Should we license our teachers? - RSA

Should we license our teachers?


  • Picture of Kenny McCarthy
    Kenny McCarthy
    Project Manager and Production Leader
  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Teaching

Next week the RSA launches its Licensed to Create animation and publication.

Having all been through school, most of us have an intuitive sense of the importance of good teachers. It’s because of bad teachers that I decided to drop the idea of doing computer science at university (lucky escape!?), and it’s largely down to my 6th form history teacher that I am writing this now - having inspired in me a curiosity of how people live, putting me on my first tentative steps towards a job at the RSA.

Over recent years the education world has begun to recognise teacher quality as one of the most important factors through which to improve student outcomes. In Licensed to Create, Dylan Wiliams describes this as ‘a shift from treating teachers as a commodity (ie regarding all teachers as equally good, so that what matters is getting enough teachers at a reasonable cost) to regarding teacher quality as a key element in educational policy.’ Last week’s report by the Sutton Trust and Durham University looked at what makes great teaching and why it is important, demonstrating the damage caused by neglecting the professional development of teachers on social mobility.

While this shift recognises the importance of improving the quality of our teachers, there is little consensus on how we best achieve this goal. Labour’s Tristram Hunt recently proposed a teacher re-licensing scheme as a way to improve quality by encouraging teachers to continue to develop their professional learning and expertise over time. In Licensed to Create, the RSA has brought together a wide range of perspectives to explore this idea; eleven authors offer their unique insight from practice, academia and politics on how we could improve teacher quality.

The RSA offers its own take on how we could use the licensing idea to unleash creativity among our teachers, exploring the role of teacher creativity and innovation on enhancing teacher quality. This is captured in our animation exploring the idea of recasting teachers as designers. Tom Sherrington’s essay neatly sums up this approach - ‘Design is a form of creativity that suggests deliberate, planned innovation built on a foundation of research-informed professional wisdom’.

While the old ‘the devil’s in the detail’ cliché is as relevant as ever, I would argue that if licensing is done right, building on some of the fantastic contributions in our Licensed to Create publication, then it could be a mechanism which helps put aspiration at the heart of the teaching profession. It has to be aspirational in order to improve teacher quality, and it has to enable teachers to inspire. It could do this in a number of ways: through removing constant calls for accountability; by encouraging a research-informed and engaged profession; and by utilizing collaboration as a means of developing a peer reviewed portfolio to keep your licence.

Many of these benefits are dependent on the prior establishment of a professional body, potentially in the form of the proposed Royal College of Teaching. Recently the RSA held a seminar on what we could learn from the brief time of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE), in order to inform the development of a Royal College. It was clear from the seminar that a major flaw in the GTCE was that it was not sufficiently profession led. A future Royal College and subsequent licensing scheme has to work for teachers, they have to be involved in the design and governance - this really has to be for the profession by the profession.

So we should not rush through a re-licensing scheme. For it to improve teacher quality we must create a re-licensing scheme which is an enabler, not create a fresh set of shackles. For this reason it is so important that a future licensing scheme stay in the hands of the profession and not the government. But I’m not a teacher, so would urge all who are to take this early opportunity to engage in the debate, because it could become more of a reality come next May.

The publication features contributions from Tracey Burns and Kristen Weatherby (OECD), Dylan Wiliam (IOE), David Weston (Teacher Development Trust), Alison Peacock (Headteacher), Tom Sherrington (Headteacer), Philippa Cordingley (CUREE), Debra Kidd (Teacher), Lorna Owen (Teacher), Charlotte Lesley (MP for Bristol North West) and Tristram Hunt (Shadow Secretary of State for Education). The RSA makes five recommendations including to ‘over time, empower a new Royal College of Teaching to introduce a teacher licensing scheme, managed through a peer-reviewed portfolio process, and involving the subject associations’.

The animation and publication launch next Monday, check them out on


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