Education International
Education International

UK: Unions welcome Labour’s commitment to quality teachers

published 17 January 2014 updated 22 January 2014

Two of EI’s national affiliates in the UK, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), have reacted to speeches by Tristram Hunt, UK Shadow Education Secretary. They reiterated their support for a Qualified Teacher Status and a continuing professional development (CPD).

Addressing the North of England Education Conference, Hunt said that the Labour party would ensure teachers in all state schools are fully qualified to improve the quality of education if it was returned to office. And he added that the current government's policy of allowing unqualified individuals to teach in academies and free schools would be scrapped.

NUT: Professional development crucial

“The NUT welcomes Labour’s intention to discuss their plans for continuing professional development and possible ‘revalidation’ with teacher unions,” said Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary and President of EI’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education.  “This is in stark contrast to [Education Secretary] Michael Gove’s persistent unwillingness to do the same on any number of issues, not least our ongoing dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.”

It is reassuring, she said, to hear that the Labour Party is committed to every teacher in state-funded schools having Qualified Teacher Status. The NUT also welcomes the recognition that it is teachers and not the type of school which deliver a good education for children and young people. Labour, she said, has the potential to change the negative conversation that Michael Gove has engendered for the past four years.

Blower also underlined that “a clear commitment to CPD [continuous professional development] for all teachers as an entitlement has long been NUT policy. We therefore welcome what Tristram Hunt has said on CPD. A critical aspect is, of course, that the profession should be in control of CPD. We would need to fully discuss how ‘revalidation’ might work; teachers are already held to account at every stage of their career.”

Loss of teachers

A far more urgent focus ought to be the number of excellent teachers being driven from the profession, she stressed. The punitive nature of Ofsted inspections and other education ‘reforms’ have already resulted in many good teachers leaving teaching. Ofsted is the official body for inspecting schools in the UK. Blower also noted that a comprehensive professional development strategy for all teachers, based on the principle of an individual, funded entitlement for each teacher, would be the most constructive approach to investment in teaching and teachers.

The NUT leader also noted Hunt comment that the UK has the best generation of teachers ever in schools. The union believes that his aspiration for “high qualified, inspiring, self-motivating and dedicated” teachers is already met. To release the full potential of teachers, however, they need to be trusted and treated as they are in high-flying jurisdictions like Finland. They also need a consistent set of pay and conditions across all types of schools.

“Teachers are very proud of what they do in the classroom but they want it to be measured and shared with others under a fair, not a punitive, system,” she said. “For too long, teachers feel that they have things done to them rather than being part of the process.”

NASUWT: Hunt’s statement a change from assault on pay and conditions

NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates also commented on Hunt’s statement on licensing teachers. “When this proposal was made by the last Government prior to 2010, it was in the context of a national framework of pay and conditions of service which recognised and rewarded teachers as highly skilled professionals and which provided them with rights and entitlements to working conditions which supported them in focusing on teaching and learning,” she said.

“In the last three years, at the hands of the Coalition Government, teachers have suffered a relentless assault on their pay, conditions of service and rights and entitlements. Their professionalism has been attacked and denigrated on an almost daily basis.”

Progress possible

If the proposal for a Licence to Practise signals a commitment by a future Labour Government to restore qualified teacher status (QTS) as a requirement for all teachers in state funded schools, this would be a significant step. Equally, a commitment by Labour to introduce, within a national framework of pay and conditions of service, a contractual entitlement for all teachers to CPD and to re-establish a proper system of professional regulation which ensures that all head teachers have QTS and the National College's National Professional Qualification for Headship, and are accredited to lead and manage schools, then these are foundations on which progress could be made, Keates said.

However, she said it was debilitating and demoralising for teachers that any attempt to have a public debate about developing the teaching profession and the quality of teaching is hijacked by commentators and presented as a system to ‘root out incompetent teachers’ and present our public education system as failing. “No group of workers, least of all teachers, deserves to be treated in this way,” Keates highlighted. “No wonder resignations from the profession are high and recruitment to teacher training is falling.”

EI: public authorities to ensure teachers’ quality training

EI believes that educators, in the UK and globally, are struggling to see their professionalism acknowledged and respected, according to EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said. “National public authorities must enter into consultation with organisations representing educators to set the highest professional standards,” he said. “They are also responsible for guaranteeing quality initial and in-service training for education personnel.”

By getting quality teachers, he stressed, all students will be assured of quality education.