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Dame Alison Peacock on the Chartered College of Teaching – “I’m not going to please everybody”

The recently appointed CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching explains where she plans to take the organisation over the coming years – and why its government funding won't compromise its independence...

  • Dame Alison Peacock on the Chartered College of Teaching – “I’m not going to please everybody”

Last month, it was announced that Dame Alison Peacock, the widely respected education consultant and executive head of The Wroxham School, had been appointed as the first CEO of the College of Teaching.

The College of Teaching began life as an idea mooted at a residential event for headteachers organised by the Prince’s Teaching Institute back in 2012. Professions such as accountancy, law, medicine and others have their own independent professional bodies – why not teaching?

Thus began four years of consultations, debates and discussion over what this new College of Teaching would be, with supporters of the idea coming together under the ‘Claim Your College’ coalition. The initiative secured government backing in late 2014, and went on to launch a £250,000 crowdfunding campaign the following year, but this proved to be unsuccessful, raising just under £21,000.

This year, however, the College received the first instalment of £5 million in government funding, as outlined in the Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper published in March. For now, at least, the financial future of the College would seem to be assured – but what of its place within the wider profession? How does it plan to engage with teachers and secure their support? We put these and other questions to Dame Alison…

What made you decide to take on the role?
Last May, a #LearningFirst event organised by myself and Julie Lilly from Beyond Levels took place at Sheffield Hallam university which was attended by around 500 teachers from across the country. The idea, which first emerged through Twitter, was to discuss what we could do within the spaces that exist to professionally learn from each other about how we were assessing children.

The event made me realise that the Chartered College of Teaching could potentially fulfil a very useful role in hearing and amplifying the voices of teachers across education in this country and beyond.

I was previously on the Prince’s Teaching Institute commission exploring the idea of a College of Teaching, so the concept and idea was something I was already supportive of. When the CEO role was advertised, the memory of that #LearningFirst conference made me think I might as well go for it.

Having previously been involved in the College, is your plan now to take that original idea into a new direction?
I haven’t been involved within the last couple of years, so I didn’t play any role in the Claim Your College campaign or appointing any of the trustees, but I want to applaud the efforts that have got us to the point where there’s now government funding that’s enabled us to become a going concern.

We’re ‘under new management’ in the sense of wanting to learn from the lessons of the last 18 months or so. We’re very much in listening mode.

What function(s) will the College fulfil that aren’t currently being provided by other bodies?
There will be the opportunity to attain a chartered teaching status, which is currently in development. It would be rigorous, enabling colleagues to gain recognition for being expert teachers, but the form of the assessment and evidence gathering involved is yet to be decided.

A key role for the College will be to provide measured, research-informed responses to policy announcements. We want to build an authoritative voice for the profession that will listen to the latest announcement from the DfE, Number 10 or wherever, and then ask ‘What’s the evidence for this?’

Another role for the College will be to support the development of expert teaching, by enabling colleagues to access research evidence emanating from classrooms. At the moment, educational research can sometimes be seen as quite esoteric and separate from the realities of day-to-day life. Our goal is to build on initiatives like ResearchED, where you have colleagues who are connecting their classroom practice with big ideas, rather having the big ideas sitting on a shelf and the classroom practice carrying on as it always has.

Teaching is a very conservative – with a small ‘c’ –  profession. We don’t like change.

How would you distinguish the intended aims and operations of the College from those of other teaching organisations – particularly the unions? It sounds like there may be some overlap with wanting to provide an ‘authoritative voice’...
I always encourage the colleagues I work with to join a teaching union, because they speak up for industrial relations and employment rights, which are absolutely imperative. As a teacher, you need that backing.

The unions are also important for keeping people in touch, responding to policy announcements and so on. We’re not wanting to step on any toes. What we want to do is provide a measured, go-to voice that asks ‘What does the evidence say?’ That means we’ll be speaking not just on behalf of teachers, but also children and young people.

The College will be focused much more on the area of research, evidence and impacts on children and young people, supporting teachers in their professional development and working in partnership with other associations. We’re certainly not seeking to tell anybody else what to do.

