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International Trends in Self-Regulation

For the teaching profession, self-regulating bodies around the world face many common challenges and opportunities. To explore them, we spoke with five leaders. Their insights shed light on the operations, scope, image and future of self-regulation.

Illustration: andrew macgregor/debut art

Illustration of flags and geographical representations for Wales, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Ontario.
Illustration of the flag for New Zealand.

Lesley Hoskin
Chief Executive, Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand

Illustration of the flag for Wales.

Hayden Llewellyn
Chief Executive, Education Workforce Council (EWC), Wales

Illustration of the flag for Scotland.

Ken Muir
Chief Executive/Registrar, General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS)

Illustration of the flag for Ireland.

Tomás Ó Ruairc
Director, The Teaching Council, Ireland

Illustration of the flag for Ontario.

Paul Picard
Former Interim Deputy Registrar, Ontario College of Teachers

Is there a growing move to include other people who deliver education, not just teachers, under the same self-regulating umbrella?

Llewellyn Until 2015, we registered and regulated teachers only. Now, we do so for six other groups within the education workforce: school learning support workers; further education lecturers; further education learning support workers; work-based learning practitioners; youth workers and youth support workers. Wales has the widest public register of education and training professionals in the world.

Hoskin In New Zealand, the government, education profession and other stakeholders are working toward a "whole of education" workforce strategy. There has been a desire to move toward professionalizing non-teacher roles that work alongside teachers.

Picard Theres always a desire to work with others who can help to improve the lives of our students. In fact, there's already a symbiosis in public education. For example, in Ontario's kindergarten classrooms certified teachers work closely with certified early childhood educators.

What are the potential benefits?

Picard Alignment of standards, operational efficiencies, cost savings and a unified voice.

Ó Ruairc It's understandable to want to streamline regulatory processes for all those working in the same environment. For regulatory effectiveness, this option may seem attractive. Ultimately, we need to be clear as to reasons we're doing this in terms of the quality of teaching and learning. A wider understanding of professional standards, within and across professions, is the next right step.

Is there a call for alternative paths to certification in teaching?

Picard Our goal is to have certified, qualified professionals working with students in all learning environments. In all manners of review, we want to ensure fairness, efficiency and timeliness to applicants, and also be cognizant of their ability to move and work freely within the larger education community.

Llewellyn Countries such as England are moving increasingly toward alternative routes. We're open to the development of more flexible pathways.

Ó Ruairc We've also seen a demand for more flexible routes to achieve the accredited qualifications in teaching.

What's behind that?

Ó Ruairc The reasons include the expectation of greater diversity in the teaching profession. We also want to overcome the challenges that people from different backgrounds can face in seeking to qualify. Competency-based assessments are an important part of the means by which we determine a person's suitability to assume the awesome responsibility of a teacher. But it's not the only one.

Hoskin We're seeking to attract a more diverse group of people into teaching. One avenue being explored is a career pathway approach, for example, a teacher aide moving [toward doing] a teaching degree.

Will we see changes to facilitate international labour mobility?

Muir This is a major issue for Scotland and the U.K. more widely following Brexit. The Scottish government has stated publicly that it will continue to welcome workers from other countries beyond 2020. Arrangements are being put in place by GTCS to allow the registration of all non-U.K. applications after this date and support continued labour mobility — something particularly important as Scotland has a shortage of teachers.

Hoskin New Zealand seeks to attract teachers from overseas to help fill our supply gap. In deciding whether to register a teacher from another jurisdiction, we place much emphasis on a comparison of qualifications with our own, as well as their English-language proficiency and fitness to teach. Even though we have confidence in teaching qualification regimes from other jurisdictions, this doesn't necessarily translate into confidence in individuals or employer confidence. Investing in induction is likely to be needed.

In a digital world, with expectations for rapid access to information, how are you changing the way you engage with members?

Muir We've invested heavily in information technology over the last five years. This has seen a move to cloud-based servers, and to start developing a customer relationship management portal. We're also in the early stages of developing our data analysis capability to influence and inform the current education debate in Scotland, and potentially beyond.

Ó Ruairc Our general communications with teachers have moved almost exclusively online. The most obvious example is our e-zines to enhance the awareness, understanding and application of standards.

Hoskin We're creating a secure teacher-only platform to conduct our business, and to provide information, resources and dialogue opportunities for teachers. We've been trying a range of channels to engage teachers in professional conversations including podcasts, webinars, videos, etc.

Teachers are having those conversations on digital platforms apart from the regulator. In a way, can this support the idea of professionalism?

