Education International
Education International

Advocating for a Strong Profession:

published 9 November 2012 updated 1 March 2017
written by:

Collective review of progress made in policy commitments

It is the idea of countries making policy commitments for the coming year and then collectively reviewing the progress made at the next Summit which will hopefully provide the basis of future Summits. Nothing is perfect and that includes the Summits, which, self-evidently, cannot provide a complete global forum for considering the teaching profession’s future. However, they represent a unique opportunity for teachers, through their unions, to engage with governments on the future direction of teacher policy in a practical way.

Finally we must not forget the economic crisis and its impact on education as a public service, as shown in the EI Education in Crisis campaign website.  At a time when it is threatening the future of so many lives, particularly those of young people, making sure that governments understand how important teachers are to society by considering and debating their future through events such as the Summits is one important strategy in the fight to protect education as a public service.

Strong teacher unions bring quality education

Their view has been succinctly rebutted by Ben Levin, a leading academic who is based at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who said in an influential blog, ‘Let’s Stop Blaming Teacher Unions’, in 2010: “A lot of education rhetoric these days includes mention of the supposedly negative impact of teacher unions on education reform.”

“But here’s an interesting observation […] virtually all the top performing  countries on international education measures have strong teacher unions,”  he then went on to say.

These were strong and refreshing findings for teachers and provided the backdrop to the two Summits on the Teaching Profession which took place in 2011 and 2012; Summits which Levin himself went on to be involved in as a rapporteur.

Much has been written about the Summits which do not need to be repeated here. The Summit reports can be accessed at asiasociety.org/teachingsummit. It is, however, worth analysing why they were successful and hopefully will continue to be so. The next Summit in 2013 will be hosted by the Dutch Government in Amsterdam.

Equal contributions for governmental and trade union representatives

The second reason was the organisation of the Summits themselves. Those OECD member countries that were invited, ‘high performing and rapidly improving’ ones, were required to include on their delegations both teacher union leaders and government ministers with equal rights of contribution to the Summit debates.

The third reason was the commitment given to the Summits by the US Education Department and the US teacher unions, the NEA and the AFT. This partnership was essential in giving the Summit process its boost.

And last but not least it was the proactive support given by EI and its affiliates which gave, and still give, the Summits their effectiveness and legitimacy. As Fred Van Leeuwen, EI’s General Secretary said at the first Summit, ’high performing nations illustrate how tough minded collaboration between unions and governments more often than not leads to educational progress than tough minded confrontation.’

The Summits’ unique nature enabled powerful and productive debates to take place. One example in 2011 was the discussion on teacher evaluation and compensation. It could have solely focussed on merit pay. However, the debate went beyond leveraging teacher performance and individual incentives towards what worked for teachers. Country examples drove the debate forward. One example was Singapore where professional development is at the core of its learning service and pay as an issue ‘had been taken off the table’. Teacher policy is focused on clear and exciting career routes for teachers.

As another of the Summit’s rapporteurs Linda Darling Hammond noted, performance management in Singapore is not about digitally ranking or calibrating teachers but about holistic teacher development. The experience of one country had helped the discussion shift towards focussing on how pay could be sufficient enough to enable career choice, teacher achievement and success.

So far the Summits have concentrated on how effective teacher policies can be constructed in collaboration with the teaching profession. The topics have included: teacher recruitment and preparation, the development, support and retention of teachers, teacher evaluation and compensation, teacher engagement in education reform, developing school leaders, delivery of 21c Skills and Preparing Teachers: Matching Supply and Demand.

Country delegations identify priorities in teacher policies

One innovation from the 2012 Summit will hopefully become embedded in the practice of future Summits- that of asking country delegations to identify their top priorities for teacher policies in the coming year. A flavour of the potential policy impact can be gained by looking at some of the countries’ commitments for the year ahead:

  • Belgium “intends to conclude a pact with education providers and the trade unions on strengthening the teaching career;”
  • Japan-“will further advance its efforts at holistic of preparation, recruitment, professional development;”
  • Finland “seeks to develop new collaborative models for school development, change assessment to better meet curricular goals, improve pedagogical use of social media, and participate in an international network for teacher education;” and

The United States “seeks to build a coherent and systematic process for engaging all actors in comprehensive large scale change.”

Successful reforms supported by education unions

The first reason for their success was that the US Education Department and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) accepted the arguments of Education International (EI) as co-organiser that teacher unions should be central to advocating for the teaching profession. One example of this was the OECD’s 2011 Summit background document which asserted that, “teacher engagement in the development and implementation of educational reform is […] crucial and school reform will not work unless it is supported from the bottom up […] Some of the most successful reforms are those supported by strong unions rather than those that keep the union role weak.’