Teachers Rule OK
Richard Willis describes the long struggle to get teachers their own professional organisation.
The campaign for the self-government of teachers in England and Wales was initiated in the mid-nineteenth century. The aim was to establish a professional body for teachers on the lines of the General Medical Council and the Law Society, to drive out the unqualified and to protect children against untrustworthy teachers. In recent years the government has responded, and the General Teaching Council begins work this month. This promises to give teachers important powers over registration and professional conduct as well as the duty to represent the interests of the teaching profession. Considring previous attempts by teachers to secure professional autonomy, however, the Council's path ahead could well be fraught with conflict.
The earliest institution to press for a teachers’ council and register was the College of Preceptors. This society, founded by private teachers in Bloomsbury in 1846, attempted to copy those initiatives in the medical and legal professions designed to exclude the unqualified from practising. However, the movement for teachers’ registration experienced special complications. The schoolmasters, satirically portrayed by Dickens, Thackeray and Charlotte Brontë, were often the subject of much criticism. As one Victorian commentator put it, ‘The rascality of Squeers, the brutality of Creakle, and the pretentiousness of Dr Blimber had their counterparts in actual life’. Such teachers were shown as failures from other occupations who had turned to schooling solely for personal profit in the same way as the unemployed might have taken to farming or trade. Their chief object seemed to be to make money in a system disparagingly called ‘private adventure schooling’.