Is the idea of setting up a 'Royal College of Teaching' (RCOT) an idea whose time has come, as Charlotte Leslie MP suggests? It certainly looks so from the momentum being generated just now. But while there are many organisational, cultural and legal barriers still to be overcome, the real challenge will be convincing teachers at the chalk face that it will actually make a difference.
A big trap for those promoting the RCOT is being seduced into thinking that structural and institutional change is by itself a panacea. The top down, government directed state of flux in the institutional infrastructure that supports teaching should provide sufficient warning against this: the demise of the General Teaching Council, the expanded remit for the National College of Teaching and Learning, the challenge to universities as the main entry route to the profession, and the continuing writ of the mega inspector Ofsted to name but a few of the many changes that have taken place.
Before training as a teacher, I spent 15 years working in the British Medical Association and two medical royal colleges, including piloting the British Paediatric Association through to royal college status. The risk I see here is taking the wrong lessons from the medical profession so that the case for the RCOT becomes seen as a logical next step for teaching, rather than through teasing out the real benefits that a new institution of teachers for teachers could bring.
The lesson I would want to take from the medical profession is that the RCOT has to be about telling the truth about teaching and learning. Not the truth presented by a politician seeking to grab the next headline or promotion. Nor the truth that wins a higher Ofsted grading or a better league table position than the neighbouring school. The key to establishing the real truth will come from turning teaching into a research intensive profession. Underpinning the RCOT should be a concept of professional teaching as involving a career long, personal commitment to undertaking research, to keeping bang up to date with the latest studies and to applying evidence based practice to everything that is done in the classroom.
The RCOT will have to do more than just argue for this vision. It will have to put the infrastructure in place so teachers can own and manage their professional development. Teaching starts from a very low base. There is, for example, no mandatory entitlement to continuous professional training and much of the 'CPD' that happens is little more than protected time for teachers to work through how to implement the latest government initiative. The RCOT has to win right for teachers to protected time and access to funding to undertake research and further study. It must promote the value of developing deep subject knowledge alongside excellent pedagogy, and it must help ensure teachers achieve career progression as practitioners, not just as now through management.
If there is one measure that will tell us that the RCOT has been a success in rebuilding the self confidence of teachers (other than hitting ambitious levels of pupil achievement), it will be in ending the appalling drop out rate among teachers from the profession.
In any case, government is absolutely right to be standing back from interfering over the establishment of the RCOT and to make space for others to lead. No one should underestimate the enormous challenge facing the disparate group of people and organisations involved in creating the right sort of RCOT. For the sake of our children and their teachers, let's hope they do.