Can you replace a teacher with a robot? By Chris Yapp

Here we go again? Twenty years ago, the question being asked was “can you replace a teacher with a computer?” A case of déjà vu? There is a phrase in Hungarian that translated roughly means “there is nothing new in the world, only those things that we have forgotten”.

The standard answer 20 years ago, was “any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be replaced by a computer”. Is it different this time? For a start, developments in “big data”, “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” are impacting on other professional disciplines. In medicine, diagnostic systems can outperform skilled clinicians. The practise of law is being impacted by these technologies. We can find examples in architecture, accounting and many other disciplines. There are many studies suggesting that 40-60% of today’s jobs will be eliminated or seriously transformed in the next 20 years by advances across the technology spectrum.  Can education claim sufficient uniqueness that teaching alone will not be impacted by robotics and AI?

The problem about the above paragraph and many like it, is that it addresses the wrong question. Try this instead: “how can the education system, its institutions and professionals embrace, appropriately, advances in technology to improve access to and the experience of learning for professionals and students alike?”

Do you believe that the education system that we have is the best that there could be? Would an injection of more money, on its own, eliminate all significant challenges? I’d be happy to debate with anybody who believes that both the above questions can be answered yes.

For a start, technology has played a significant part in special needs education in lowering the barriers. We still have serious educational inequalities to address. Teacher stress leading to retention problems, difficulties in finding enough Heads. I could go on, but you know them better than I do.

For as long as I have been engaged with educational technologies, there has been a constant background debate about how to make education a researched-based profession. Too much education research is too small to have a real impact on policy and practise, be it at institutional or classroom level.

I would argue that the current round of technology advances provides the platform for the realisation of the teacher as an action researcher at scale. Links between education researchers and practitioners could at the system level using big data, AI and machine learning and low cost computing help create a culture of education research led by the needs of teachers. In my experience, schools do not suffer from a lack of creativity or innovation. The problem that I have seen is that innovations do not spread across the system. Imagine a health system where each hospital defined its own treatment and drug regimes. Health has its own problems, but there is a culture of spreading practise systemically. I can still use examples from the 1990s about practise in schools that I observed such as virtual reality in a primary school, modern foreign languages between children in classes in different countries and people think I’m talking about the future.

Now let’s look at the school level. Here I would argue is that schools have become masters of adapting to change imposed on them, often framed in the language of earned autonomy, guided localism. You are free to do what we tell you! My own feeling is that people do not resist change, they resist being changed.

I would argue that if schools do not embrace these advances they are not preparing young people for adult life and work in a world where these technologies will be pervasive. However, the obvious push back is that the computer that a 5-year-old uses will be nothing like the ones they will use when they are adults, so how can schools deliver without massive injections of resources?

Consider the diagram below:

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 09.14.20.png

Start by thinking about problems and opportunities you have, at classroom level or at institutional level. Back in the 1990s I evaluated a small project where a number of children with serious health problems were given technology that enabled them to stay involved with their school, their friends when in hospital or at home. When one child was in remission they were able to be reintroduced back to school without having experienced significant disruption to their education while away. Think about how you might enhance the education in your school by external links. In the 1990s I was involved in a school project where we had an “artist in non-residence”. An art teacher working in a school classroom had access to a professional artist who contributed to a school art project from his studio miles away. In a deprived community, another school opened at evenings and weekends to train parents and grandparents in how to use computers, true community schooling.

These examples all started from ideas generated from practitioners having real problems that they wanted to see if computers could help. The lesson 20 years ago, and now is the same. The Learning horse pulls the technology cart, not the other way around.

In stable times, our values and purposes can be implicit. In changing and turbulent times, we will get nowhere if we are not confident in our purpose and values.

So, what are the purposes of education? What are our values, as society, teachers or parents? These are old questions. We have new tools of incredible potential, but it is potential only.

My advice is this. Don’t be afraid of AI, machine learning, robots and big data. On the other hand, do not be complacent about change. The work teachers do will be different. How schools operate will change. The issue is whether we manage change well, or badly.

So, what would be my hopes for the next 10 years?