What would you say to those expressing concerns that the College’s government funding will compromise its independence?
Firstly, I would say, why would we want to stop something of this potential magnitude from emerging, when it’s intended to be helpful? There’s a kind of Catch 22 around it all –  to get to the stage where you can appoint someone as CEO, you need enough resources to establish offices, build an interim team and communicate with the world about what you’re wanting to do. Only by doing that will you get the kind of support you need to build the membership and ultimately become independent.

Once we begin getting paying members signed up, the more members we have, the more independent we’ll become. Until then, the only resource we can currently draw upon is that primary funding from the government. We want to maintain the grant funding that will be promised over the next five years – but equally, we will have enough independence to ensure our voice is not compromised by needing to toe the line.

Through everything I’ve seen – and I’ve delved pretty deep into the paperwork since being appointed – the DfE has been completely honourable around every aspect of providing the funding. They haven’t pushed back on anything, or questioned any of the deliverables that the College itself established in order to get the funding.

Is there any more word yet on when the College membership offer will be ready?
We’re aiming for the end of October, but as I’ve said elsewhere, we have to have the digital platform ready, so that when people go to sign up there’s something there for them. I’d rather make sure we get it right and have a high quality first offer, than be driven by a date which might compromise that.

What’s going to be your approach to getting teachers to sign up?
I’m currently putting a strategy together with the team here and the trustees (though I’m still in post as a head teacher as well, and don’t properly start this job until January 2017). The key will be to see what offer the college can make that endorses and enhances the existing offer of other organisations, so that nobody feels threatened. We want colleagues to see that as we progress and develop, we’ll enable them to be more effective as well.

As soon as we have the resources, we want to establish regional hubs that will work with schools and higher education institutions across the country. We don’t want to be London-centric – we want to have a genuine regional presence, but we also have to be careful that we don’t overreach too soon.

There have been people voicing very real concerns on social media. Wherever possible, I’ve made attempts to contact people individually, have conversations and ask them to meet with me, so that I can understand what their reservations are.

One reservation we heard, for example, came from the FE community, who felt they were being excluded. Since I’ve been appointed, we’ve agreed as a team that FE colleagues will be welcomed as affiliates of the Chartered College.

I know I’m not going to please everybody, but I’m going to give it a go.

You’ve spoken of wanting the College to be seen as ‘part of the solution’. In your view, what areas of the system are broken, and what role can the College play in fixing them?
I don’t believe it’s about things being ‘broken’ and ‘fixed’. I think it’s much more about enabling colleagues to understand what’s happening across the system. At that #LearningFirst event, people ran workshops, sharing what they were doing in schools, which was very helpful to people.

Under self-improving systems, schools and leaders have become more confident about organising professional learning and gathering together in teams, be it formally as multi-academy trusts, or through softer arrangements. There’s been a groundswell of recognition that we can do things for ourselves. We don’t have to wait to be told.

We’re at a point now where we can really capitalise on that, and crucially, on teacher agency. Teachers in schools can say, I’ve read this really interesting research – has anyone else read it too? What’s going in your classroom? Can we look at what the children’s work looks like in your classroom compared with mine?

People would love to see that, and I think there are ways in which we can connect all of it up.

All being well, where do you see the College in five years’ time? What do you hope it will have achieved by then?
If everything goes brilliantly, I’d say the College would be known by all teachers. Those thinking of training to be a teacher would visit the College’s website to find out what’s involved. We need people to love teaching, and to be attracted to the profession. Whether you’re an early years practitioner, working in schools or FE, you would see the College as a body that shows what might be achieved through the profession.

In five years I would hope that we have our first chartered teachers being accredited, and it would be lovely to celebrate that. As teachers, we work incredibly hard, but I’m not sure we’re always very good at sharing all those positive stories, and we need to be.

Society really needs to value teachers – so if, by the time I retire, there’s a sense that teaching is one of the most noble professions, even more so than now, that would be fantastic.

For more information, visit www.collegeofteaching.org (website under construction at the time of writing); you can also follow @CollOfTeaching and @AlisonMPeacock

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