college? The survey mentions a ‘validated portfolio documenting professional impact’ – which sounds ominously like going through threshold again! Just who exactly will validate it? Will it be a ‘college mentor’? (Who are they? How will they be selected? Will they be serving teachers? Will they be paid? Who will train them?). How valid and reliable will those judgements be? We’ve seen how difficult it has been for the inspectorate to ensure reliability – how will the college ensure it avoids the pitfalls of making unreliable judgements of teaching?
What genuinely worries me is that in place of concrete proposals for discussion, the college appears to offer hand-waving, ‘aspirational’ rhetoric. Given how central the creation of standards appears to be for The College of Teaching, it seems reasonable to ask for some idea of the processes involved (or at least how those processes themselves will be created). Until something more substantial is offered, perhaps teachers should heed that ancient advice: caveat emptor.