  1. We think about building a model of change management for education at the system and institutional level that involves and engages the professionals throughout the change process
  2. We build a system for diffusing innovations that work across all schools. Research in education should, at least in part, be driven by practitioners needs and assessed by their outcomes.
  3. We take the ideas of “schools without walls” seriously and look how links to other institutions can enrich the experience for teachers and pupils alike.
  4. We build new models for the development of both curriculum and assessment that consider technology advances and how teacher satisfaction and skills are part of the process not a bolt on or afterthought. I am reminded of Seymour Papert: “don’t teach children about computers, use computers to teach them about the world”. Please remember that computers are in that world.
  5. We need an education system at every level is confident about its purpose and values. We are preparing children for a world which we do not understand. Alec Reed, founder of REED Group put it to me well 20 years ago, He described the culture change in comparison to another rite of passage. He envisaged success as a world where students on leaving school put on their L plates to say “I am a learner” rather than take them off because they passed or failed.

At the end of the day, throwing technology at an ill-defined problem doesn’t help. If the dialogue goes like this “the answer is X, what’s the problem”, you know we are the next in a long line of “modems in cupboards” initiatives.

I used to say that the biggest policy problem was the flawed belief was


Add to that OLD WORLD (Teacher) NEW WORLD (Robot +AI).

The College of Teaching is a welcome development for me. Its aspirations fit my beliefs about what education needs to be, at the forefront of building the adults and workforce of the next generations.

Have a fun and productive 2017.

Chris is an independent Consultant specialising in Innovation and futures thinking. He has a 30 year background in IT and 25 of IT in Education. He is also a Patron of NACE, The National Association of Able Children in Education.

Training Teachers: Obstacles and Opportunities in 2017

As we rush headlong into 2017, with the excesses of Christmas slowly receding into memory, we all enter that period of committing to best-laid plans and hope-fuelled resolutions. Crucially, however, our resolutions are quickly hidden under shouty to-do lists and piles of marking. For most teachers, we want to get better and make improvements on the year before, but the necessary support and school structures can too often prove lacking.

As we admit our obstacles, we can angrily bemoan our workload (hey, it is the God-given right of every teacher) and complain about excess accountability and wrongheaded testing, but we should also recognise that many of the solutions to improving workload and to enhancing the quality of teacher training are within our grasp too.

Schools across the country are creating a regular rhythm of professional training that finds meaningful time and tools for teachers to reflect on their practice. In many schools, there are weekly or fortnightly training slots that allow teachers the time and tools to collaborate and plan together. It may require schools finishing early on a given day (with an inevitable wrangle over school buses), or schools being creative with collapsed timetable days etc., but it is doable and there are examples across the country.

Regular, high-quality CPD and planning time allows teachers time to get their head around the new curriculum and assessment model that has seemingly crashed into our working lives with force. Teacher training should not be an added burden to workload, ticking off boxes for performance management purposes, but instead a meaningful way to share our resources and lower the burden of all recreating our own resources and approaches to the new curriculum.

Many schools are harnessing the greater capacity of local collaboration, be it Multi-Academy Trusts or TSA partnerships, so that they can afford to budget for external expertise and challenge one another with their respective teacher expertise. Though our school system may be more fractured that in other countries, there is an appetite for better training and a fast increasing awareness of evidence in education and the useful science of learning.

With emergent organisations, like Research Schools (run by the ‘Education Endowment Foundation’ and the ‘Institute for Effective Education’), The College of Teaching, The Institute for Teaching and others, supporting established organisations like Teaching Schools, the Teaching School Council, The Teacher Development Trust, the National College, and the National Educational Trust, we have a great deal of deep expertise in our school system to help guide professional development.

What we must do is reject the deficit model of teachers and teaching that sees CPD as a compliance exercise, with teachers punching in yet more data to feed the tracking monster. We need training that allows the requisite time and space for subject specific knowledge and learning (along with any equivalent school phase). This should be supported by robust evidence about how children learn and the most impactful ways to teach.

With the new Chief Inspector for schools, Amanda Spielman, taking over the reins at OFSTED, there is the promise of accountability reform to help us further. As an entirely new curriculum and assessment model has been initiated, we can rightly consider that we have a few years to teach, train and develop upon our expertise. Hey, we can hope – 2016 is over; 2017 promises us better, surely!

With our newly coined resolutions pristine and fragile in our hands, we can, as teachers and school leaders, resolve to initiate the developments to our continuous professional development that best support our teachers who are working to manage their workload and grasp a new curriculum.

The DfE Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development ( is a helpful place to start to evaluate your existing CPD provision so that you can ensure that 2017 is the year that best supports teachers with great training.


