A Spoonful of Sugar?

Call me cynical, call me suspicious, but I do wonder at the timing of this whole Royal College of Teaching idea. At this moment in time there are a lot of things the profession should be very worried about: a controversial new draft curriculum, the introduction of performance related pay, the erosion of degree and postgraduate level teaching qualifications, the increasing power of Ofsted, the increasing privatisation of education. But this RCoT idea has got lots of people buzzing with enthusiasm, and rightly so.

Before we begin, let’s just get a very clear focus on why we would want to have some kind of professional body. Let’s not forget that the main, over-riding aim of such a body should be to improve the education of all our children.

Tom Bennett offers a clear insight into the possibilities – both the upsides, and the potential negatives. (Plus, as he mentions, we have/had a couple of these already – a College of Teaching, which I’d actually never heard of, and the GTC, which we rejected before it could find its feet.) Interestingly, Bennett asks, what if a RCoT started to appropriate the award of QTS (this would please Gove, who will do anything to keep teachers away from the Marxists who he believes run university education departments). Bennett feels that if we get it right, it could ‘change the lives of millions of children for the better’ (although I suspect this is rather over stating the case). Debra Kidd offers an optimistic take on the subject, and she very sensibly decided to ask the kids what they thought about good teaching. Old Andrew throws up his hands and reminds politicians that everyone in teaching has an agenda. Either we care about the kids (the fluffy, child centered romantics), or we care about ‘the intellect’ (the rational, classicist types) but he’s pretty sure we can’t do both.

I’d like to offer my own take on this, starting with what for me is a fairly central question: why ‘Royal’? Yes, I’m aware that the Surgeons, Engineers, Physicians and Nurses ‘have’ one, and they don’t seem to mind, so why shouldn’t we? But hang on a sec, aren’t we living in a 21st century democracy now? Is it really the case that we need some kind of approval from the Royal family (a Royal Charter, presumably) to legitimise a professional body for us? I’m no anti-royalist, actually, I can’t be bothered (they just don’t feature that highly in my life). But please could we just stop for a moment and ask ourselves what exactly is that word/family going to add? I do wonder if this is one more method (Teach First being a prime example) to encourage some decent Oxbridge types, with a proper private education into teaching – give it a nice elitist tag to make sure mater and pater approve. (Please note that as a state comp educated free school meals child who quit school at 16, I’m gritting my teeth as I say that).

I have this image in my head of a meeting at the DfE. Gove says to his advisors “We’ve got to do something about these pesky teachers. I’ve got a whole load of medicine to give them, and it’s gonna hurt. Ha, ha, ha. How can I sweeten the pill?” Then one of Gove’s fresh faced advisors, not long out of Eton/Oxford, pipes up: “Offer them Royal, that’ll get ’em hooked.”

As a profession, are we completely sure that the word ‘Royal’ hasn’t made us go: “Ooooh, I can say that I’m a member of the ‘Royal College of Teachers’, that sounds good. I fancy a bit of that.” Are we so sure that this is not a distraction or a panacea, designed to deflect us from all the other changes that are currently taking place? A spoonful of sugar, as it were, to sweeten all the bitter pills?

I’m a member of the absolutely brilliant Society of Authors – (no ‘Royal’ required) – and they act as a superb professional body for writers. They give contractual and legal advice, they organise training events and meetings, they fight against changes that might damage the profession and they act as a ‘voice’ for the profession. We have the equivalent in teaching already, you know. It’s called the teaching unions. Much of what’s going on now (free schools, academies) seems designed specifically to weaken the power that those unions give us, when governments want to change our contractual terms.

I think it’s fair to say that what many teachers are after is simply a way to get the government (of whatever persuasion) to stop telling us how to do our job. It seems as though everyone and anyone can have an opinion on what’s best for education, simply because we all went to school. Now, whilst Jeremy Hunt isn’t necessarily popular with health professionals, you don’t catch him going into a hospital and ‘seeing how great it feels to do some surgery’ as Stephen Twigg did recently in a teaching context. I would say yes, we do need a non governmental body to decide how to achieve the very best outcomes for children. But that we might do well to base it on a body such as NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).

NICE is independent of government, but it has regulatory teeth. It ‘values the opinions of parents, carers and the general public’ – something that seems entirely missing in the current debates on how education should be run. The clinical guidelines that it develops offer examples of best practice for healthcare professionals – something my two graduate nurse friends rate very highly. Couldn’t we have something similar for teachers, on educational topics? That way, the guidance would be the remit of a group of reflective and collaborative professionals, rather than something that the government of the day makes up, based on their political persuasions.

Not ‘RCOT’ then (bit of a mouthful, anyway) but ‘NITE’ – the National Institute for Teaching Excellence – how does that grab you?

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2 Responses to A Spoonful of Sugar?

  1. debrakidd says:

    That’s really interesting Sue, and is what Mick Waters proposed. He felt that a College of Teachers would represent teaching, but that an equivalent of ‘NICE’ would shape education – a much stronger and more powerful remit and one, I imagine, which would excite teachers more in terms of bringing consistency and autonomy to the table. I am, optimistically, as you say, hoping that whatever its name, it would be the latter in form and this is the crux of the debate for me. There is a swelling tide pushing change from all directions, but teachers must step up and become involved. Or it will either be a toothless sap or worse, little more than a tick in a careerist’s box on a CV.

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  2. Pingback: Sue Cowley (@Sue_Cowley) – A spoonful of sugar? | Teacher Development Trust - Royal College of Teaching blog

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