Ó Ruairc I often cite Twitter as a space where teachers share resources, discuss and debate all manner of relevant professional matters, all in the full glare of the public eye. This could have a positive impact on the public's understanding of the importance of professional learning as an ongoing process for teachers.

There are growing pressures on regulators to disclose more about their decisions and processes. How do you square that with privacy needs?

Muir While GTC Scotland's default position is to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in all we do, there are various considerations when balancing this with privacy. [This is true] whether it's commercial information, personal data or the rights of the individual involved in our fitness-to-teach processes.

Ó Ruairc People's impressions tend to be informed by their lived experience of the system. Once they feel that processes are fair and deliver appropriate and equitable outcomes, the manner by which those are achieved is of secondary importance. If these conditions aren't met, the decision-making processes come in for some exacting scrutiny.

Are there increased tensions in promoting the standards and stature of the profession without being seen as advocating for it?

Muir Teachers have a profound impact on the learning experiences and life chances of young people. At the heart of this are professional values. Our vision to inspire teacher professionalism drives our work, and is the filter through which any tensions about our role can be managed. Of course, an important part of professionalism is accountability. Teacher professionalism, more than any other factor, will deliver the aspirations for a Scottish education system that's characterized by equity and excellence.

Picard We have a responsibility in law to communicate to the public on behalf of the teaching profession. That includes sharing information about high standards for entry into the profession, high practice standards, and all our efforts to protect students.

Ó Ruairc Tensions can arise in this space, particularly in public expectations of the profession and understanding of standards. A system predicated on regulation alone may be seen as robust and transparent, but without taking sufficient account of the lived human reality of the system. Equally, an approach that simply promotes may be seen as out of touch with the challenges and concerns that people are encountering. Either way, there is a disconnect, and people are less and less forgiving of disconnects in this hyperconnected world.

There's a push for governance reforms. What could that end up looking like?

Muir We'll likely need to carry out an internal review of the governance structure of GTCS. Most U.K. regulatory bodies operate under a different governance structure, with smaller, all-appointed councils.

Llewellyn When we reconfigured to become the EWC in 2015, the government reduced the size of the council from 25 members to 14. This smaller council helps to facilitate more effective strategic decision-making. Some regulators have registrant majorities, while others have lay majorities.

Ó Ruairc An emerging trend has seen 50/50 balance on boards. But one voice that's not heard in terms of governance is that of students. Jurisdictions may have different reasons why legal minors might not sit on governing boards. In light of the emphasis on inclusive education, it's reasonable to explore how the voices of learners could be more directly included in the deliberations of teaching councils.

Do you sense a change in public confidence in self-regulating bodies?

Picard Confidence in self-regulation comes down to the knowledge and understanding of how regulation works to protect them. Communication is key to bolstering that support.

Each of your bodies acts in the public interest. Is the definition of "public interest" static or changing?

Llewellyn I wouldn't say the definition is shifting, however, I would also say that not everybody knows what it means. "Safeguarding" is more commonly understood. I also support the concept and importance of "quality."

Picard The definition is always evolving. We need to continue to listen closely to our stakeholders so that we can grow to meet existing and emerging needs while mitigating risks. Regulatory events or actions in one jurisdiction now have widespread impact within the global regulatory community.

Hoskin Public interest is a moving concept, partly because there's no one public view. Different groups within our communities have different values and expectations. We need to be working to understand the diverse interests, and consider how we respond.

Ó Ruairc If there are diverse perceptions and expectations of education, this highlights the importance of facilitating people in agreeing on what "public interest" is. The need for a clear, simple and shared understanding is vital.

Regulators are under increased scrutiny by government, citizen groups and the media. Do you anticipate a move to diminish self-regulation, or create new ways to regulate the regulators?

Hoskin Where disciplinary decisions are seen as out of step with public perspectives, or the quality of services doesn't meet the public need, or the regulator is perceived as being ineffective, there's pressure for change. It may only take one disciplinary case or issue for confidence to be lost. There has been debate in New Zealand about what combination of powers is appropriate.

Picard The public expects greater accountability and transparency from every organization they deal with. As long as organizations embrace those ideals and fulfil their mandates, the public will trust them. There could very well be ways to improve services and efficiencies that result in greater appreciation and acceptance of the regulator's role. The notion of super-regulators — the idea of combining common organizational functions — can be considered a possible next step in the evolution of self-regulation.

Llewellyn Ultimately, regulators have to safeguard service users and the public. They must also do so in a proportionate and cost-effective way. Self-regulation still has a place provided these fundamental principles are upheld.