Alex Quigley is Director of Huntington Research School – find out more about their work here:

His recent book, “The Confident Teacher”, can be purchased here:

Motivation – A Surprising Finding (an extract from Cleverlands) by Lucy Crehan

With so much pressure coming from external sources, such as parents and teachers, one might think that while most Chinese students are motivated to study hard, this is entirely extrinsic motivation, and driven by fear of punishment or promise of reward rather than interest in the task. It would be easy enough to pick out examples of Chinese students being bullied by their parents and hating school – but would this fairly represent the ‘typical’ Chinese experience?

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume so. At the very least, given that British and American parents are more concerned with making learning interesting and fun than their Chinese counterparts, you’d think that their children would be more intrinsically motivated than Chinese children.168 Another reason for thinking so would be that Chinese teachers have been described as more ‘controlling’ than Western ones: putting more pressure on the children, giving them more tests and demanding more conformity.169 According to Ryan and Deci’s well-evidenced finding that autonomy is a key prerequisite for intrinsic motivation, it ought to follow that Chinese children have, on average, very little of it.170

This is not actually the case. Wang and Pomerantz gave Chinese and American adolescents questionnaires that asked them to say how much (from 1–5) they agreed with various statements about their motivations for studying, which corresponded with the different types of motivation identified by Ryan and Deci on their taxonomy: intrinsic motivation (e.g. ‘I do my homework because it’s fun’), identification (‘I work on my classwork because it’s important to me to do so’), introjection (‘I work on my classwork because I’ll be ashamed of myself if it doesn’t get done’) and external motivation (‘I do my homework because I’ll get in trouble if I don’t’). They found that Chinese students actually had a higher index of relative autonomy – i.e. they gave more intrinsic and identified reasons for studying than American students. While this index declined over the course of junior high school (a period where the pressure intensifies in China due to the high school entrance exams) it remained higher than American students of the same age.171

This is surprising – Chinese students are under lots of pressure from parents and teachers, and are taught in a way that doesn’t give students much freedom, and yet they report that they enjoy learning more than Americans do and that they work hard because it is important, rather than because their parents force them to. However, it is consistent with research carried out in the 1990s which found that Chinese children reported liking school more than American children.172 More recent research was carried out by the OECD in 2012 in which 85 per cent of Shanghainese 15-year-olds surveyed agreed with the statement ‘I feel happy at school’ compared to 80 per cent of American 15-year-olds and 83 per cent of British 15-year-olds (not a big lead for the Chinese, but they are not behind on this measure as you might expect).173

How can we make sense of this? One explanation comes from some Chinese researchers. Zhou, Lam and Chan suspect that the answer to this paradox lies in the different ways that students from different cultures interpret the apparently ‘controlling behaviours’ of their teachers (and I would argue this extends to parents and grandparents too).174 Zhou and colleagues tested their hunch by giving Chinese and American fifth graders various scenarios involving teachers, such as a teacher keeping a child behind in class to finish some homework they hadn’t handed in, and asked the children to say how they would feel if their teachers did the same to them (choosing from 12 emotions). They found that American students were more likely to interpret the teachers’ actions as being controlling, and to say it made them feel sad or mad, whereas the Chinese students interpreted exactly the same scenarios more positively, indicating that they felt looked after or cared for. In addition, they found that for students from both countries, feeling controlled led to less motivation in that teacher’s class, whereas feeling cared for led to more motivation, and that students were less likely to perceive an action as being controlling if they had a good relationship with that teacher.

If you’ve been brought up in a Confucian culture, where fulfilling your role within the family is very important, and where parents impress the value of learning upon you from a young age, you are likely to have internalised these values and goals. When an adult then acts in a way that will benefit your learning, you are less likely to perceive that behaviour as being controlling, and more likely to see it as evidence of your teacher or parent’s concern for you and your future; especially where that relationship is a loving one. In other words, Chinese students have higher levels of autonomous motivation because they have internalised the cultural and familial goals, and made them their own. They are less externally motivated despite the pressure from parents and teachers because the pressure is to pursue goals that they themselves believe in.


Cleverlands is due for publication on December 1st and can be ordered by following the link below.

A dog owner’s guide to grammar schools by Harmer Parr

As Teresa May tossed the juicy bone of grammar schools to the right wing of her party, I was reminded of a request to buy dog food for my daughter.

