The days when the professions enjoyed automatic respect from the public are long gone. Attacks on the integrity and competence of professions come from all sides. Scandals like the Shipman murders and the Bristol Royal Infirmary’s failure to respond to abnormally high death rates amongst babies have led to claims of systemic failure. Teachers are widely depicted as stressed out, burned out or incompetent. And the Kentish rebel in Shakespeare’s Henry VI who shouts ‘the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’ is guaranteed to bring the house down.
If we no longer believe that professionals are above petty vanity, greed and self-interest, this raises obvious questions about their ability to regulate their own behaviour and maintain professional standards. In the name of creating more trust and accountability, the government is taking an increasing interest in professional training, licensing and assessment. But does this threaten the integrity and independence of the professions? Is such interference a case of control freakery, or are politicians responding to a crisis of confidence in the professions, as evidenced by their own eagerness to involve non-experts in decision making, from ‘personalised learning’ to deference to‘expert patients’? Who should decide what counts as ethically correct behaviour, and to whom can professionals be held accountable if not their peers, who have the benefit of specialist training and expert knowledge? Is the public suspicious of doctors, lawyers and teachers as people, or have we lost faith in expertise itself? Can professionals themselves use their status, expertise and authority to win respect from a sceptical public and from politicians?
Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King's College London; director of MSc in Public Services Policy & Management; author, Review of Vocational Education - The Wolf Report
| Simon Wessely
head, department of psychological medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London
chief executive, General Teaching Council for England
professor of education, University of Derby; director, Academics for Academic Freedom; co-founder, East Midlands Salon
When we deal with lawyers, doctors, or other professions, are we enjoying a guarantee of truly "professional" service, based on ancient tradition and proud independence from outside interference?BBC Radio 4, 24 April 2008
Speech at Childhood, Well-being and Primary Education conference.Keith Bartley, GTCE, 17 March 2008
We say we no longer trust our public services, institutions or the people who run them. Politicians, accountants, doctors, scientists, businessmen, auditors and many others are treated with suspicion. Their word is doubted, their motives are questioned.BBC Radio 4, 2002
A speech to the Social Market FoundationEstelle Morris, teachernet, 12 November 2001