Prior to teaching in England, I completed my teacher training in my hometown in Ontario, Canada. At the end of my teacher-training programme, I joined the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), a self-regulating organisation responsible for setting educational standards in the province. All teachers within public schools (equivalent to state-funded schools in the UK) in Ontario must be members of the OCT. It is a relatively new organisation, but it has made a significant difference for increasing the profile of teachers as professionals.
The college of teachers was formed in 1997, allowing teachers to join a number of other professions in self-regulation. It happened during a time of educational upheaval in the province, led by the then Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, who continues to be somewhat of a “he who shall not be named” figure in the history of education in Ontario. Given the context in which the college was formed, it is often viewed under a negative light. Indeed, there continue to be issues with the way it is run. Still, we can glean some positive suggestions from the OCT.
To get a sense of some of the negative perspectives the public have of teachers, one need only glance through the message board of a news article or opinion piece about teaching. Michael Gove’s decision in 2012 that Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) would no longer be required to teach in academies certainly did nothing to raise the profile of teaching as a profession. As of May 2017, 62% of secondary schools in England are academies, including multi academy trusts. This means that less than half of secondary schools require teachers to have QTS. This does not a profession make. By requiring all teachers in public (state-funded) schools to have a certain level of qualification, through a teacher education programme, the OCT contributes to the professionalism of teaching. This could be a good step to take towards addressing the UK’s teacher crisis.
Establish trust with other stakeholders
The OCT is not solely for teachers; it is also a point of contact of parents. If a parent has any concerns about a teacher, they can submit a complaint to the college. If a parent is curious about a teacher’s qualifications, they can easily look them up in a public register on the OCT website. The aim is to build trust in the profession. To this end, Discipline Committee hearings in response to allegations of incompetence of misconduct are held in public. One can also find a list of teachers who have been investigated on the website. Along with all of these features available to the public, the OCT website also offers a free e-newsletter and extensive information about teaching standards and certification.
As a member of the OCT, I receive a quarterly magazine called Professionally Speaking that features articles about best practice, how to deal with particular issues in the classroom, details about additional qualification courses and information on useful books and online resources. Despite living abroad, they send my issue to my UK address. I look forward to flipping through, getting ideas for my own practice, being made aware of resources that perhaps aren’t well known in the UK, being reminded that teaching is a profession. It requires specialised knowledge, ongoing development and adhering to a wide range of standards. The OCT helps maintain this.
While establishing a similar self-regulating organisation in England is not the only way to increase teaching’s status as a profession, it is certainly worth consideration. While the OCT is not a perfect model, there are some clear benefits. The research, in fact, has already been done. The existence of The College of Teachers, The Chartered College of Teaching and The National College for Teaching and Leadership strongly suggest that people are interested in giving teachers more recognition as professionals.
How would you feel about mandatory membership to a college of teachers?