On Saturday, I arrived at Sky News armed for a planned interview on the slave trade and how it is taught in British schools in view of comments made by the British Director of the newly released film ‘12 Years a Slave’. I reckoned without the intervention of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.
Mr Hunt, the Shadow Education Minister, had done an exclusive interview with The Times published that very morning.
In amongst his mutterings on Labour mistakes of the past such as the obsession with pupils reaching a C grade pass which he admitted had led to falling academic standards, he revealed plans for Labour to renew one of its old pre-election plans to license teachers.
He said that any Labour Government would introduce licensing for teachers, with teachers checked every five years by a new Royal College of Teaching. He claimed this would help struggling teachers to receive more training, while rooting out the worst ones from the system.
Understandably, this idea, billed as ‘MOTs for teachers’ was receiving a considerable amount of media interest and so I found myself, without any preparation, discussing this on Sky News Sunrise, rather than the slave trade on the curriculum. I talked about how this could be a bureaucratic nightmare for Heads and detract from the area where all the real work should be going on: in the classroom.
Of course, I thought about all the things I should have said while walking the dog some hours later but, as I said, I was caught on the hop!
It was interesting though, that a great deal of the discussion focused on Mr Hunt’s comments about re-professionalising the teaching profession to put it back up there with law and medicine.
It is absolutely right that well-qualified teachers with a love of their profession and a vocation for teaching their chosen subject should be respected and considered to be true professionals but how can such a system to license teachers work when both free schools and academies are allowed to employ unqualified teachers – as indeed Independent schools are. Many of these teachers are also, of course, highly effective in their field with a lot to give which was the reason why the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) was relaxed in the first place.
Are we looking at a return to the days of the General Teaching Council, only relatively recently abolished and yet another political about turn in education – and more state prescription for teaching?
My belief is that it makes sense to have some form of compulsory training renewal and system where teachers are able to have time out or sabbaticals to update their knowledge. In fast-developing subjects like the sciences, this makes pure sense as teachers need to refresh their knowledge in the light of continuing developments. This would need to be a positive not a negative step for teachers. But, as with so many other areas of education, I believe that such sheer about turns in policy depending on which party is in power can only be detrimental to our education system, especially when we are potentially talking about political terms as short as 4 to 5 years in each cycle.
By all means, invest in positive further training for teachers every five years or so but we do not need costly gimmicks or new licensing councils imposed on us just for the sake of a political party having a new policy to thrust on the public to win votes. These short-termist strategies are never going to have the chance to work while we already have seen so much change in a system which is gradually being nursed back to rigour. Our profession, more than any other, seems to suffer at the behest of this country’s politicians and their own agenda at the time. It is time they all got together to work on a cohesive and enduring strategy to benefit all of our children.