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How would teacher licensing work?

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In a recent speech, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt proposed that teachers should have to update their expertise regularly and 're-validate'. He said this process, based on a commitment to high-quality continuing professional development (CPD), and perhaps led by a new Royal College of Teaching,  would help raise the status of the profession. Teachers in state schools would need to have qualified teacher status (QTS), or be working towards it, but QTS would be "only the beginning of a teacher’s professional development". Reaction to the idea has been mixed.Some have seen an opportunity to make high-quality CPD an entitlement for teachers; others think that the plans could undermine teachers’ autonomy. For now the proposals are light on detail, but Labour plans to consult teachers, professional bodies and trade unions to fill in the gaps.

Without joining the debate on whether teachers should be ‘licensed’ (in the language of some reports), I’d like to reflect on three questions that the proposals raise for me.

Where would QTS fit in?

Our schools can now employ unqualified teachers who are not working towards QTS. And for some, QTS is an outmoded status that says nothing at all about a teacher’s skills in the classroom. So if Labour is going to open a debate about re-validation, my question is a re-validation of what? Should we pay more attention to making QTS a genuine mark of professional quality that sets a high bar for teachers? If QTS is not the best way to do this (better than judging a teacher’s experience, say, or using performance indicators), do we need it at all?

What would be the role of Ofsted?

How would Ofsted ratings work alongside re-validation? Assuming inspection would remain much the same, there are several possibilities:

  • Including re-validation in inspection criteria

Ofsted could judge schools on the quality of training for teachers, or even the proportion of teachers re-validated. If schools are judged on their ability to provide CPD, they’ll have an incentive to make sure staff get the training they need. One problem here could be a bias in favour of the larger schools that can more easily offer a good range of opportunities. It seems reasonable enough for schools to be responsible for the training they offer staff. It doesn’t seem realistic to ask teachers to take charge of their own development, when this depends so much on the commitment and capacity of a school.

  • Giving Ofsted a say in re-validation judgements

Could inspectors be given a direct role in re-validation? It's possible that they could be asked to provide evidence about teachers’ practice, or even make the re-validation judgement. Whether or not inspectors are involved in decisions, teachers’ performance is unlikely to be judged acceptable if they’re not meeting Ofsted standards.

  • Keeping Ofsted out of re-validation

A third possibility is that Ofsted has nothing to do with re-validation. While this seems to me to be unlikely, re-validation could be put in the hands of a new independent body, or it could be led by headteachers, employers or local authorities. If headteachers or employers have the final say, re-validation may not be seen as impartial, so politically speaking an independent body has some appeal. There’s a risk, though, of running into  the same kind of problems that killed off the General Teaching Council. However re-validation is implemented, judgements would need to be seen as legitimate by all involved. Where is the line between impartial and accurate appraisal, and interference that undermines headteachers’ judgements about their staff?

Would teachers have a legal right to CPD?

Labour will be hoping that re-validation leads to sector-wide improvements in the quality and uptake of CPD.  Teachers will be increasingly critical of the CPD on offer, so re-validation could provide a great opportunity for them to demand more high-quality training to support their development. At the same time, teachers may fear that they’ll be facing unreliable or inaccurate measures of performance, or will have to meet the requirements set by a re-validation panel.

There’s a danger here that re-validation could lead to disputes between teachers, schools and professional bodies. For example, could a teacher make a legal challenge if a school failed to provide good CPD? Could an employment tribunal judge fairly whether a teacher who fails re-validation had enough training from a school?

We'll be keeping a close eye on this as Labour develops its proposal in further detail.

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