License to skill
This week the excitingly named Children, Schools and Families Bill is before Parliament. The title of the Bill hints at its extraordinary breadth – it covers everything from Family Law to Ofsted – but it’s the impact of this Bill on schools and teachers that I find most interesting. In this regard the Bill sums up what has been wrong about the Government’s approach to schools and teachers; not because it is moving in the wrong direction but because it’s moving far too slowly.
The Bill introduces a ‘license to practise’ for teachers, designed to ensure that they are competent and regularly update and improve their skills and knowledge. On the face of it this reform fits neatly with the calls made by the Progressive Conservatism Project for greater up-skilling of teachers and an emphasis on continuing professional development in schools. It certainly means that there will be renewed impetus for teachers to regularly concern themselves with their own performance, and it means that there will be a mechanism for holding them to account, but it doesn’t go far enough.
Whilst it’s right to try and quality control teaching, this admirable exercise should begin long before teachers make it into the classroom. In first-rate education systems such as Finland’s professional gate keeping is integral to keeping standards high. To become a Finnish teacher you need a first class degree and will then spend up to four years in training. Compare that with the UK - where two grade C GCSEs and a third class degree will suffice and you can be teaching children with just nine months additional training. If we want to mimic the success of other countries in driving up the quality of teachers then we need to get a lot stricter about who can become one in the first place. This means much higher entrance requirements (a 2:1 at least) and a longer, more demanding training regime.
The Government is to be commended for continuing to prioritise education reform in what may well be their last days in power. Tony Blair was elected on the back of his famous mantra of ‘education, education, education’, it’s right that his successor continues to govern with our children’s futures at the forefront of his mind. But half-hearted efforts will only ever produce half-hearted results – the Government should follow it’s own logic and use this Bill to raise the status, and the standards, of teaching for a generation.