Wednesday, 18 April 2018

In defence of the Chartered College

Before I start properly I would like to make a couple of disclaimers:

1) I am writing a personal piece here. I am not writing on behalf of the Chartered College and nothing I write can be considered to be representative of the Chartered College or its members.

2) I am a Council member of the Chartered College.

My association with the Chartered College goes back to some way. I was an respondent to the original Princes Trust consultation back in about 2012 and attended the launch in London (I still have the document from that day somewhere with my response in it). After that I lost touch with it - I missed the crowd-funding situation (or I would have donated) and I didn't really see a lot about it until I saw the advert for new trustees later in 2016. I honestly thought the idea had petered out; it was ambitious at the time with the GTC so freshly in people's heads to say the least. I was so pleased when I saw it was still going that I immediately volunteered and was lucky enough to be one of the 7 selected to join the council. I have been a council member for a year and a half and I have felt privileged every moment.

Recently the Chartered College has been the subject of criticism. Some of this is not new, but two of the more recent ones I feel are unfounded and as a supporter of the Chartered College I wanted to redress this.

The first criticism has surrounded the review process of articles for the Chartered College journal, Impact - specifically an article written by Greg Ashman. Now I want to take this opportunity to publicly state I have absolutely nothing but the highest respect for Greg. I read his blog whenever I can (the man is so prolific it can be impossible to catch everything!) and I think he speaks a huge amount of sense on a lot of issues. I read the article in question and I thought there were some interesting points raised, and I think it could be a useful read to spark debate. The article can be found on Greg's blog here for the interested reader. I do respect the opinion of the reviewers and the people at the College that put the journal together, and they decided that the tone of the article wasn't in keeping with the style of the journal. There have however been some implications of a bias, and that the article was blocked because people found the content of the article unpalatable. I was not involved in the review process in anyway, and nor am I part of the committee that oversees the journal on behalf of the council, but I know those people. I have worked with them, talked to them, shared hopes and dreams for the Chartered College with them, and I can categorically state that there is no bias in them. These people are teachers, as I am. They spend their weeks in the classroom or in schools working to educate young people. They are people like Natalie Scott (@nataliehscott), Jemma Watson (@thefinelytuned ) and Aimee Tinkler (@aimeetinkler). There is no agenda behind us and no wish to exclude from debate, and it makes me unhappy to think that people might believe that of us.

Some will believe I am being naive at this point, and if so fine, but I would rather believe that these people are doing what they think are the right things and for the right reasons than look for hidden motives behind these decisions.

The second recent criticism has been around the launch of the Fellowship. There have been a couple of comments about this. The first is the idea that affiliates and not just members can nominate and be nominated for Fellowship. I personally don't take issue with this. I think we have to recognise that, while the contribution of teachers to our schools is immeasurable, it is not the only contribution. There are many people I can think of that have added immense value to my career as an educator but that no longer work in the classroom. I would personally nominate Professors Anne Watson and John Mason immediately; their contribution to maths education has been incalculable and they are two of the most passionate and dedicated people I have ever met when it comes to trying to ensure that our young people develop a deep understanding and appreciation of mathematics. They are just two of about 10 people I could immediately think of that would be worthy of the honour.

Another criticism around Fellowship is the idea that "As a Founding Fellow, you will be encouraged to support members and other teachers to engage with and promote the use of evidence." People out there are seeing this as asking people to pay to do extra work. This saddens me greatly. As a teacher with 12 years experience I see it as my moral and professional duty to support other teachers and support them in finding approaches to teaching that can help them overcome problems they may be facing. Granted I don't need to pay the Fellowship fee to do this, but I believe that if we are going to approach the standards of other professions then the Fellowship as a mark of someone who has the experience, skills and knowledge of our profession is an important milestone. For me, those people who deserve to be fellows would see the opportunities to support other members as a positive. As teachers I believe we must be an outward facing group if we are to solve the problems that currently plague our daily work.

A further criticism of Fellowship are some of the additional benefits, such as the Fellows roundtable and the reservation of certain Council positions as Fellows only. I am not going to go into the details but I can tell you as a member of the Constitutional Committee that we considered this very carefully. In the end it was concluded that to be effective in these roles one would need to meet the criteria for Fellowship, and that it would need someone committed enough to the ideals and ethos of the Chartered College that they would seek out that sort of role. It is hard to imagine how a teacher of less experience or less passion could effectively lead the body that holds the Royal Charter for our profession. That isn't to say that the views of newer teachers aren't important, in fact they are crucial to ensuring that the College is representative of the views of all its members. This is why there are council member positions open to all. But those positions that are required to drive the College forward, to ensure that the governance of this body is robust, are those that need to be filled by people that have the experience, knowledge and skills developed over time to fulfill that need.

The final criticism I will address is the funding. It is no secret that the College are currently funded by the government, to the tune of £5 million. This naturally raises questions about independence - how can a body be funded by government be able to criticise policy and practice? People may not believe this but I can honestly say that it doesn't really feature in our discussions. Hard as it may be to believe, but for all their flaws the DfE recognise that a strong, well-connected and informed teaching profession is a positive thing. There are people there that care as passionately about young people as we teachers do. As for criticism of policy and practice, we have always been clear that we want to work with and not against. For the profession to lead the way we cannot be a group that shouts and screams when things happen that we don't like. That is not to say there is not a time for anger, nor a time for action, but always first should be an effort to reach out, to work with, to influence by being a calm and well-informed voice.

I believe that teachers deserve to be a well-connected and authoritative body when it comes to the practice and standards of those who choose the profession. I think this is essential to us being universally considered a profession. I don't think we are there yet, but I believe that signs are hopeful. Above all, I believe that the Chartered College has the potential to be a force for good in this regard. Mistakes have and will happen along the way; we are human and not immune to them. And that is really the key - we are human. We are teachers, like many others, and we are trying. I hope that others will see that and lend us their support. And I hope that those who doubt us will either join and become part of the influence, or at least give us the benefit of that doubt while we keep trying.

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