Tristram Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, recently announced that teachers should be licensed; in response, the long-standing dispute about how to improve Britain’s education system has once again raised its head. Licensing means regular assessments for teachers. According to Hunt, in an interview with The Times, these should be based both on the quality of classroom skills and teachers’ up-to-date knowledge of their chosen subject. Failure would mean an end to their careers.

In the Guardian, Hunt comments: ‘Every time I enter the classroom I am more and more convinced of the need for well-trained and qualified classroom teachers as they manage all the modern demands of pedagogy, scholarship, learning, inspiration, empathy, analysis and sheer bloody time-management.’

Hunt’s proposed licensing plans have not been warmly received by everyone; some of the profession’s largest trade unions have had much to say in response. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) argued that the move would be seen as “a threat not as an opportunity”. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, revealed that members are “strongly opposed” to Labour’s plans.
So, why the controversy? Is it not natural for those in positions of trust and responsibility to be vetted on a regular basis?
The main argument against licensing is that teachers are already accountable for their performance, from initial teaching training to Ofsted inspections. Licensing could just add yet another layer of bureaucracy.

Chris Keates, the General Secretary of the NASUWT, has also critiqued the fact that debates over improving the teaching profession are inevitably presented as a system to ‘root out incompetent teachers.’ He argues that this is deeply debilitating and demoralising for teachers and that ‘no group of workers, least of all teachers, deserves to be treated in this way. No wonder resignations from the profession are high and recruitment to teacher training is falling.’

However, the licensing of teachers should be seen as a way to ensure the professionalism of teaching.

Michael Gove’s decision to bring academies into line with private schools and free schools, whereby they can hire teachers even if they do not have Qualified Teaching Status (QTS), certainly raised questions over the professionalism of teaching.

The definition of a ‘profession’ revolves around the notion of a paid occupation involving prolonged training and a formal qualification. The fact that teachers, who hold a position of responsibility, should be classed as a profession seems un- contentious. Certainly any parent would want to know that teacher’s, who play a vital role in their children’s future, are properly trained and qualified.

The idea of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is key to many professions such as law and medicine. CPD is defined as a structured approach to learning that helps ensure competence to practice, encompassing knowledge, skills and practical experience

In fact the licensing scheme, if implemented in the right way, would ensure better CPD within teaching; ensuring that teachers were abreast of developments in teaching and their subject.

Hunt told The Times: ‘Veterinary surgeons, accountants, doctors all have to be re-licensed. If we want to re-professionalise the teachers it would be crazy not to do it. If teachers aren’t re-licensed, they won’t be allowed to teach.’

The Department for Education believes ‘that improving the quality of teaching is essential to raising standards in schools.’ According to the Sutton Trust, for poor pupils, the difference between a very good teacher and a bad teacher may be a whole year’s education. Facts such as these provide a compelling backstory for supporting continuous professional development within schools.

For this to be a consistent approach it should be implemented across all schools, whether state schools, private schools, or free schools. Furthermore, the plan for licensing must be implemented alongside improved on-going support and training for teachers. Evidently this policy is still in its’ early stages; yet it should not be viewed as an attempt to demoralise teachers, but a way of upholding professionalism.

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