If there's one group of front-line public servants that you see accused of saving the world and intentionally trying to wreck it at the same time (sometimes in the same newspaper) it is our nation's teachers. Every now and again I think to myself I'd love to be a teacher. I challenge anyone to watch something like Educating Yorkshire or Bright Young Teachers to not come away thinking about how skilled, patient and just brilliant you need to be to be a good teacher. I can't think of a more important job. Not having a degree is a bit of a problem here for me. So, for the time being, I've settled for working for teachers.
This government has been very obvious about its view on teaching in our schools and in further education. Straight after the election, they made their belief that it's not for the state to say that teachers have to be teacher-qualified. They did the same to the FE sector in 2012. "If you're a brilliant engineer, you'll be a brilliant engineering teacher" we've heard time and time again. The kinds of TV shows we've seen recently, most notably Educating Yorkshire, demonstrate why this very simplistic view you hear from the coalition and its supporters is so wrong.
Rarely have I heard a student talk about a brilliant lesson with a brilliant teacher and for them to only describe their brilliant subject knowledge. I often hear from students about how their most effective teachers are relatable, they make lessons fun, they properly balance practical and theory, they're ambitious but realistic and they know exactly what to do to help when you run in to problems. So if subject knowledge is one half of the story, the other half is pedagogy and that is why we should train teachers.
I for one can't see a deregulated teaching profession lasting very long at all when the government changes next. So as we gear up towards the 2015 general election countdown, Labour's Tristram Hunt has revealed new plans to help improve our education system. The idea of 'licensing' teachers isn't a new one, least of all to Labour. A former Number 10 education adviser has revealed how a scheme for school teachers to be licensed was very nearly implemented. In further and post-16 education, a license to practice was introduced, somewhat unsuccessfully, for teachers, only to have been abolished again under the current government. The long and short of it is this. For Labour's plan to work, lessons must be learned from the past.
A new licensing scheme for teachers should be owned and managed by actual teachers. For this to work the scheme must take in to account the real life workloads of teaching professionals these days and come up with some criteria and standards that are, like a good lesson, ambitious but achievable. If teachers are to be required to demonstrate their mastery and commitment to their profession, then they must have access to the very best CPD, covering both subject knowledge and pedagogy because they are both equally important. This does not mean the odd Baker Day (are they still called Baker Days?) where you're lectured at in the school hall about health and safety regulations and the latest fad's from Ofsted. Teachers should have better. Attached to the license should be a government commitment, and funding, for better CPD for teachers, opportunities to come off-timetable to engage critically in the latest in teaching and learning research, to learn more about pedagogy, to discover more about supporting learners with special educational needs, to peer-review with other teachers in different institutions and so forth.
But Labour should be careful. Teachers must be on-side and many including the Unions have already expressed concerns about additional hoops to jump through which distract from the real job in hand. I don't , for example, think having to be re-licensed annually is practical. I don't think unreasonable, compulsory professional fees are sustainable. The licensing criteria must be more articulate, beyond problematic lesson observation scores and pass rates. Above all though, Labour should aim to succeed where the current government have failed and should consult with teachers, parents and young people themselves before deciding on the specifics. Professional teachers could, in that instance, welcome this policy as an opportunity to prove their skills and continue to learn about teaching.
The more we discover about education and learning, the better chance all students, whether they're young people or adults, have at succeeding. Labour's licensing policy could, if done right, be the best way to transform the teaching profession for the better.