The latest proposal by Tristram Hunt, that all teachers should be required to relicense every 5 to 10 years, is an interesting one. I could happily blog about people’s reactions which have themselves been fascinating, but I’d like to look at the idea itself.

Details appear to vary in different accounts but broadly:

  • This is something that he wants to be administered by a profession-led Royal College of Teaching.
  • Some articles suggest it would happen every five years, others suggest seven or even ten.
  • Teachers would be required to hold the license in order to teach (presumably in maintained schools) and would be ‘struck off’ if they fail to re-achieve it.
  • Intriguingly, he suggests there would be ‘no more INSET days’ but that CPD would be part of the structure of everyday work.

I have yet to see any suggestions about how such an assessment process might work, how much it might cost, whether it would link to professional progression, etc.

So, broadly, here are my reactions.

  1. The idea that the profession produces a mutually agreed standard of practice is a good one. I welcome the suggestion that it would be pursued by a teacher-led, autonomous professional body. However, this will only work if the body gradually gains the trust and respect of the profession – this cannot be imposed and it should be assumed that there is a mountain to climb to build reputation against a background of general scepticism and lack of trust.
  2. If the license is assessed mainly by peer observation then it will fail. As Professor Rob Coe has pointed out, lesson observation is increasingly being recognised to be unreliable as a way to infer quality. This approach will lead to more subjective hoop-jumping that will sap morale and fail to improve learning.
  3. If the license is assessed mainly by progress (also known as ‘value added’) then it will also fail. Value-added is an unstable, unreliable predictor from year to year – there is a strong research base for this. This would be another recipe for dog-eat-dog game-playing which is harmful to learning.
  4. This leaves us with a key issue: both current common methods for assessing teacher quality have been seen to be unreliable. There is a recognition that subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, behavioural knowledge and interpersonal skills are important but there are no commonly accepted ways to assess these. I personally believe that an understanding of research and evaluation methodologies as well as a familiarity with practitioner research are also important, but again, there are no set ways to assess these. We need to develop, pilot, test and gradually roll out better assessments. If this doesn’t happen then re-licensing shouldn’t happen.
  5. Many of the positive reactions around the idea have rested on the idea that it will provide a boost to professional development. However, the general level of practice around CPD in schools is still poor, much of the provision is poor (i.e. superficial, one-off, etc) and certainly lacking in any rigorous evaluation or evidence base. A ‘big bang’ approach where everyone is suddenly required to do x number of hours of CPD courses would be an unmitigated disaster and a waste of money, I believe. At the same time, until there is a general understanding of the value of effective professional learning then it won’t be prioritised and won’t attract the necessary resources to make it work. In-house CPD must not be ‘the cheap option’.
  6. I very much welcome the idea that CPD within such a system should no longer be delivered in discrete packages, but that time should be allocated with the teaching year (through lower teaching loads) in order to allow professional collaboration. However, there is a large amount of capacity-building work needed until this could be achieved successfully in all schools. Professional enquiry approaches can be superb, but they are hard to implement and there is a constant danger that they turn in to ‘fluff’ – well-meaning, but ultimately simply making teachers busier without any positive impact on children.

So, this is an approach that has a huge amount of  potential, but it is a very, very hard path to tread with fatal pitfalls at every step.  I completely understand why sceptics are pointing out that government has an almost perfect track record of falling in to bureaucratic traps every time it tries a new idea, but I personally think the prize is one that is worth fighting for.

Ultimately, I think re-licensing should only be brought in once we start bringing in new, improved structures for professional progression which build on ideas such as Advanced Skills Teachers but implement them in a better way. Initially, such Master or Fellowship levels of a profession-led College of Teaching should be subject to recertification. Eventually, when these are sufficiently respected and trusted and have been demonstrated to lead to positive impact on childrens’ lives, we could then extend this to the whole profession… but not before.