Laura McInerney was a teacher for 6 years and is the co-founder of Teacher Tapp. These are her individual views.
To be a McDonald’s floor manager you have to pass 3 exams; to be a teacher, if trends continue, you won’t have to pass anything. How Michael Gove has looked at the problems of our education system and came to the conclusion: “You know what would solve this? Less training among teachers” is entirely beyond me. A far more sensible approach would be setting in stone the absolute minimum requirements for entering the profession, and then requiring teachers to meet further (and harder) ones throughout their career.
Many people think that the new position for England is that teachers must only have a degree but do not need to take a further course. If so, this would put England equivalent with Namibia, Bulgaria and the US – none of which are riding high in the current education league tables. But the actual policy introduced last July in fact says that teachers in academies or free school (and, likely soon, any school) do not need any qualification, nor will they ever need to get one. The only place in the world this is equivalent to is Bangladesh.
Teachers get better with deliberate practise. Initial teacher training leading to ‘qualified teacher status’ (QTS) provides the opportunity for deliberate practise in the skills of lesson planning, behaviour management, assessment, and it also ensures that teachers are meeting at least an agreed standard in each of these areas before continuing on unguided. If politicians feel that the current standards are not rigorous enough (a view shared by other education writers) then the solution is making them more stringent, not ripping them up. Abandoning QTS as a policy for improving teaching quality makes as much sense as turfing over the M25 in order to reduce traffic jams.
“But why can’t schools decide if someone should be a teacher?” is the cry from those who want to defend the idea that having teachers submitting evidence of their skills to an external body for the purpose of verification is unnecessary. If a school is satisfied with the way a teacher is teaching, why shouldn’t they be allowed to continue without getting the QTS seal of approval?
Here are three reasons why simply “leaving it up to schools” is negligent:
1. Headteachers do not own teachers, taxpayers do – Michael Wilshaw, Chair of Ofsted, recently said there should be a “National Teaching Service” – actually, there already is one. While teachers often think of themselves as ‘belonging’ to a certain school, they are paid for by everyone and belong to everyone. Hence, taxpayers should be assured that anyone being paid in this role are meeting a minimum standard if, for no other reason, than because it provides a value for money guarantee. But beyond that, teachers – like any other professional – should not be beholden to one school. They must be able to move around workplaces as needed and teachers are more easily able to do so if they can show they have met an agreed standard. Without it, Headteachers must take a punt on hiring someone without any clear evidence they have objectively demonstrated an ability to adequately do the job.
2. Leaders don’t always know (or care) about terrible teachers – Faced with a staff shortage, or a tight budget, or simply being pushed for time, it is easy for a person to be hired, never really be checked on, and then be teaching abysmally unaware of many regulations and skills imperative to teaching. Requiring an external check at the very least means struggling teachers are found and are given external support or, if they are terminally terrible, are prevented from entering, or remaining in, the profession.
3. Nepotism and favouritism are a real problem – Every teacher can point to an example of a colleague who should not be continuing in the profession but remains in their position because they play golf with the Head or their kids go to Brownies together. Favouritism is another perfectly human trait, but it again means teacher quality should be externally checked beyond the leadership team – and not just by a 20-minute Ofsted check once every few years.
If you are now about to say that teachers can pass QTS but still go on to be awful practitioners, I wholeheartedly agree. But this is a reason why QTS should simply be the start of a process, not the end. In the late 2000s Labour suggested a 5 or 10 year teacher ‘licence’ so that teachers were required to show they were still meeting standards. Unpopular because of potential costs and implementation difficulties it is nevertheless the case that if we want continuous teacher improvement, requiring teachers to continually evidence it is likely a good step forwards.
Ways to do this might include:
- Mandatory re-licencing at set time intervals – For example, every 5 years teachers submit a portfolio for examination. If not meeting standards schools would need to put support in place and if the teacher did not then improve they could be dismissed.
- Requiring examination/portfolios before promotion – This was the model for the Advanced Skills Teacher position. Teachers working at a higher level created portfolios and were observed by an external person to show they had met this standard.
- Voluntary ‘accreditation’ – Given plans for a re-launched College of Teaching, several commentators have suggested it could administrate a ‘stamp of approval’ given to teachers who meet certain standards. Operating as a voluntary accreditation scheme this would enable teachers to demonstrate their skills if they wished to move jobs rather than requiring teachers to become qualified, as was previously the case.
Without putting in place these requirements, I must reiterate again, we will be in the odd situation of living in a country where it is harder to become a McDonald’s floor manager than a teacher. Having worked in both jobs I know they both take hard work and a great deal of nous to get right. But employing the wrong person in one of these positions at worst ends in a customer getting a disappointing meal. Getting it wrong in the other, leads to the destruction of life chances. Any real debate about teacher qualifications must always start with this risk in mind.