The Royal College of Teaching – Membership and Fellowship Requirements

In his recent report, Dominic Cummings noted that, if a Royal College of Teaching is going to be a success, then it needs to emerge as a grassroots movement, established by the profession, and presented to the Government as a fait accompli. I pretty much agree with this conclusion. In the spirit of this, I had a go at defining the requirements for different levels of membership of the Royal College of Teachers, and produced some example examinations to determine access to each level.

It will not surprise regular readers of this blog that I think the examinations will need to be quite subject specific. I would be fascinated if someone else were to take this model and make it work for maths, chemistry, languages and so on.

So, here we go.

Types of membership

Student member

 This level of membership is aimed at new entrants to the profession. Joining the RCT gives student members access to relevant research journals. It is expected that students will progress to full membership after one or two years of experience (equivalent to end of current NQT period).

Member of the Royal College of Teachers

 This is the ordinary level of the RCT. In order to gain membership, teachers have to pass all of the components of the examination (see below). It is expected that teachers will be ready to progress to fellowship after around four years.

Membership is not for life. Teachers have to be reaccredited every five years. This is a way of maintaining some quality control over the profession, and it is also an incentive to proceed to Fellowship which does not require reaccreditation.

The standard here is broadly equivalent to the current ‘QTS’, though see the examination requirements below to show how it differs on this model. The requirements should be set at a level which means that the ‘pass rate’ is around 80%-90%.

It is expected that all classroom teachers would achieve membership, though it might take some longer to reach this than others. Exam boards would be encouraged to make membership a requirement for becoming an examiner or moderator.

Fellow of the Royal College of Teachers

This is the highest level of the RCT. In order to gain fellowship, teachers have to pass all of the components of the examination (see below). The requirements here are much more stringent, with the ‘pass rate’ set at around 40%-50%. Members can put themselves forward for fellowship every two years (on the grounds that if one fails the examination then it will take around two years to get up to the standard).

Fellowship is for life and reaccreditation is not required, though fellowship can be revoked for professional misconduct.

This is the expected level for more senior teachers, including heads of department, mentors of trainees and principal examiners.


Examination requirements


In order to become a member of the RCT, a teacher would need to pass the following components of the examination.

Part 1 – Written Exam

This would be a three-hour exam with three sections. Applicants would need to answer one question from each of the following:

  • History
  • History Education
  • General Education

I have put together a Membership Exam as an example.

Part 2 – Coursework

One 2000-word essay on each of the three points above with questions set by the RCT each year.

Part 3 – Portfolio

This would be rather like the current ‘teaching file’ that is used to assess trainee teachers. It would include schemes of work, evaluations of these schemes, examples of marking and so on. It would also include (ungraded!) lesson observations and a record of the progress made over the teacher’s career so far.

 Part 4 – Two references

These references would be asked to comment specifically on behaviour management and professional values (such as punctuality, working with parents, etc.).

If all three components of the examination are passed, then a teacher becomes a member of the Royal College of Teachers. The standard here is probably similar to current QTS where this is done well – i.e. the MRCT is a badge of basic competence that a headteacher could have confidence in when employing staff.


In order to gain fellowship of the Royal College of Teachers (FRCT) a teacher would need to meet the following requirements. The pass rate here is set at around 50%.

Part 1 – Written Exam (History)

This is a three-hour written exam with three sections (British, European and World History). Applicants have to answer one question from each section. The idea here is that although there will be some predictability, not every period will get a question every exam, so it forces a broad range of substantive knowledge.

Part 2 – Written Exam (History Education)

This is a three-hour written exam with three sections (Curriculum, Assessment, and History of the Subject). Applicants have to answer one question from each section.

Part 3 – Written Exam (General Education)

This is a three-hour written exam with three sections (Research, Psychology & Sociology, History & Philosophy). Applicants have to answer one question from each section.

Part 4 – Coursework

A 5000-word essay on a question of the applicant’s choosing.