Well, more accurately, for my daughter’s dog, as we left the ranks of the urban poor when we became one of those eponymous hardworking families. She was very specific about which kind it had to be, so I set off down the relevant isle in ‘Pets ‘r Us’, a phrase I certainly wouldn’t have got away with in my 1960s grammar school, in search of the correct product.

And there, thanks to freedom of choice, the problem started.

Not a choice of four or five products, but seemingly four or five hundred, all beautifully packaged, redolent with pictures of gambolling, happy dogs, and presumably differing from each other in ways that were too subtle for my human eye. With the help of an assistant, I eventually located the right one, wondering as I did so how our 1960s dog had managed to survive on a diet of leftovers. My primary school friends, who got their academic leftovers at the secondary modern schools in the town, were not always so lucky.

To think that we are about to recreate the binary system is apparently to misread the situation completely. Yes, there will be lots of grammar schools, but there will be lots of other kinds of school as well, possibly one for every day of the week. Independent schools and grammar schools will be sharing their expertise, providing a welcome respite for those teaching Year 9 set 6 on a Friday afternoon. Parents will have unlimited choice and are expected in droves to choose a grammar school. Let’s hope the feeling is mutual, and it chooses them as well.

Parliament, of course, is located in the middle of London, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the ideas emanating from it are located in the same place. Fifty-seven varieties may have some traction in Islington, but it is less clear how the idea can be applied to rural areas like Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Several years ago, I was able to admire the latter’s binary system at close quarters as I inspected the runt of a three-school litter in a small town.

The grammar school gobbled up the academic cream, leaving two secondary moderns to fight for the leftovers. The one I inspected was at the rougher end of town, and had strangely emerged as the school of choice for its local population. The staff at Hobson’s Academy (no, not it’s real name!) deserved a medal for the degree of damage limitation they achieved. I’ve not been back, but if anyone has opened a Free School in the area specialising in Latin and Greek my guess is that it’s not over-subscribed.

In the early 1980s Sir Keith Joseph became Education Secretary. He was not always an enlightened man. Once, on an interviewing panel, he allegedly told a black candidate to go back where he came from and grow bananas, obtaining the response that ‘that would be rather difficult in Haringey’. However, his analysis of the country’s education problems was more perceptive and more accurate.  We failed to educate the bottom 40 per cent of the ability range. The tripartite system envisaged by Butler’s 1944 Education Act had never materialised because of our antipathy to technical schools, and the binary system that had emerged had been singularly unsuccessful in reaching the parts that grammar schools could not reach.

When compared to the vocational education offered by our European neighbours, the criticism still holds good today. We’ve never managed to escape the feeling that vocational qualifications are a booby prize, and we’ve always managed to escape investing in them properly.

At the other end of the scale, our academic achievements compare reasonably well with those of Europe, except, of course that students emerging from the French and German systems usually speak two foreign languages as well. That may matter less in a post-Brexit world, where the default position of shouting loudly in English is likely to be more acceptable.

Teresa May presented her ideas under the banner of inclusion: better education for all. Experts are not to be trusted, so the current fashion seems to be to commission research and then do the opposite of what it tells you. As Keith Joseph noted, the major problem with the British Bulldog is its extraordinarily long tail. So the less obvious solution is to devote all our attention to feeding its front end, in the hope that some of the juice will drip down to those who’ve exercised their choice for a secondary modern.

Research also appears to show that overall academic standards are weaker in areas with grammar schools, so the answer there is to create more of them. Although, of course, standards will rise automatically when every school is a grammar school, just as they did when every school was required to be above average.

I’m sure Teresa May would not welcome a comparison to Mao’s cultural revolution, and his wish to ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’. But the Tories’ plans for education have a similarly experimental feel, and could produce a similar crop of weeds.

Let’s open lots of different sorts of schools, let’s have lots of grammar schools, and, not on the script, let’s have lots of unintended consequences. Schools who lose their critical mass of able students to surrounding poachers, schools who use their sharp elbows to acquire the ‘best students’, schools left with spare places so they can mop up the waifs and strays that no-one else wants. Will this, in fact, be ‘a better deal for all’?

So why did she do it? Evidence-free, counter-intuitive, potentially destructive of a system producing, arguably, better results than ever before. Well, the clue is in the term: ‘grammar schools’. It’s up there with motherhood, apple pie, warm beer and cricket on the village green. And given its ability to induce prolonged salivation amongst ‘traditional’ Conservatives, the shires will be drooling and dribbling for some time to come.

