What does “professional” mean? The dictionary defines it broadly as “doing something for money” but in a more narrow sense, being skilled. Even narrower is being part of a “profession” such as Doctors and Lawyers where it takes many years to acquire knowledge of the arcana. A professional is more likely to be self-employed and so have little job-security. The returns can be enormous, if they’re good, but part of professional status is the willingness to forgo employment rights.
People who have skills tend to be well paid. Their experience is vital, and they are not easily replaced. Professionals tend to find this best if they’re self-regulated. It’s in their interests to collectively policed and access to the profession restricted to keep individual rewards up. Setting high standards works for both the existing members of a profession.
Trades, on the otherhand are easier to acquire. It’s easier to find a plumber than a doctor. This means even highly skilled people can be replaced, if an employer is willing to train another hand. For this reason, Trades unions formed. Collective bargaining was the best way in the absense of any individual being vital to a company, to secure higher wages, from employers.
So. Are Teachers professional? Because they act as if they’re a trade. If you want Job protection, you can’t have high pay. You can’t go on strike, and still call yourself professional. If you want to make rubbish teachers hard to get rid of, you all pay for it with low wages. If you want us to treat you as professional, start getting rid of the lousy teachers, poisoning kids against education, and start competing with each other to deliver, and be rewarded for excellence. That’s what “professional” means.
Free schools, perhaps this Government’s most compelling policy, are a means to deliver the ideal of a professional teaching profession. They will, of course, be resisted in this by the Trades Unions, of the NAS/UWT, and NUT. As schools gain independence over hiring and firing from the collective of the Local Education Authority (or whatever these bodies are called this week), bad teachers will rapidly find it cold outside the warm embrace of a protective union, will seek out the safer jobs in lower-achieving schools. Good teachers will thrive, and see their pay improve outside the restrictive pay-scales of local bureaucracy. I can see a situation where the worst schools employ the TUC-affiliated teachers, and the good schools’ teachers are members of Voice. No-one has any sympathy for the teachers themselves, because the focus should be entirely on the outcome for students. By all means pay reward excellence but cut the dross, and free schools have everywhere worked in the interests of students.
Trades unions used to be workers’ mutual support amongst people who were ultimately replaceable – agricultural Labourers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs or industrial workers like the miners, whose only power to better their lot could be found collectively. These jobs have largely vanished, Trades Unions having killed the profitability of Britain’s remaining mass-employment industries, and hastened their demise. So now Unions exist almost exclusively in the public sector, where they exploit the lack of commercial pressures to secure perks for their members.
Ultimately, the trades union, acting on behalf of people, Doctors, Teachers, whom we expect to be professional, upsets the public more than when trades unions act on behalf of lower skilled, and lower paid people like nurses. It feels abusive – the already well-off and powerful demanding perks with blackmail, paid for from the wages of people, most of whom earn less.
By introducing markets, even ones in the public-sector where the state pays all the bills WILL drive up standards, and not only by the usual mechanisms of customer choice, but also by providing mechanisms to reward successful professionals.