Part 5 – Portfolio

This portfolio should contain a sample of materials that show what the candidate has achieved in his or her career so far. This would naturally involve schemes of work with evaluations, (ungraded!) observations of lessons, examples of marking, contributions to pastoral and extra-curricular activities, work in SEN and all of the other things that one would expect an experienced teacher to be able to demonstrate. The portfolio would need to be signed off by an internal and external referee.

Part 6 – References

One external and one internal reference which again focus on things like behaviour management and professional attitudes.

On completing all five parts of the examination, a teacher would become a Fellow of the Royal College of Teachers (FRCT). This badge should be sufficiently reputable that headteachers could use it in employing heads of department or mentors of trainee teachers, while exam boards might use it to help employ principle examiners and moderators.


I suspect there are many disagreements with this model and one of the things I want to do here is to encourage discussion. I have tried to pre-empt some questions, though please add additional ones to the comments.

(1) Who sets the exams?

The reputation of any scheme depends on its internal quality standards. I would suggest that the examinations are set by a panel containing academic bodies (e.g. Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry) and experienced teachers.

(2) Should the requirements involve pupil attainment or achievement?

My feeling here is no. I do not have a problem with teachers being held to account with exam grades over a period of time, but I do not think they reliably tell us about teacher quality. What if you pick up a class in Year 11 which has been taught poorly in Years 7-10? Or the opposite? What about statistical variation in results? I think if results were consistently low for no apparent reason then that is an issue, and one which the referees should be instructed to comment on, but I would not include a formal requirement that teachers have to demonstrate ‘pupil progress’: this is far too ephemeral a thing on which to decide the future of someone’s career.

(3) How high should the bar for Fellowship be set?

I have suggested that the pass rate should be around 50%. If something is easy to get (like, quite frankly, QTS) then its quality is questionable. If you fail half of the people who apply for something, then it becomes a standard which people aspire to reach. I would of course place no limitations on how many times people apply for Fellowship, though I might include a proviso such as one can apply only once every two years. I think it’s a similar model for lawyers wanting to become a QC?

(4) Why have reaccreditation for Membership?

Most teachers should be operating at Membership level, and as such reaccreditation should not be an issue. It is important however to have checks in the system which means that those who are not meeting the requirements drop down. Having reaccreditation every five years or so is reasonable, and it serves as an incentive to aspire to Fellowship.

(5) Should it be compulsory?

My feeling here is ‘no’. Let headteachers decide who they want to employ, though, if the RCT were successful, the badge of Membership and Fellowship would surely give someone an advantage over those who do not have it. This might be managed through accountability too: a school with low levels of Membership and Fellowship of the RCT might at least expect to have to answer questions about this during an inspection, just so they can demonstrate that they are nevertheless meeting the same standards.

(6) What is the role of universities?

There is a strong knowledge component in the examinations, and universities deal in knowledge every day. My guess here is that universities might offer courses which meet the requirements of the RCT. For example, a strong PGCE might include passing several components of the Membership examination. A strong Masters degree might well involve passing several of the Fellowship components. This does I think currently work fairly well in other professions, including medicine, law and architecture.





4 Comments on The Royal College of Teaching – Membership and Fellowship Requirements

  1. Matt Bradshaw // 29 September 2014 at 19:21 // Reply

    Although I think any attempt to raise the profile of teaching as a profession is laudable. I am just not sure that this kind of accreditation would be worth the investment of time to achieve.

    Currently there are so many competing systems for showing professional competency in leadership and management from a range of organisations SSAT, NCSL etc to say nothing of Future Leaders and academy chain programmes.

    The MEd seemed to signal an exciting step towards recognition of the academic demands of teaching and the value of reflection and research. It hasn’t worked. Most schools, like businesses, put a premium on recent prior performance and delivery (however skewed this information may be). Leading to SLT across the nation bearing a greater resemblance to applicants for The Apprentice than academics. The MEd is less important than concocting a data set that makes you look transformative.

    Until we fundamentally reform our view of teaching away from data gaming and a mass exercise in marginal gains. We will never recognise the quality of something like a Fellowship. Virtuous as it may be I would guess it is destined to be the egg (or the chicken).