Teresa May can rightly say: ‘après moi, le déluge’. Let’s just hope the flood defences work. If not, the resulting torrent could drown the dog’s dinner.

Harmer Parr is a former HMI.

‘Why challenging high performers is important and what we can do’ By Deborah Eyre

Providing challenge for top performers in the classroom is one of the most difficult and long standing problems in British education. Whilst some schools do really well, they remain the minority.

When it comes to gifted/more able your school is likely to be in one of the following categories:

  • Don’t believe in it and hence make no special provision as a result
  • Have a cohort of students identified as gifted or more able – or a similar term – and offer them special opportunities
  • Systematically and purposefully make advanced learning opportunities available in class and in enrichment, and offer them regularly to all or most students.

Generally most schools in England are in the first or second categories, whilst most of the top performing countries in the OECD league tables are in the third. Interesting!

We know that it is important to society, to the economy and to the individual that we challenge those who find learning easy rather than allow them to underachieve, and mark time whilst others catch up. Yet – we don’t do it because (a) we don’t think it is a priority or (b) we don’t really know how to. Systematically reviewing the literature in 2009[1] it became clear that these are universal problems and found in many countries.

So if we want to do better we have to change how we approach this.

Traditionally, work on the more able/gifted has involved identifying a cohort and making special provision for it, but the research shows this is increasingly problematic.

  • Definitions of giftedness have fragmented over time and vary widely, so when you try to identify students to create a cohort it’s hard to know what you are identifying and hence no reliable identification methods have emerged.
  • Those who are identified are given access to special opportunities and generally benefit. Those who are not in the identified cohort do equally well if given the same opportunities. So why are they not getting them?
  • Gifted cohorts across the world have been found to be biased in favour of the affluent middle class. No matter how hard people try this remains the case. Just like in England.

So if opportunities are the important factor, then creating them is the priority. What do good advanced learning opportunities look like? How can we make them widely available? Key players in this field alongside my own writings are Jo Renzulli, Bruce Shore, Joyce Van Tassel Baska and Albert Zeigler. Look out for their work.

Many teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy yet this is over 50 years old. Fresh approaches have bettered and superseded it. My new organisation High Performance Learning[2] ( makes use of these. It focuses on advanced learning and systematically building intelligence using 30 research derived competencies that all successful people demonstrate. These relate to developing cognition and also developing the values, attitudes and attributes that top performers need.

If your school wants to do better, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are we confident about what advanced learning looks like?
  • Do we offer it in our school?
  • How regularly and to whom?
  • Could we improve the frequency with which we offer this or even make it part of our DNA?

Recently Sir Michael Wishaw painted a familiar picture of underachievement for the most able in secondary schools – especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He is getting bullish in his final months as HMCI – suggesting sanctions be applied to schools that consistently fail their brightest children.

Maybe now is the time to focus more directly on advanced learning in your classroom and your school and stop leaving the creation of advanced performers to chance.

Professor Deborah Eyre is Founder, High Performance Learning, and a NET Leading Thinker

[1] Eyre, D. (Ed.) (2009) Major Themes in Gifted Education (4 Volumes). Routledge: London

[2] Eyre, D. (2016) High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School. Routledge: London

“Your feet will not touch the ground.” By Siobhan Horisk

Hackney New Primary School opened in September 2015 with our first two classes of Reception aged children. I secured the job as headteacher in December 2014, and 18 months later we are coming to the end of our first year.

Prior to the school opening I had a glorious period from April to September of planning what was essentially an imaginary school. We had a big blank canvas and could discuss, design and dream about every aspect with a level of uninterrupted care and focus impossible to achieve in a ‘real’ school. I met prospective parents and staff members and my skills of persuasion developed tremendously.

That time was invaluable, not least for reinforcing my absolute respect for class teachers and how exhausting their job is. Being outside of a school for the first time in my career and yet still working long days, I have never had so much energy or head space for other things as I did between April and September last year. Good teachers are giving thousands of feedback points every day, and multi-tasking beyond belief. The learning and wellbeing of the children they teach occupies their headspace until last thing and night and from the get-go in the morning.

“Good Luck!” said my pre-opening OFSTED inspector, “Your feet will not touch the ground.” I smiled to myself, wondering what on earth there could be to do for just two classes – it’s just one year group, right?

