Teachers would have to be licensed every few years in order to work in England’s state schools under a future Labour government, the BBC has learned.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said regular re-licensing of teachers would allow the worst ones to be sacked whilst helping others to receive more training and development.
The last government made a similar proposal for what became known as “classroom MOTs” but then dropped it.
Unions criticised it as “pointless”.
The Conservatives said they had already taken steps to improve teaching standards.
When former schools secretary Ed Balls proposed a so-called “licence to practise” in 2009, the National Union of Teachers said it would be “another unnecessary hurdle” for teachers while the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it would be a “bureaucratic nightmare” to introduce.
But the NASUWT and National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) came out in favour of the plans at the time.
At the moment teachers are not licensed.
Indeed, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the fact that some of those working in the government’s new “free schools” can teach without having “qualified teacher status”.
Tristram Hunt told the BBC the idea was about recognising the “enormously important” role that teachers played and helping the profession “grow”.
“Just like lawyers and doctors they should have the same professional standing which means relicensing themselves, which means continued professional development, which means being the best possible they can be,” he said.
“If you’re not a motivated teacher – passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom – then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.
“So if you’re not willing to engage in relicensing to update your skills then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom,” he added.
Although the “devil would be in the detail”, the NUT said it could potentially be a positive development.
Nick Wigmore, a primary school teacher, said the plans were “unnecessary”
“If this turned out to be a continuation of the Michael Gove denigration of teachers a top-down judgemental prescription of how teachers teach it would be very negative,” said union official Kevin Courtney.
“But if relicensing were truly based on a new entitlement to high-quality professional development that was controlled by the teacher profession then we could talk about the details of how to improve it.
“It could be very positive for education.”
However, NUT general secretary Christine Blower added: “There will be a good many teachers who will just see this as another hurdle.”
Ian Fenn, the head teacher of Burnage Media Arts College in Manchester, told BBC Breakfast that in principle he would welcome the licensing plan.
The largest teaching union NASUWT said “important preconditions” needed to be met before the move could be introduced.
And Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, hit out at commentators for hijacking any debate about how to improve the profession and turning it into an attempt to “root out incompetent teachers”.
“No group of workers, least of all teachers, deserves to be treated in this way,” she said.
Labour plans to consult with the unions on how a new system of licensing might be made more acceptable to them.
The assessments would be continuous, based in the classroom and would involve external assessors and not just school staff. Re-licensing of teachers could take place every seven or nine years and not five as under the Balls plan.
A newly strengthened Royal College of Teaching could be used to issue and supervise the licences.
Kevin Courtney, NUT: ”This is more denigration of teachers”
There have been calls from across the political spectrum for the creation of a new professional body like the General Medical Council which would be separate from both the unions and the government.
Labour is hoping to use this announcement to claim it is interested in classroom standards while the Conservatives are, instead, focusing on school structures.
They also want to show that they are willing to stand up to the unions.
The coalition has recently introduced annual appraisals for doctors supervised by the General Medical Council. They face a decision every five years on whether they can continue to practice.
A Conservative Party spokesman said the party would look at any proposals which would genuinely improve the quality of teaching.
“We have already taken action by allowing heads to remove teachers from the classroom in a term, as opposed to a year previously, and scrapping the three-hour limit on classroom observations.
“We are improving teacher training, expanding Teach First and allowing heads to pay good teachers more. Thanks to our reforms, a record proportion of top graduates are entering the profession.
“Fixing the schools system so young people have the skills they need is a key part of our long-term economic plan. That will mean better schools for our communities and a better education for young people who want to get on,” he said.