Education is a high-stakes game
This morning I attended a roundtable at the General Teaching Council to discuss the complex and difficult issues of accountability in education and teaching. The discussion – which touched on everything from poor teaching to parent power – brought home for me the high-stakes nature of the education business and the supreme importance of getting accountability right.
The fact is that a terrible education stays with you for life – in many ways it can be as disabling as an operation gone wrong or a mis-prescribed medicine – but the professional status of teachers’ remains significantly lower than that of other public servants who have a comparable impact on individuals. Doctors, for example, have high levels of professional prestige and are ably shielded from excessive political interference by both the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council. Teachers, by comparison, feel that their status is low and are constantly buffeted by the winds of political enthusiasms.
If we want our education system to be world-class we need teachers who have good reason to feel that they are experts at what they do. As I argued in the Progressive Conservatism Project’s recent report Leading from the front this means better professional gate-keeping, to ensure that only the able get to qualify as teachers, alongside more rigorous and consistent professional development. Teachers should feel that their qualifications, status and professional autonomy are matched to the high-stakes of the jobs they do.
But, alongside that recognition in training and development, there must be a heightening of accountability. Progressive conservatives believe in leaving professionals alone when they’re doing well and satisfying their clientele but we also believe in building systems which can effectively challenge underperformance. That is why, if they want more prestige and greater respect, teachers are going to have to accept market style school-choice. If we are going to roll back the obsessive controlling of the state when it comes to the education of our children then we need to hand over the power of account-holding. Parents, as the people most invested in this public service (apart, of course, from their children) need to be given a more equal relationship with schools as institutions.
By empowering teachers as professionals, with the responsibility and autonomy implied, and increasing the power of parents to hold them to account we can finally ramp up the education system so that the structures truly reflect the high-stakes involved.