    • Hi Matt – yes, I recognise the idealism of my post here. And I think you’re absolutely right re. senior leadership. SLT were conspicuously absent from my model, not least because I didn’t want to suggest that Fellowship was primarily a pathway to leadership. Still, there is some appetite for more professional autonomy at the moment (and it’s a call which is coming from outside the ranks of SLT as well as within), so maybe the ‘grassroots’ might have a chance to push through?

  2. Well done for making an attempt to start a ball rolling. As far as your suggestions go, I think organisations like the IoP, RSC and SoB might be quite keen to engage with science subject knowledge assessment (the IoP have been working on something in this area, already) and I can see an argument for assessing subject knowledge at a level higher than required for QTS as part of RCT accreditation. Some thought about subject knowledge would have to go into primary as well – would that be the same for all primary teachers or would there be specialisms. On the same note, what about someone teaching all three sciences equally (that’s quite common) or someone trained in History but teaching more than 50% RE? However, I’m sure those are all answerable questions. I think the other issue is that an exam is a pretty hefty cultural change for teachers but it is inline with other professions.
    Moving on from subject knowledge, my intial response is that if the standard for membership is similar to QTS, what is gained by requiring teachers to compile a second portfolio at the same standard as their QTS one? And equally, PGCE involves 3 x 4000 words at Master’s standard already (at Southampton two of these are subject-specific and one general education) so for most teachers, parts 4 and 5 would be repetition of a level they have already reached.
    I can’t help thinking that you’ve tried to come down from the Masters degree, because of the problems with that route, but ended up saying something about what QTS ought to look like and actually more-or-less reproduced PGCE.
    I find myself returning to a conclusion I came to when thinking about the usefulness of the M-Level assignments in our PGCE course, which was that one M-Level assignment (4000 words = 20 credits) was enough in the training year (engagement with research but not distracting too much from classroom practice) with the other 40 credits coming in NQT+1 or +2. It hadn’t occurred to me that these might be anything other than the completion of PGCE but what if these formed part of RCT membership? This would make RCT membership about demonstrating further development of subject-specific knowledge and completing PGCE at M-Level. Perhaps instead of a generic portfolio, this could become more specific but equally with a really broad range of options. So, maybe evidence of improving practice in e.g. assessment, or behaviour; or developing a new SoW; or taking on a SEN role, or a pastoral responsibility etc. This could also include something related to preparation for leadership. In this way, the portfolio would be something beyond the QTS Teachers Standards but would also be directly relevant to each teacher, making it less likely to seem like a paperwork exercise (although that is still a danger).
    Best wishes

    • Thanks for this – very helpful comments.


      On QTS – yes, my ‘Membership’ level here is essentially a statement about ‘what QTS ought to look like’. In some ways it’s just a rebranding, though the emphasis on subject specificity is stronger than in current QTS.

      On Masters degrees – I probably didn’t quite explain this clearly enough. I think in many professions you can take a postgraduate (or even an undergraduate) qualification that contains ‘qualifying components’ that exempt you from professional qualification. Medical degrees (I think) include common tests and assignments, while law has modules that have to be taken for subsequent registration with the Law Society or an Inn of Court. My hope would be that, if a RCT set out its requirements clearly, then universities would begin tailoring their qualifications to fit. In this way. the RCT becomes a powerful force for determining a curriculum for a professional knowledge base.

      I could imagine universities tailoring PGCEs / MEds to meet the requirements of Membership (and a RCT granting exemptions to people with those qualifications) and MEd/EdD courses to meet some of the requirements for Fellowship. I think the major issue with ITT at the moment is the curriculum – there is no agreed knowledge base for the profession, and therefore no curriculum and no consistency. Essentially I’m making a kind of Core Knowledge / National Curriculum plea for ITT!

      On non-subject specific things – I’m quite open to this. For example, I could imagine specifying sections of a portfolio or parts of an exam on SEN, pastoral roles and so on.

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