“Ha!” I think to myself now. Getting the considerable machine that is a school moving is much more than just managing teaching and learning for two classes.

Simple things like our dishwasher didn’t work. The bicycle storage didn’t come for several weeks which meant carrying 25 little bikes in and out of the playground at the start and end of every day. Builders lingered for about six weeks, and whilst all schools have experienced the trauma of this, to have several of these things not working for us every day was a lot to handle.

In a new, small school, there are few supernumerary people. I found myself doing everything from mopping up urine puddles, hauling deliveries of paper upstairs, lesson observations and staff training to doing school tours and press interviews. In a half an hour I could go from assembling flat pack furniture to presenting to LA or DfE colleagues.

As a new headteacher, of a new school, with a new team, you are completely unproven. Everyone is watching you and tuning in to your every move. You have no sooner reassured them when external bodies are in to scrutinise what you have achieved.

Although our team has some brilliant people on board, in an entirely new team individuals need time to figure out their place in the team – and the joy and trouble with 50 little children starting school for the first time is that they don’t really allow you that time. We needed the best and the brave to take the plunge and put themselves forward to promote their planning ideas, initiate solutions to logistics, and continue to persuade parents that they had made the right choice.

Thankfully they did. Finding great teachers is increasingly like panning for gold; you need to gently agitate the gravel in the pan to get your gold.

Similarly, new parents don’t have other parents to induct them to school life and as nearly all our children are first born there was a much greater amount of communication required.

Like childbirth, I think the memory of these challenges will fade with time. The life of the school has been and continues to be glittered with wonderful moments and the school is blossoming.

My cherished memories are many and so far include our first assembly when I looked at 50 children, from 50 families, and a team of people who, with me, have jumped on board this crazy train and together we were gathered as a vibrant school family. There the children all were in their new school uniforms, and it hit me once more what a privilege it is to have their education and this school in my care. Our teachers are remarkable; and it is my further privilege to witness their heartfelt pride in the progress and achievements of the children they teach.

At the heart of my personal ambition here is being part of something distinctive and something better. More than excellent provision of the core primary curriculum, children have daily, specialist music input and the first year has been pre-instrumental development of their musicality. You should see our music lessons… really! In September the children begin on string instruments including violins, violas, cellos and mini bass.

We believe passionately that time in the outdoors facilitates a different kind of learning and development and makes a tremendous contribution to children’s wellbeing. Children go to a real forest for a real ‘Forest School’ experience once a week, all year round. The daily anecdotes of their forest school adventures sing about the strong contribution this is making to their development and wellbeing. And they love learning.

A colleague visited recently and described the children as ‘so happy and so spirited’ and this was the ultimate compliment for our curious, excited, wondrous bunch and the best acknowledgement of all that our teaching team have done with them at school over this year. Of course, there are always the ‘even better ifs’ and as a living thing the school has great days, good days and some of ‘those days.’

I have been very fortunate to have met a group of visionary and committed founders. It is this vision and unparalleled commitment that has led Hackney New Primary School to be something distinctive. The school was conceived by them; together we have brought it to life and are nurturing its development closely.

As a wise man advised me when I considered this post: if you have ideas about what makes great teaching and if you are passionate about the contribution education makes then surely this is the ultimate job. He was right. ‘Put your hat in the ring’ he said. I did, and 18 months later I would recommend it to anyone else passionate about the contribution education makes.

Do it. Find a great team of governors or founders and with them, create something great.

Siobhan Horisk is founding headteacher of Hackney New Primary School and a NET Associate.

THE COLLEGE OF TEACHING: a defining moment for the teaching profession? By Derek Bell

On the afternoon of the 25th May I watched as HRH Prince Philip took the original 1846 Royal Charter setting up the College of Preceptors (with its 1998 supplement) from The President of The College of Teachers and handed it to the first Chair of the Chartered College of Teaching.

You may consider this to be a trivial piece of ceremony of relatively little consequence. Yet in its own way it could be a defining moment in the history of the teaching profession in England and, perhaps, beyond. Four years ago the Education Select Committee recommended establishing “a new, member-driven College of Teaching, along the lines of the Royal Colleges and Chartered Institutions in other professions.”

Since then several groups of people, including many classroom teachers and heads, have worked extremely hard in order to lay the foundations for such a body – the completion of which was formally and publically acknowledged in that moment. Although there are still some technicalities to be completed, this was the point at which the new Chartered College of Teaching emerged as a body in its own right.

