To paraphrase: A policymaker – someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?
There are 115 days to the election and we are in the strange and uncertain period of political appeasement and promises to the electorate. Yet all seems to be very quiet on the education front with little indication of major policy decisions from any of the political parties.
This time five years ago, pre-election, we already knew from the then Shadow Secretary of State, Michael Gove, about free schools, curriculum reform and changes to a school led system. In addition to the overt policy announcements it was also clear what ideological baggage Michael Gove was carrying in relation to further reform related to performance related pay, his views on teacher education and his criticism of the General Teaching Council.
To his credit, or equally to his detriment, Michael Gove did deliver on the policies he had set in a radical period of substantial change during his first two years of tenure. Such was the swiftness of change, combined with the often ill informed ideologies, that the unintended and damaging consequences of the rapid reform were not being fully considered – particularly in relation to teacher education and development. Many of these ‘unintended consequences’ arose nevertheless as little consideration was being given to emerging counter arguments as all opposition was simply characterized as the ‘enemies of promise’.
Fast forward to the current election period and there is little noise, as yet, about the future direction of education policy particularly in relation to teacher education and development. At present the limited noise from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats is the support of having qualified teachers. Such statements are however far from raising the bar in terms of ambition or expectations given that five year ago there was talk of teaching becoming an ‘all master’s’ profession as part of what was governmental attempt to push teaching as a more ‘respected and high‐level profession’.
The conservative party have therefore recently indicated that the cost of introducing qualified teacher status for all teachers would be approximately £177 Million. Perhaps a more important question from every politician, parent and teacher should however be – can we afford for a profession not to be qualified? How this figure was calculated is not clear but promoting a financial advantage of not having qualified teachers would seem a perverse form of logic.
Perhaps an even more urgent question is what will a ‘qualified’ teacher actually mean as stating that all teachers need to be qualified is meaningless unless you define the future qualities of the qualification – which no one seems to be doing!
In order for David Laws, Nicky Morgan or Tristram Hunt to offer a policy there needs to be some clarity encompassing the key questions below related to entry into and progression within the teaching profession – therefore:
- What will registration, conduct and removal of registration of teachers look like? Previously this was the responsibility of the General Teaching Council with the powers now held largely by Whitehall. If a ‘College of Teaching’ does emerge it will eventually have to grapple with many of the same issues that the GTC had to endure such as defining codes of conduct and removal of teacher registration (if interested I have previously written extensively about this). Ultimately the government does still have responsibility for teacher supply and quality even though the current government seems to be sidestepping this matter.
- What Certification and/or Qualification will be required? Currently the Standards for teaching are defined in a limited way and have largely developed into a pragmatic and passive view of both the teacher and the progression of teachers. Whilst Michael Gove proclaimed he was raising the bar (some say to make it easier to get under) the current set of teachers Standards clearly lacks ambition. The interpretation of the Standards for use in recommending Qualified Teaching Status have also become vague and therefore any discussion about all teachers being qualified to teach needs to also be accompanied by a discussion of what any future Standards will entail. Equally the separation of qualification and certification seems largely to have been conveniently ignored although I suspect the imminent publishing of the Carter review may well have something to say about this?
- What diversification and progression will exist? Diversification of routes into teaching was around a long time before the current government and certainly there was criticism of the previous Labour government about the variety (and corresponding quality) of ways you could become a teacher. Unfortunately such diversity seems to have increased and again is represented by an increased variability of quality. It would however seem, given that there is an emerging (if we are not already in it) recruitment crisis, that whichever political party or parties (which would seem likely) are elected that maintaining diverse routes into teaching will need to be maintained (at least in the short term). Acknowledging that there may well be variability in relation to entry into teaching should therefore be accompanied by clear statements about expected progression in teaching and the profession (not necessarily the same thing). Previously this was through acknowledging the limitations of a one-year PGCE and the continuation of early career development through the ill-fated Masters in Teaching and Learning. However it would seem, as with other countries, that the professional development of teachers has to part of a broader discussion aligned with consideration of entry (and exit) into the profession.
As indicated all is largely quiet and it may still be early days before manifestos are revealed. Perhaps the reluctance to declare the various policies represents a lack of ambition or uncertainty? It would also seem that there might be some keeping the ‘powder dry’ until after the Carter review (for what it will be worth) is published?
Either way in the interest of democracy, debate and the imminent future of the teaching profession I do believe it is time for the various parties to begin to reveal their hands!