Teacher Licences

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Given the number of changes which are being forced on to the teaching profession (and I use the word loosely – I’ll explain later) it is unsurprising to find the stock response in the media of most teachers and unions to be, ‘No’, ‘Stupid idea’ and so on.  There is a danger that the public will develop a view of the teaching profession as a bunch of moaning and largely awkward professionals.  (I used that word again).

Yesterday’s news story that Tristram Hunt supports teacher licences reported here is another example where the immediate reaction of the teaching profession is to resist the change.  The report states that Unions had previously said ‘it is pointless’, ‘an unnecessary hurdle’ and ‘it would be a bureaucratic nightmare” to introduce’.  Today the immediate reaction on Twitter is largely negative too.

So is it a good idea?

First of all, lets consider the idea that teaching is a profession.  The word profession is defined as “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”

Given that the DFE stated here that schools can employ teachers without QTS, by definition this makes teaching a non-profession.  There is no need for a formal teaching qualification to teach in academies and free schools.  It cannot therefore be a profession, by definition.

The discussion about introducing a teacher licence seems therefore to be irrelevant since it would see a system where by some people doing the same job would not be governed by the licencing scheme.  Comparisons to the legal profession and doctors are also ridiculous.  If you wish to practice as a doctor you need to be qualified.  If you wish to practice law you need to be qualified.  There are no free surgeries or free legal practices (free in the sense that there are free schools and academies).  My mechanic could probably do a wisdom tooth extraction.  He has big arms and mole grips and paracetamol.  He would also be cheaper too, but I won’t be using him for my dental needs.

In principle the idea of a licenced profession is probably a good idea.  With my parents ‘hat’ on I want to know my children are being taught by qualified professionals who have undertaken relevant training and are kept up to date with research and the latest knowledge.  However, with my teacher’s hat on, I know that this does in reality already happen.  There are hurdles in place to ensure teachers remain competent.  Consider:

  1. Most schools already employ qualified teachers.  Even the media buzz around schools such as Garforth Academy advertising for unqualified teachers of Maths is largely sensational.  In this example the school were intending to train the staff themselves to become qualified maths teachers.  Given that the academy recent got an outstanding OFSTED in every judgement, who wouldn’t want to train with them, I would.  So there is already a hurdle to get into teaching.
  2. Having got my teaching qualification there is an induction year.  The induction year is intense and results in many trainees leaving the profession because they discover they can’t do the job.
  3. There has been performance management or appraisal for as long as I can remember.  This process basically looks at what a teacher needs to prioritise each year and in best cases, ensures that they are supported, given training where needed and helped to ensure that their objectives are met.  So there is an annual hurdle for all teachers.
  4. Capability procedures exist in schools.  Where teachers are identified as failing to do an adequate job heads can invoke procedures aimed to address poor performance.  These are normally used after a period of support and result in improved outcomes or the removal of the teacher from their role.  This is another safeguarding hurdle.

Given the intense pressure on head teachers for schools to achieve, I don’t see many of them failing to use these procedures to ensure that teachers continue to develop and remain professional. After all, the head’s own job security hangs in the balance where the school underachieves.

So, whilst on paper the idea of a licensing system for teachers sounds like a good idea I am not sure what it would add to the party.  Tristram Hunt told the BBC the idea was about recognising the “enormously important” role that teachers played and helping the profession “grow”.  If he wants to do this perhaps he should first look at the legislation and make it a requirement that teachers are all qualified and where they are not they are on an approved and accredited pathway to secure a qualification.  This would empower heads to put competent people in front of classes and ensure that where teacher shortages are prevalent, they can still do something about it.  It would also make teaching a profession again and improve the profile of teaching in the eye of the public.

As for a licensing system though, I can’t see how adding a huge bureaucratic layer of control in place will help school’s improve outcomes.  We had a Council previously that had a variety of powers to punish teachers who had failed to meet the professional standards and this was taken away from us.  We now have a system in place where the NCTL oversee this process and make recommendations to Gove on whether teachers should stay in the profession.  It isn’t as if we are not therefore regulated.

As I contemplate moving into headship myself, I cannot see a licensing system supporting me in my role.  It will without doubt add to the paperwork and bureaucracy I will be required to deal with and understand, but as a headteacher it won’t help me to ensure high standards are maintained.  The suggested five year cycle of checking is also way too long.  As a head I will want to see teacher’s engaged now.  I also have no intention of using a scary ‘improve or get fired’ approach to staff development which the licensing system seems to be being promoted as.  My stock position is that I trust all staff to want to do a good job because it is hugely satisfying when it pays off.  Where they don’t I will sort that myself, now, not in five years.  It would be nice if politicians would trust me to do this.

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