I must admit to mixed emotions when reading about Labour's plans to introduce professional licensing for teachers:
Teachers would have to show they are meeting the high standards and would be required to undergo training to update their skills.Conceptually, this might be a good idea. The million dollar question, of course, is: a) who actually assesses the teachers and how they picked and b) what happens when (not it) a large number of existing teachers fail to meet the standards?
Under Hunt's plans, teachers would have their lessons assessed by other teachers in a system overseen by a new Royal College of Teaching.
This strikes me as a classic example of a good idea in principle which will nevertheless be holed beneath the waterline by the jagged rocks of practicality. What we actually want from this project is to prevent poor teachers entering the profession, improve slacking teachers who are no longer doing a good job teaching - and there's no shortage of these - while not significantly disrupting or interfering with teachers who are doing a good job. Make no mistake, this kind of assessment scheme has a cost beyond the headline figure of paying for assessors and their organisation. The additional cost includes time taken from a teacher's regular teaching schedule to be assessed, reduced productivity in the run-up to assessment as they try to prepare for it, plus the impact of mis-rating good teachers and requiring their retraining.
Assuming that you aim to assess a teacher every 2 years, given 120 school days on which a given assessor can run assessments, you'll need at least an hour of seeing a teacher teach, and maybe another hour if you have any doubts, plus at least that time again writing up the results. Figure that each assessor can reasonably assess two teachers per day, that's 240 teachers per year. But you may need to have a couple of assessors (from different regions) to get a reasonable diversity of observation and opinion. So figure 120 teachers assessed per assessor per year, and so for every 240 teachers you need at least one assessor. Given 480K teachers in England that's 2000 assessors. Where are you going to get them from? How are you going to judge whether they are actually any good at assessing teachers?
Let's assume that you can make these assessments in some way and flag the teachers who are objectively not good enough at teaching. (In fact, in most schools you could do a straw poll of the teachers and they would quickly flag the poor teachers to you - but there's no way they'd do this in practice). How do you fix them? You can do all the retraining you like, but you have to have some way of follow-up to see if they've stuck with the improvements or have just lapsed back into their old ways. And if they do lapse back, what do you do? Can you fire them? I bet the unions would have a fit if you tried.
So what do the unions think?
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told the Times: "We would need to see the details of the Labour party's proposals, but the NUT is heartened to see that Labour recognises the value of investing in teachers' skills, knowledge and confidence in a fast-changing world. If these proposals are a continuation of the Michael Gove's years of top-down judgmental prescription of how teachers teach, that would be very negative.""Talk is cheap: show me the money". I find it interesting that neither the NUT nor ATL reps decided to touch on what would happen if a teacher failed to meet the standards even after retraining....
Honestly, if you want to fix the problem of bad teachers, you have to make it easier for the schools to send them for retraining or eventually fire them. This is not a problem you can fix centrally. Of course, this runs the risk of the less honourable headteachers or governors firing the teachers they don't like rather than the ones which aren't any good, and the children are still stuck with the bad teachers.