Time to change from QTS to LTS?

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It’s about time we cleared up a few misconceptions about teacher qualifications and the need to be a ‘qualified teacher’. The first confusion, one that is deliberately and mischievously stated, is that a graduate with a first class degree in a subject is qualified. They may have an excellent degree from an excellent university and to call them ‘unqualified’ is an insult. This is mischievous misdirection. Those who make such a claim know full well that the ‘qualification’ being referred to is not in the subject matter, but linked to the skills, knowledge and understanding of teaching, child development and learning. They deliberately misuse the term qualified. As they seem to have difficulty separating professional qualifications from academic ones, perhaps we should change from Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) to Licenced Teacher Status (LTS)

Some argue that there is no need for a standard teacher qualification in order to be a good teacher. Reading the polemic arguments of those brave enough to venture into print on this matter I see many misconceptions about the nature of the ‘qualifications’ necessary to be a good teacher.

Michael Gove supports getting the ‘best’ qualified people into teaching. Initially this was all about degree classification in a subject area. His simplistic (incorrect) assumption being the better the degree qualification, the better the teacher. Research shows this not to be true – but there is also research that shows that it may be true. We can argue all day long about this aspect of teaching, but the fact is, knowing your subject and knowing how to teach what you know are two different things. The latter requires training and experience. The government has now backtracked on graduates with a 2:2 degree or higher should train to teach allowing those with third class degrees to be eligible for government funding in maths, physics, chemistry, reversing a Conservative election pledge on standards.

Others, e.g. Toby Young – founder of the West London Free School, think that QTS is some form of union led ‘closed shop’ arrangement. Perhaps the fear is that the union ‘certified’ teacher is more likely to be a socialist indoctrinator of young people than an educator looking after the welfare, potential and interests of all their pupils. Talks of the PGCE being ‘a union approved piece of paper that makes someone a qualified teacher’ are simply wrong. The union may well (and rightly in my view) approve of the PGCE, but it is not what qualifies someone to teach. Many teachers who are qualified, but who do not hold a PGCE, are union members. QTS and the PGCE are two different things, as I will explain below.

All tax-payer funded schools are now free to hire unqualified teachers, not just academies and free schools. A change in ‘The Education (School Teachers) (Qualifications and Specified Work) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2012’ does ‘remove the condition that an instructor may only carry out specified work if no suitable qualified teacher or teacher on the employment based training scheme is available’. It also removes the restriction that ‘an instructor may only carry out specified work for such period of time as no suitable qualified teacher or teacher on the employment based training scheme is available.’ But the key here is that it applies to a category of employee called an ‘instructor’. An instructor, as the name implies, is not a teacher.

So let’s put right some of the misconceptions rife in these views opposing the notion of all teachers being qualified teachers.

Firstly, much is made of this government is championing ‘on the job’ training. Yet rarely is it acknowledged that, prior to Michael Gove’s reforms, two thirds of teacher training was ‘on the job’. Even under the new School Direct initiative where the training places are being allocated to schools, with a target of 50% of training places being ‘school-based’ by 2015, the proportion of time being required to be spent in schools remains the same. Only with the School Direct (salaried) route is this not the case as the trainee is an employee of the school and expected to have experience. They are expected to take on direct teaching much earlier – very similar to the old salaried Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) route. This leaves me wondering what, if anything, has changed? Universities worked in partnership with schools, had schools sitting on advisory boards, helping them deliver the kind of teachers they wanted prior to School Direct. This is what the DfE wanted, but failed to recognise, or deliberately ignores.

Second is the confusion between the standards in training that a graduate must reach and the academic achievement in the field of education studies they may also, at the same time, attain. The PGCE and QTS.

The PGCE (either the Professional Graduate Certificate in Education or the Post Graduate Certificate in Education) is an academic award bestowed upon an individual by a University. It comes in two levels, The Professional Graduate level, which is equivalent to final year degree level and the Post Graduate level, which is equivalent to Masters level, though not a full Master’s degree. It does not, in itself, qualify a person to teach and it is not Qualified Teacher Status. I know of a number of students who have a PGCE but who are not ‘qualified teachers’ in the sense that they could not be paid as a qualified teacher in a state school, prior to the pay reforms, and they cannot have their names recorded as such on the register of qualified teachers held by the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL).

