A hive of uncertainty has surrounded the announcement and set-up of the new Chartered College of Teachers (CCT). Some are delighted that a new body is on the scene to represent teachers professionally, others are sceptical that it will simply end up being dominated by the same forces that sometimes disseminate bad evidence in education today. The CCT itself is trying to establish a role for itself right now and asking its members – what should we do? What are we for?
So here’s my best attempt to answer these questions:
- Disseminate accessible but high quality research evidence to inform effective pedagogy and practice
Every teacher knows that their most precious resource is time. We are constantly being stretched in many different directions. We have lessons to plan, books and assessments to mark, behaviour incidents to deal with, parents to contact, meetings to attend … the list goes on. And much as before I started teaching I had these lofty ideals that I would engage in serious academic research and use this to inform my teaching, I simply don’t have the time or energy. Not least because research as currently presented to teachers (apart from the excellent EEF T&L Toolkit) is simply not accessible and easy to implement. I don’t have time (or energy to make time) to wade through piles of journal articles to find good ideas. What the CCT could do is to produce clear, succinct and easily-actionable summaries of research evidence that we can action.
- A collective voice for teachers that is seen as professionally autonomous, not ideologically or politically driven
Although research-informed practice is crucial as a profession, we must also deal with the constant political reform that permeates the educational landscape. A significant problem right now is that across the media landscape, unions are not trusted. They are seen as simply advancing their own members’ narrow interests (i.e. pay and conditions) and are therefore ripe for media attack. Research indicates that the public have high trust in teachers, but unions are a by-word for political self-interest not professional disinterested advice. Leaving aside the inaccuracy or such an idea, it is nevertheless the case that a body that is seen as simply representing teachers as a profession may well be able to have significantly more impact in the media than the NUT/ATL/NASUWT (or potentially the NEU) when faced with what is simply bad policy. Hopefully the CCT will be able to robustly speak out against the current government’s grammar schools policy and not be seen as an ‘invariably-hostile-to-change union’ or ‘fringe group of radical activists’ but ‘the collective wisdom of the teaching profession based on the available evidence’. Maybe this is too optimistic, but can it really damage the educational debate in this country? I doubt it. Nonetheless, this does rely on the CCT being truly independent of government, and much as Alison Peacock has said this is the case, this will need to be demonstrated before it truly establishes itself as a political force.
- A way to raise the status of the profession
Quite simply, the teaching profession is in a confidence crisis right now. Although we are seen as highly-trusted as individuals, the public perception (or at least our sense of the public perception) of teachers is that we are not really professionals. At meetings with a range of graduates all engaged in consultancy, business or any non-teaching related graduate job, I think teachers feel a slight sense of inferiority when stating their occupation. Similarly, there is still a lack of understanding of what teachers really do (much as shows like the Channel 4 series ‘Educating …’ have helped change that) and how demanding it is. At the inaugural CCT conference, one speaker used the example of a mortgage application form that when stating your profession listed teacher as ‘semi-professional’. It is tremendously patronising and ignorant when people fail to understand the sheer complexity of being a teacher. One of the stated-aims and hopefully successes of the CCT will be to re-establish teaching as a truly professional job. Partly that can be through Chartered Teacher status, but also through ensuring that a robust bed of evidence underlies teacher practice. I think one reason that teaching isn’t sometimes respected is because so much (got to say it) crap is prevalent throughout the profession. VAK learning styles, thinking hats etc – these all suggest a profession partially steeped in pseudo-science. So if we undermine these shoddy ideas, disseminate high quality evidence-informed pedagogy, then give people CT status for doing so, I think we will be doing a lot to re-establish the profession as something to be proud of. The big question is how will chartered teacher status be awarded.
- Drive professional collaboration in a competitive landscape
We are in a profoundly competitive landscape right now – schools are jostling to maintain or raise their position in the league tables, and academisation is driving atomisation within the school system (other than MATs). Having worked in a big MAT, one of the biggest advantages is the way in which teachers across a large range of schools can be brought together to collaborate on curriculum design, idea dissemination, effective marking practices and implementing reforms effectively. Having then moved to a school which is an isolated academy (albeit one with a highly qualified and highly collaborative department) something has been lost. There is a huge amount of expertise out there and it is nigh-on insane that there is such little communication between teachers of the same subject in different schools on a systematic level. Twitter is great, but it is not comprehensive or in-depth enough. Teach Meets are similarly too ad hoc. This is one of the things that Justine Greening said at the inaugural CCT conference that I strongly agree with – it’s remarkable how little capacity there is in the system for teachers to spread good practice. Let’s imagine the CCT setting up subject-based (for secondary) or phase-based (for primary) professional collaboration groups. Occasional meetings (timed carefully to be in the holidays!!) with a clear theme and a reliance on a combination of teacher dissemination of good practice and really high quality speakers could do a lot for driving continuous professional improvement. They could be run with the support of subject associations too. Other groups could be thematic – i.e. focusing on assessment, marking or behaviour. Such an approach would help achieve some of the other aims (raise the status of the profession, drive evidence-informed pedagogy) as well as just getting teachers talking to each other. Teaching is a curious job – at once one of the most social jobs there is given the huge number of people we interact with on a day-to-day basis, and yet also incredibly anti-social, given that we barely even see our colleagues during the day. Providing a system-wide mechanism for driving teacher collaboration could have a profound effect on practice.
- Endorsement or recommendation of good CPD/INSED
Every teacher knows that there is a lot of shoddy INSED speakers out there. We’ve all sat through interminable and largely irrelevant or difficult-to-action sessions where we would rather just get on with our job or at least be given highly practical and actionable ideas. The CCT could provide a way to highlight or recommend people/organisations that really are worth paying attention to, or at least a means by which they can be easily found/contacted. Every teacher wants to hear good new ideas, and every teacher wants to avoid well-meaning but unhelpful INSED sessions. The CCT could provide a way to ensure that schools can easily find good speakers or organisations to work with their schools.
And now a random and smaller-scale but nonetheless possibly important idea …
- A nudge mechanism for implementing research evidence
This might sound silly, but I’m a strong believer in ‘nudging’ as at least a component of system-wide improvement. I genuinely believe that if the CCT was to tell its members that of whatever research evidence is available, they need to implement just one new idea a week, month or half-term, it might significantly improve uptake of these ideas. Currently my school emails me an interesting idea every week, and I have to admit that I just skim-read it, think ‘that would be a good idea to try sometime’ and then often just let it disappear into the email ether until the next email hits my inbox. I need someone to nudge me into actually doing these things. So, if the CCT ordered its members to implement a new idea every so often, it might encourage us to actually do so. Certainly, David Halpern’s book ‘Inside the Nudge Unit‘ suggests that this approach can work in different scenarios. For example, it is more effective to ask job hunters what they plan to do in the upcoming two weeks rather than ask them what they have done in the previous two weeks. Why? Because the sense that they have committed to do it makes them feel compelled to actually do it. This does not need to be enforced as such by the CCT, but it is a mechanism for driving continuous improvement. Similarly, those who have attended a subject group could be told they must implement at least one idea within a week of attending. And this is just an example of how a nudge mechanism could work – but there could be plenty of other ways of ‘nudging’ teachers to change their practices with a body committed to doing so.