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Despite no formal announcement of Tristram Hunt's 'licensed to teach' idea, the concept has already been constructed and deconstructed by the edurati, with especially useful contributions from David Weston, our own Louise Bamfield, and Charlotte Leslie MP, who argues with the easy conviction of a backbencher  that:

“Any relicensing scheme that is the brainchild of a politician and born out of Whitehall is doomed to fail, and become just another stick with which to beat a demoralised, worn-out workforce.”

Given that almost everyone who has commented on licensing has used the ‘devil in the detail’ cliché, I’ll say that the angel could be in the bigger picture. Although I blogged in this week's New Statesman that our school system should in 2015 have a ‘gap year’ from any new policies, I still believe that the licencing idea deserves air, time and hopefully support from the wide range of people who could together guarantee success. Here are five thoughts that might help. 

1) Licensing is an ineffective way to remove bad teachers

If my child is being taught by anybody who is not up to it, I want him or her given immediate support to improve, with rapid removal if this fails to happen. Waiting five or even seven years is too long, and may create a further disincentive to do the right thing at the right time. Putting teachers into Capability, and finally removing them, is difficult, and always will be, but brave, assertive school leaders are finding ways through, and recent changes to regulations have made the process easier. This may be one area where academies and chains have been more effective and ruthless than local authorities, often if not always with positive outcomes. Setting up licencing as the magic bullet to remove poor teachers is setting it up for failure.

2) Licensing could reduce teacher bureaucracy

Of course, the process to gain and regain a licence is just that, a process,  so will therefore come with some bureaucratic burdens. However, any licence worth the paper its written on should be a licence to be trusted – that your professional judgement is valued, and professional autonomy revered. Armed with a licence, most teachers should be able to resist some of the more mindless soul-numbing paperwork that senior management teams, often falsely in the name of Ofsted, request of their teachers: The over-detailed lesson and termly planning documents; the written justification for every individual assessment decision; the word-hungry performance management papers. “Back off and trust me, my licence is up to date’ could be a useful bulwark against the creeping growth of petty paperwork demands. 

3) A licensing system should be carefully created by a new Royal College of Teaching

Tristram Hunt has suggested that the College enforces and administers the licence. I think that the College needs to design and create the thing. This means that we would need to create a college in advance of the introduction of any licensing scheme. If this slows down progress, then that might be beneficial. Despite Hunt’s rush to announce the idea, any follow-through should be slow and cautious, understanding the impact on teacher retention and the teacher labour market.

I’ll declare a potential interest here in that, although the Prince's Teaching Institute and others have done some fantastic development of the idea over the past few months, I think that RSA could be perfectly placed to make the College happen. We have a good history of incubating new ideas and institutions, are prepared to bash the heads that need bashing, and would also work to learn from the mistakes of the General Teaching Council of England. The GTCE was an example of New Labour policy implementation at its worst – a kind of half-hearted, ADHD-riven dirigisme which built the weakest of institutions. I am sure that the RSA could build an alliance that could do this better, and not just because we have a ‘Royal’ in our name too. Pitch over. 

4) Licensing should be built around the concept of ‘clinical practice’

This builds usefully on the BERA/RSA Inquiry into teacher education and research. We launched our interim report this week. Here, we defined clinical practice in education as  

“the need to bring together knowledge and evidence from different sources through a carefully sequenced programme which is deliberately designed to integrate teachers’ experiential learning at the ‘chalk face’ with research-based knowledge and insights from academic study and scholarship. Inspired by the medical model, the goal is to refine particular skills and deepen practitioners’ knowledge and understanding, by integrating practical and academic (or research-based) knowledge, and to interrogate each in light of the other.”

This is more complex, nuanced and developmental than any crude aim to ensure that teachers’ practices more ‘evidence-based’. But the idea of clinical practice, also powerfully articulated by the US National Council for Accreditation in Education’s  ‘ten design principles for clinically-based preparation’ could  provide a powerful foundation from which to build a licensing scheme which would improve, engage and motivate teachers. 

5) Licensing should offer teachers the ‘power to create’

I haven’t  joined the fray of my colleagues’ blogs about creativity, although I love RSA's confidence to have these discussions in the open. I’m not yet ready to give my view on RSA's possible overall approach to creativity in education – my five years of leading Creative Partnerships has rendered me cautious, if far from speechless. However, there is a genuine linkage between the philosophy emerging from the non-ivory second floor of John Adam Street and the teacher licensing scheme. David Weston’s blog neatly sums up teacher effectiveness as a combination of “subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, behavioural knowledge and interpersonal skills”. This isn’t enough. Teachers need the motivation, skills, and sense of self-efficacy to develop their own pedagogies and practices that can lead to the best possible outcomes for their pupils. Of course, innovation should be built on evidence, and all teachers need to adopt and adapt existing successful practices as well as develop their own. Although only a few teachers may ever create genuinely new knowledge, ‘little C’ creativity, the ability to generate and develop ideas that are original to you, and valuable in your context, should be at the heart of any licence – not just a right but a duty for all teachers.

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education  @joehallg

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