Qualified Teacher Status is not awarded by a university or a training provider. This award is what gives an individual the professional status of being a qualified teacher. Only the NCTL can award QTS to an individual and they do so on the recommendation of the university or training provider. In order to gain QTS, minimum standards of professional competence must be met. These standards were not devised by the ‘unions’ as a means to secure a closed shop and a cushy number for their members. The standards are set by the government. It was a government working party of Head teachers who revised and simplified the previous standards.

In an article defending the use of unqualified teachers Anthony Seldon says that most Head teachers ‘can tell within minutes whether someone has “got it” or not.’ I agree. I have seen many unqualified students on their initial steps towards becoming a teacher and in some there seems to be some inherent ability – they can just ‘teach’. But do we really want a profession where people are hired on the basis of a gut instinct formed after just 10 minutes? For me that instinct then needs to be confirmed over time and supplemented with training that allows the instinctive teacher to understand why they do what they do and what it is that makes them good.

Instead of a profession where we can assess potential, where we can take well qualified people and train them to achieve a standard when it is then ‘safe’ to let them loose on classes, teaching to a good standard, we are in the position of allowing anyone to apply for and become a teacher, subject to the necessary checks on their background.

Even with School Direct – the new route into teaching – schools are still getting used to assessing potential over readiness to teach. Colleagues in initial teacher education from many providers around the country tell me that often schools reject perfectly good graduates on the basis that they could not teach a demonstration lesson well – in other words they are looking only for those with an innate ability to teach rather than the well qualified graduate with the potential to become a good teacher.

Nobody doubts that teachers need to be well qualified in their subject – but this is different from an ability to impart that knowledge effectively to children – this is where the academic study in education and teaching standards come into the frame. Gaining a PGCE means that you have an awareness of the theoretical basis of teaching – how children grow and develop, how they learn, the phases they pass through as they grow older and how to deal with the subtle art of questioning and dealing with misconceptions etc. QTS assesses that person’s ability to perform the job to a minimum standard, it is more akin to passing a driving test.

QTS does not mean fully qualified and experienced. Experience can make you a better teacher (as can experience in driving make you a better driver), so too can you fall into bad habits. Merely gaining QTS does not ensure that you are always going to be a good teacher – many go forward and become great teachers – some ‘crash’ or fall into bad habits and perhaps they need to have their ‘licence’ endorsed, withdrawn or even removed until they can show that they can meet that safe standard once more. But to deregulate the profession and allow parity for the qualified and the non-qualified is senseless. It does more to harm our children that it will ever do to increase their life chances or raise standards in the profession. Indeed, how can we call ourselves professionals if there is no professional requirement that we have to meet?

The solution is to remove from the hands of politicians and government bodies our professional standards. The academic standard, the PGCE or a full Master’s Degree is safe in the hands of the universities. We need an independent body, perhaps the Royal College of Teachers, to be the guardian of our professional standards, to uphold the highest standards, to revisit and look in detail at how we train our teachers and what it means to bestow the title of Teacher on those in the profession. The unions are not, and should not, be in control of our profession. The DfE should not be in control and should not run our profession – certainly they should not run it down as they do regularly. A Royal College would need to be accountable to parliament for the profession, but unless and until we reclaim the profession the real concern I have is that slowly the standards and qualifications required to be a good teacher will be eroded. That threatens the life of our profession and the life chances of our children.

Finally perhaps it’s time to change QTS to LTS – Licenced Teacher Status. That removes the issue of what ‘qualified’ means. It also allows for periodic reviews of a licence and for licences to be revoked. Excellent teachers may also move towards advanced licences (like advanced drivers) or even ‘super licences’ (such as those given to the world’s best drivers in F1).

(This blog was first published in December 2013 on the TES website)

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