Friday, 3 July 2009

Licensed to fill in forms

The recent announcement that teachers are to be required to be officially licensed seems to me to be yet another initiative which creates more problems than it could ever solve. On this week's Question Time simple Harriet Harman asserted that doctors and lawyers have had a system of continuing professional development (CPD) for years and that the purpose of this initiative is to ensure the standard of teachers is universally high.

I can't talk of doctors, but I certainly can say something about lawyers. It is important to start from the correct position. All lawyers are either self-employed free-lancers or they are employed by a firm or company. If free-lancers are no good they will get little if any work. If employed lawyers are no good they will be sacked. In both fields there will be exceptions - some incompetent free-lancers will get referrals from chums and some hopeless employed lawyers will remain in post; but as a general rule lawyers are like anyone else, if you're no good you need to find another job or a lower level of the same job.

In the real world there are relatively few qualified lawyers who cannot find some position to which they are suited. Plenty of administrative jobs within solicitors' firms, business and the Court Service require a little legal knowledge and are filled very well by those who could never make a go of practice as a solicitor or barrister. And those in practice find their own level over time. Some deal perfectly competently with small cases but struggle with the juicy stuff so they stick to what they can do, do it decently and earn a living. Those who take a position requiring particular skills cannot expect to last long if they lack those skills. After all, that is what happens in business all the time. Someone appears to be competent, is given a job, turns out not to be up to it and is either offered something more suitable or off-loaded before they have been employed long enough to qualify for statutory redundancy pay.

Whether they are comfortable in their current position or struggling, all but the dangerously negligent do their best to keep up to date with recent developments in the law and the procedural rules of the courts. In fact I can take that further, you simply cannot give competent advice without researching the law to see if anything relevant to the case you are working on has changed since you last dealt with that field of law. Practitioners do not keep up to date for fear of professional disciplinary proceedings, they do so because they want to provide a proper service.

Continuing professional education has almost nothing to do with competence in your everyday work. At the time I retired I had to undertake twelve hours of CPD each year in order to get my practicing certificate for the following year. Numerous companies provide lectures, seminars, courses and DVDs through which it is possible to clock-up the necessary hours. It is a requirement to gather the prescribed number of "points" in fields connected to your main areas of work but there is no requirement to do so at any particular time provided you do it by the 31st of December. It was my practice to use the period between Christmas and New Year to watch some DVDs of lectures in areas I found interesting. I won't deny that I learned something from each presentation but I will deny that it made any difference to how I did my work because I had to do individual research for each case even if the subject had been covered by one of the DVDs. A judge asking "has there been any new law on this recently Mr Bigot?" would not be satisfied with the answer "oh yes, My Lord, and I have a very interesting DVD here in which someone talks about it".

I doubt that the introduction of CPD for lawyers has had any significant benefit at all. The extremely good are still extremely good, the good are still good, the competent are still competent and the duffers are still duffers. Frankly, if you don't check for developments in the law each time you give advice you are too dangerous to be let out in public and you are unlikely to be any less dangerous because you attended a half-day seminar six months earlier. It's all a box-ticking exercise, there is no substance to it. Whether you are able to make a living depends on whether you have clients or an employer willing to pay you, not on being able to satisfy a pen-pusher that you have garnered enough "points" to be allowed through for another year.

I fail to see how five-yearly licences for teachers will make much difference to anything. They could provide a way for schools to sack the incompetent, but in such a highly-unionised and state-funded field many a headteacher and board of governors would not want the hassle. If they cannot or do not sack the incompetent now why should it be any different later? The same test will apply and the same obstructions will be in place. Indeed, it could make it even worse because the grant of a licence will, I suspect, make someone unsackable for five years in the absence of gross misconduct. I have no reason to believe it will be anything other than another box-ticking exercise with a vast army of assessors and inspectors being employed to pore over the forms. And what will the system provide for those rare cases when the headteacher says "sorry, Mr Quelch is past it, I don't recommend renewal of his licence"? Being a government scheme I can imagine a body being created to hear appeals which will be a rich fighting ground for the unions.

It shows every sign of being a bureaucrat's delight.

And when will teachers be required to undertake any CPD courses that might be included in this scheme? Let me guess. At the moment children get a day-off from time to time for teachers' "study days", something unheard of just twenty years ago. They won't be giving those up, their unions won't let them. Maybe they will undertake their CPD hours during their ten or more weeks of annual leave. I'm sorry, I have just read that sentence, how foolish of me to write something so fanciful.


james c said...


The basic problem with teaching is that bad teachers can easily find jobs with a good reference. This is doubly the case for subjects where there are acute shortages, such as maths and science.

Any sane head teacher can ease out a dud by giving him a glowing reference, whereas sacking him is much more trouble.

TheFatBigot said...

Indeed so, Mr James.

I don't know how it works in private sector schools. My starry-eyed view is that those not up to the job are eased out politely because incompetence could hit the marketability of the school.

james c said...

My view might be out of date, as I bumped into a very nice deputy head teacher the other night. She works at a pretty rough school and has sacked 20 (!) incompetent teachers this year.

Anonymous said...

So, there's no actual test for the information learnt, just have to attend some hours?

TheFatBigot said...

That's good to hear Mr James, more strength to her elbow.

If I recall correctly, Mr Mous, I had to answer some sort of questionnaire to prove I had watched the DVDs and taken in the some of the points made by the speakers; but it was hardly a challenge.

Ayrdale said...

It certainly is a bureaucrat's delight FB. Here in NZ, in my profession we had a relicensing board of 2 individuals for many years issuing annual practising certificates and administering discipline with the help of our ethics committee. Now however, the pen pushers have taken over and they tend to expand in numbers exponentially to keep justifying their existence. At last count there were 12, all of course paid by the profession they harass.

Socialism by stealth of course.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sorry if I overlooked your blogday.

PS It helps if you title the post "Happy blogday to me" rather than "Is it worth the candle?".

TheFatBigot said...

I couldn't be so forward Mr Wadsworth, people might think me terribly vulgar.