Whilst no one, least of all the new board of Trustees, underestimates the challenges ahead, that moment of transfer also acted as a reminder of how deep rooted the foundations of the new Chartered College of Teaching actually are. Not only does the Royal Charter recognise 170 years of history it also embodies values and aspirations of, and for, the teaching profession which are still relevant today.

Although the language of the document may seem strange, key phrases refer to; promoting sound learning”, “advancing the interests of education” and “affording facilities to the Teacher for the acquiring of a sound knowledge of his [/her] Profession”. I would suggest that these fundamental ideas remain at the heart of the teaching profession today. Bearing in mind that in 1846 there was little or no provision for training teachers, the vision of those individuals who came together to found the College was crucial and in many ways underpinned the setting up of teacher education (both initial training and continuing professional development) which exists today.

There is much to thank the original College for but unfortunately over the years it has become overwhelmed by wider developments, not least the increasingly onerous involvement of Government in the day to day activities of teachers and their schools.

Thus that moment on 25th May 2016, is also a challenge and opportunity for teachers everywhere to reshape their profession so that it is fit for the 21st Century. The new Chartered College of Teaching, under its revised Royal Charter, has the potential to lead this development towards increasing and genuine professional autonomy for teaching and teachers.

It can’t be emphasised too strongly that this will take time but progress is being made. Visit for a full account of developments so far.

Confirmation of seed-funding of £5 million, staged over 5 years, in the government white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, meant that it was possible for the Trustees to push ahead with a range of key activities including the appointment of the first Chief Executive which has just been advertised. They have also been working on details of membership and the activities the college will undertake over the next few years. Underpinning all college activities is the key principle that developments should be based on evidence and reflect the views of teachers.

Initiatives such as The Big Staff Meeting, held at the beginning of 2016 will continue to be used to inform the work of the college both nationally and regionally. In the autumn, the new Chartered College of Teaching website will replace the current and events will be held including The Big Summit designed to provide a forum for mobilising knowledge and sharing evidence-based practice.

Perhaps more importantly this autumn will see the publication of a manifesto setting out plans for the new College in more detail. Currently (June 2016) details are under discussion but there are three major themes, among others, I would hope to see included in some form.

  • An emphasis on the real strengths of existing teachers and their practice, highlighting not just examples of excellent practice but the quality and commitment of the everyday practice demonstrated by the majority of teachers, headteachers and teaching assistants across the country. Gaining wider recognition for existing good practice would provide a sound basis on which to raise the status of the teaching profession.
  • The importance of building a genuine professional community which, over time, establishes its autonomy and independence becoming a leading body on matters of teaching and learning. In particular, it is important that this community is fully inclusive not only with regard to gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or background, but also to the many individuals who may have left the classroom in order to make valuable contributions to teaching, learning and education in different capacities. Clearly the majority of members of the college will and should be classroom teachers but the new College needs to retain the support, goodwill and contributions of this wider group of individuals – it cannot have too many advocates.
  • The need for high quality professional education, both initial training and career long CPD. The mark of a profession is that it is self-improving both as a body and as individuals within that body. The new College must have things to say and do with regard to training and development, influencing (and ultimately controlling) aspects such as standards, content, duration and expectations. Initial training must be a requirement and there should be an entitlement to ongoing CPD.


To this needs to be added the responsibility of ensuring appropriate opportunities are available and that they are taken up. If used effectively the introduction of an integrated Chartered Teacher scheme will provide the necessary recognition for all teachers who are well trained, keep up to date and, as a true professional, continue to improve and share their practice throughout their career.

Setting up the new College will not of itself bring about a transformation of the teaching profession or education more widely. However, it can provide a vehicle which can over time bring about change. Ultimately in order to meet aspirations it requires the contributions and support of teachers where ever they work.

Change will not happen overnight but a start has been made.

Perhaps, at this early stage of the new College’s development, as teachers and others involved in education, we should (with apologies to John F Kennedy) be asking not what our College can do for me but asking what can I do for our College – and through it the quality of teaching and learning for all our young people.

Professor Derek Bell, having worked in schools and universities as a teacher and researcher, was formerly Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust, and was Chief Executive of the Association for Science Education for seven years. He has carried out a wide range of consultancies in the UK and overseas and been a member of advisory/expert panels. He is Director of Learnus, a research associate at UCL Institute of Education and a NET Leading Thinker.