College of Teachers

Never has there been such a sense of a moment of opportunity for teaching – and yet it is still so possible that, for all the usual reasons, the teaching profession fails to grasp it.

How much I hope that this time we really do seize the day. This is ‘Carpe Deum’ time for teachers.

The college is about making sure that we see ourselves as a valued profession, we take charge of our own sense of professional development and we can have self-respect, recognition, satisfaction and reward doing the job we all love.

There can surely be no reason at all for anyone to object to any of those aims – what could possibly go wrong? Well, here are just two things to watch out for and, forewarned, we can steer round them to a strong future.

The first is that business of being a valued profession. This will mean the need to have a clear entry requirement, hurdles, professional standards, monitoring and checks on what we are doing. There is no way round that. For a profession who, as part of everyday routine, is in the business of standards, learning, development and assessment of young people we are extraordinarily wary of being evaluated ourselves. It is easy to see why: so far most teachers have only ever experienced evaluation and standards in the context of a variety of imposed and often irrelevant performance review systems, usually and fatally for the success of any such system, linked to pay and measurable targets we can’t possibly fully influence ourselves. And then there is the evaluation of the OFSTED lesson observation…

Like a young puppy, abandoned and taken to a loving home from the dog pound by new owners, we cannot bring ourselves at first to believe and trust in kindness.

This is without doubt the biggest hurdle – teachers will have to trust, we will have to believe in better and we will need to take ownership of the process so it is done well. This is absolutely why we must Claim our College. If anyone other than the profession sets and monitors and evaluates the standards of the profession we will once again not trust and we will never move forward.

Claiming the College, believing standards and evaluation of our work can lead to respect and professionalism rather than criticism and destruction, is the great leap of faith. Please let us make that leap together.

A second paradigm shifting issue is about that professional development and respect. Now is the time for teachers to have the self-respect to allow themselves the privilege of personal development and to insist on that as part of the profession. Far too many of us are far too involved and absorbed in the moment, understandably and in some ways commendably, that we are beleaguered in the present and unable to see beyond its insistent and siren demands. The young people need us and they need us now. There is no time to look after ourselves, no time to develop, no time to think and restore that vision and passion we began with.

This must change, we must if anything be more selfish and, in time, that will be better for the children as well. In Claiming the College, agreeing on a professionalism that insists on professional and personal growth in order to remain part of it, we will create an approach where it is seen as a vital part of professionalism to give ourselves space to develop.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys' Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.