Labour’s suggestion of teachers taking an oath on entering profession is an interesting idea. One reason to embrace it is that it would mean the word teacher would became a reserved term that could only be used by those prepared to take the oath unlike at present when anyone can call themselves a teacher regardless of their qualification, lack of them. However, taking an oath guarantees nothing as the history of medical and legal malpractice cases testifies. While it may be useful to help those that haven’t thought of the professionalism and associated values of being a teacher it can be ignored by anyone with predetermined intentions to misbehave. But, I cannot be too negative. I took an oath on becoming a magistrate and it was a solemn occasion. Similarly, I have witnessed the oath taking of police officers at attestation ceremonies and explained to them why it was so important.
If there is to be an oath who is to administer it? Police, army, even medics all work for organisations with a national structure and with other professional bodies there are organisations, whether Inns of court, the Law Society or other professional bodies, but the General Teaching Council for England was abolished by this government in a short-sighted move allegedly linked to a supposed bonfire of Quangos. Without a professional body it seems unlikely that teachers would be prepared to swear an oath of professional virtue to the State, especially if they were working in the private sector.
The situation may well be different in Singapore where the oath-taking procedure was apparently spotted by Labour. Realistically, if it is about enhancing the status of teachers and making them more professional then returning power to the profession in return for enhanced status may not be enough. Professions don’t generally go on strike, so is Labour also signalling that teachers should sign away any rights to industrial action with no corresponding control over their earnings that would still be set either by the government of the management of individual schools?
I think most teachers already have a strong sense of public duty and a wish to serve the young people that they teach. After all, there may well be easier ways of earning a living for many graduates than the long hours and relentless term-time working life where the pace of teaching doesn’t differ from day to day as patterns of working do in most other professions.
On balance, I think the oath idea probably won’t fly unless Labour’s friends in the trade unions are prepared to endorse it. I am sure that they won’t do so without testing the strength of feeling among their members. Now a Queen’s Medal and long-service awards might be another matter. And while we are at it, perhaps the creation of some Regis Professors of Education might enhance the status of the profession in higher education.