Teachers’ Union Opposes Government’s ‘Licence to Teach’ Proposal

January 15, 2010 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The National Union of Teachers is vehemently opposing government plans contained in the new Children, Schools and Families Bill that would require teachers in England to be re-licenced every five years from September 2010.

The NUT’s ‘No to Licence to Practice’ postcard campaign, has shown just how angry and frustrated teachers are. Nearly 18,000 members have voiced their anger at Ed Balls’ plans to make them undergo regular checks to ensure they are fit to teach.

The union believes the proposal is bureaucratic and unworkable, and would place an unnecessary and unwanted extra burden on teachers and headteachers. The huge response we have had to our campaign demonstrates the depth of feeling about another unnecessary hurdle which Ed Balls expects them to tackle before they can carry on teaching.

The plan for a new licence to practice would start with NQTs, teachers who are returning to their jobs after a break from the profession, and then supply teachers, before a national roll-out. If a teacher disagrees with a verdict, they can be given a temporary licence while appealing against the decision through a tribunal.

While there may be an argument for teachers who have been out of the profession for years to have some additional training before returning to the classroom, I cannot see the need, or use, of this scheme for teachers already working in schools.

It may have slipped Ed Balls’ notice but there are no shortages of accountability measures against which teachers are judged, including performance management, Ofsted, capability procedures, school performance tables, local authority interventions, a years induction and performance-related pay.

That is already a very comprehensive list, yet the impression given by the introduction of such a scheme is that teachers are left pretty much to their own devices and are answerable to no-one. This is not only misleading but downright wrong. In this context, a licence to practice is unnecessary.

As the Government says on a regular basis we now have the best teachers the country has ever seen. There are far too many hoops for teachers to jump through already.

Of course it is important for teachers to keep up their skills, but rather than introduce a licence to practice, the government would have done far better to introduce a comprehensive professional development strategy for all teachers based on the principle of an individual, funded entitlement for each teacher.

We have called consistently for a decade-old recommendation from a government inquiry, that teachers should be entitled to sabbaticals once every seven years.

In contrast, the licence to practice will be awarded by headteachers against a backdrop of inequitable CPD funding, which currently ranges from approximately 0.5 to 14 per cent of school budgets.

The licence to practice would be conferred by headteachers against this far-from-level playing field. In addition, a minority may be tempted to use the licence as a short-cut for capability procedures against teachers.

In essence, whereas a funded entitlement to CPD has the capacity to raise teachers’ learning and status, the licence to practice will be seen by teachers as another nonsense proposal; only there to demonstrate the government’s lack of trust in teachers.
There are far too many hoops for teachers to jump through already. The government itself says that the teaching profession is the best it has ever been.

Questioning teachers’ abilities yet further and not providing additional funding for CPD will simply demoralise a profession which is already pushed to the limit and will have no impact on raising standards.

We cannot expect teachers to continue to improve standards or narrow the attainment gap when they have to spend so much of their time doing things that have nothing to do with their professional expertise.

The government has in the last decade pushed through an incredible number of education reforms. It is against this background of endless change that workload has become a central concern within the teaching profession.

A culture of long hours and bureaucracy has left many teachers feeling overburdened. The endless national initiatives, an overloaded and prescriptive curriculum, high stakes national curriculum tests and the pressures of school performance tables have led to many feeling under constant pressure. For these reasons recent initiatives to attract teachers from other professions will find many becoming quickly disillusioned.

It must be remembered that pupils progress is not solely in the hands of teachers. Too many teachers see first hand the effects of poverty on their pupils. The achievement gap between children from high income and low income families starts at a young age and grows. A reduction in class sizes and matching the spending per pupil in state schools to that in the private sector are also factors that would ensure teachers can give the best possible education to every pupil they teach.

Teaching is an extremely demanding profession and not everyone can do it, but the idea that there are many teachers out there who should not be in teaching is just utter nonsense.

“This is a highly unpopular clause in the new Bill and I hope MPs from all parties will ask themselves why the Government has decided to irritate teachers and introduce an entirely unnecessary licence when education itself faces so many challenges not least because of the financial crisis.”

Christine Blower is General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Britain’s largest teachers’ union.

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This post was written by Christine Blower

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