Is teaching a profession?
Not in the UK it isn’t although the Chartered College of Teaching would disagree as their mission is to ‘connect the profession’.
Most teachers will see teaching as a full-on profession but not everyone agrees. There are those that argue professions are respected, envied, high prestige and high status occupations but teaching doesn’t fall into this league.
We do not refer to teaching as a profession. It doesn’t have the characteristics of those traditional professions like medicine, academia, dentistry, law, architecture, engineering, et cetera. It doesn’t have the pay, the status, the respect, the length of training, so from a scientific viewpoint teaching is not a profession.
There is little doubt that teaching is less prestigious than law and medicine but it is more respected than it used to be. However, some teachers enjoy more respect than others. There has been for many years a distinct status hierarchy within teaching where secondary teachers enjoy slightly higher status than primary teachers and both substantially higher status than early years teachers.
What gives a profession its status will largely be rooted in the training and qualifications required to make the grade. It has often been said that all aspiring teachers should complete a five-year course before they can qualify to work in the classroom. In Finland, all teachers are required to possess a master’s degree.
Finland is often seen as the envy of the world when it comes to education and for many good reasons. Finland respects teaching and invests in its teachers in the same way as investing and training doctors. This level of respect just doesn’t exist in the UK. In Finland, teaching is a proper profession, a highly prized profession and crucially teachers are trusted.
Never in a million years will a PGCE prepare you for the complexities of school life and the mastery of subject knowledge you need to teach competently. If other professions have to meet a rigorous bar then why isn’t teaching in the UK following ‘the knowledge’ model of Finland?
Isn’t this why we respect official London cabbies so much? They can spend 5+ years studying The Knowledge and it is hard-won. The expected standard is extremely high and the process is demanding but getting a green badge and licence means they know their stuff and they know their way around. Passengers trust a London cabbie and London cabbies are full of pride and passion for what they do.
Would you trust a doctor with just a year’s training? No, so why trust a teacher? The PGCE as we all know isn’t ‘one year full-time’ but really equates to just a few months of the year and you don’t learn much about SEN in that time.
Getting a PGCE isn’t a green badge to teach and it doesn’t mean you know your way around. Teaching demands an encyclopaedic knowledge yet we allow ‘green’ teachers to drive without knowing all the routes and likely obstacles. We seem to be quite happy giving teachers the responsibility of teaching ‘mastery’ without the training to do it. How can teachers make and take sound pedagogical decisions with so little training in the art and craft of pedagogy?
You might recall that in 2013 Labour claimed that becoming a teacher in Britain was now easier than flipping burgers. Tristram Hunt (then shadow education secretary) called for higher standards, a minimum baseline qualification and the need for qualified teachers so that teaching could be seen as a high-esteem profession.
But ‘the knowledge’ model of Finland is so much more than ‘knowledge’ as the practical elements involved prime, prepare and professionalise. They allow plenty of time to deconstruct, dissect and reflect whereas a fast track model of teaching can leave trainees in a spin, in a flap and bailing out within a few years of teaching. A master’s course would actually contribute career-long teachers trained to do the job and stay the distance instead of ‘leaving in their droves’.
What makes the Finnish model so appealing is that the primary school master’s course aims to produce didacticians, professional pedagogues who can link teaching interventions with sound evidence. This is why all teachers are actively engaged in research training and doing research themselves producing a masters level thesis in a topic of their choice.
“Much has been made of this masters level training in various explanation of Finland’s PISA success, but as with almost everything else, there is no evidence available on whether this feature itself made a difference.”
Umm, let’s take a wild guess here. It’s more than a coincidence don’t you think? We don’t need to spend thousands on research to come to the obvious conclusion that Finnish teachers know their onions and their teaching makes a real difference.
Autonomous teachers of Finland can enjoy the labels ‘profession’ and ‘professional’ because they are part of a system that heavily invests in them, a high level of training is seen as a necessity and this gives them real credibility.
The Chartered College of Teaching (CCT), headed by Dame Alison Peacock, is an obvious step in the right direction. The CCT talks about being ‘profession led’ not ‘semi-profession’ led. Clearly there is a long way to go. Watch the video of Dame Alison Peacock and listen out for the word ‘profession’ – you’ll hear it a number of times.
The Charted College of Teaching has an unparalleled opportunity to professionalise teaching, upgrade the status of teachers and advance teaching as a profession.
It could start by asking how teaching creates professions yet isn’t a fully fledged profession itself. Calling ourselves a profession doesn’t make it one.
Finland has plenty to teach the CCT about connecting teachers and how to create a profession of the brightest and the best. It knows what a system of high skill/high will ‘master’ change agents looks like. Teaching in Finland is a noble profession and a happy profession which is why we all want to teach there and fewer want to teach in the UK.