We’re a funny lot, teachers.
It’s different to most jobs I guess. For a start, we get 13 weeks holiday a year. We also work in strange circumstances that are simultaneously both very public and quite private.
We also seem to have an on-going struggle with what it means to a profession, that doesn’t seem to affect other roles. Or rather, an on-going clamour to be considered a profession, without being clear about what that means.
The College of Teaching has served to highlight some of those troubles, but also one other: we seem to have reached a point in the profession where “leaders” can be lumped together as a “them” who are not in any way connected to “us” at the chalkface. (Disclaimer: I don’t know which group I end up in according to those determined to divide in this way)
I suspect that this is based, in part, on a truth: some school leaders are awful. Some who reach the position of headteacher (or Executive Head for that matter, I suspect), probably weren’t very good classroom teachers, and aren’t very good leaders. They can damage schools, teachers and pupils in the process. But to presume that such negative experiences mean that all those who have a leadership responsibility are in opposition to those who teach in classrooms is childish. Not least because it fails to account for the huge number of people – particularly in primary schools – who manage both leadership roles and considerable classroom teaching commitments.
This has come to a head from the small group of vocal opponents to the College of Teaching, particularly since the appointment of a very experienced headteacher to the role of Chief Executive. For some, led by Andrew Smith (@oldandrewuk), only a practising classroom teacher would have been acceptable to lead an organisation that they don’t even think should exist.
The problem with that argument is clear: what experience does the average classroom teacher have that would equip them to lead a significant organisation? There will, of course, be a handful of classroom teachers who have prior experience in other roles that might match the job description, but they are rare. And often such people would quickly take on leadership roles within schools, hence disqualifying them from this very narrow field.
What’s more, I’d argue that being the CEO of a large organisation doesn’t require the skills of a classroom teacher, any more than running British Airways would require you to be trained pilot. Running large organisations requires a specific skill-set, and if the College is to be a success, then it needs the right people with those skills at its head. The fact that within teaching we have excellent school leaders who have the appropriate skills means we are able to appoint the combination of leadership and teaching experience.
Looking at other professional organisations, there is a mix when it comes to the CEO role: the CEO of the Law Society is a trained solicitor with considerable leadership experience; the CEO of the Royal College of GPs has a background in social work and charities and isn’t medically trained at all; the CEO of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has a background in marketing. I haven’t yet found a single professional body that has an entry-level professional at its head.
The reality is, teachers aren’t some superhuman species imbued with some professional brilliance that makes them better than GPs or Chartered Surveyors. We are trained for a job. And all the while that some of those teachers also acquire the skills to lead large organisations, it is great that we can have a qualified and experienced teacher at the head of a professional body; but let’s be serious: it’s not the talent for imparting phonics knowledge that is required to manage a large charity.
Of course, the real issue here is not the appointment of the CEO. Those who are wholeheartedly opposed to the College – or who object to the way it has been developed – would likely have opposed any appointment, just as those who object to the existence of the BBC would never welcome a new Director General.
For those of us who would like to see if this thing can work, it strikes me that you would struggle to find a better starting point as CEO than Dame Alison Peacock – an experienced teacher and headteacher, a strong figurehead who is widely supported by the profession, and someone who has publicly spoken in the past against proposals from government.
Some will always be happy to throw stones, just as there are those who continue to criticise the BBC. Personally I hope that both groups are proven to be in a minority.
Tagged: College of Teaching