A Spat with a SpAd Part 3: QTS, or not QTS, that is the question

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QTS or not QTS, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and arrows of the DfE,
Or to take arms against a sea of Ministers,
And by opposing end them?

To die: to sleep; To teach
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That every DfE policy brings; ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death
When we have but lost to workload and stress
What dreams may come of being free to teach

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

With sincere apologies to William Shakespere

I never understood Hamlet when it was a set text in English at my grammar school. When I got the chance to take part in a production of Hamlet with the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre in 1976 (I was the Player King), I understood it so much better.

My first English teacher – who failed to inspire me,  was unqualified – he had a great Oxbridge degree, was a classics man through and through and I swear he wore a gown while teaching (I think that last memory is not real, however, gowns were worn for assembly). I passed the 11+.  When the grammar school was shut in 1972, a result of Labour’s blitz on selective education in the mid-1960, many of the teachers, including him, were re-deployed to the new comprehensives. He continued to teach as if it was still a grammar school.

I had a few other teachers who were ‘not qualified’ (many I didn’t know were not qualified until I spoke to a former teacher some years later about my time in secondary education and he told me who was and who wasn’t qualified).

I failed English literature, twice. My chemistry teacher wasn’t qualified – but I had extra tuition to get my O level (Grade C). My best teachers were the young ones, the ‘bright new things’ from the teacher training colleges.

But this anecdote is not the core of my argument for having qualified teachers over ‘unqualified’ teachers.

I have a much more pragmatic approach to the QTS vs No QTS debate.

Why wouldn’t we want our teachers qualified to enter a profession that is so important?

What on earth makes someone think that simply having a degree in a subject makes you suited to be a good teacher? Why would we not want teachers to be trained to understand how children develop and learn and what’s wrong with providing teachers with skills that will help them be good or excellent classroom practitioners?

A Job vs A Profession

Teaching is not just a job. I’m not going down the ‘vocation’ path (that’s not a bad path, but it doesn’t mean those with a passion for being a teacher and wanting to teach will make good teachers). Jamie Martin’s (@jamieamartin1) core argument is to ‘let Heads decide’. If they wish to hire someone to teach who has no formal teaching qualifications then let them.

Until Gove abolished the need for QTS in academies and free schools, all Heads could employ ‘unqualified’ teachers – they were called instructors. So, that choice already existed. This is not some new ‘freedom’ that Heads have been gifted by Gove. In some instances Heads found it very difficult to employ someone for a specialist role, or they had difficulty in getting a specialist teacher say for maths or physics. For the latter, they would try to get them on a training route to gain QTS, perhaps via the GTP route. If the specialism was really niche they could employ them as instructors. In the 1970s one of my school rugby coaches was a member of the then almost unbeatable Welsh rugby squad – he took us for rugby and nothing else. He did not fulfill the duties of a full teacher.

Here then is the difference, instructors could not fulfill the complete role of a teacher. All Gove has done is make it cheaper to hire ‘teachers’ by abolishing the need for academies and free schools to hire trained professionals. Perhaps he was fully aware that school budgets were due to be severely cut in time. Staffing costs are a school’s biggest expenditure. This makes it the area where most saving could be made, provided the law was changed to stop any form of early years pay progression and the need for any formal teaching qualifications. The evidence is that unqualified staffing is on the rise.

Teaching is not just a job, it is a profession. The difference between a job – something you ‘do’, where perhaps your training has just been about the ‘mechanics’ of the job the day to day stuff – and a profession is that a professional is educated about the profession and not only are they trained in what to do, they also understand why they do it and they are on a continuous path of learning, greater understanding and improvement.

Who needs training? A good degree is all that matters!

Talking to Heads myself, of course they much prefer trained staff over unqualified staff – no matter how good their qualifications in a subject are. There are exceptions, e.g. Richard Cairns of Brighton College, one of the top private schools, does not believe that QTS confers any/much advantage. He would prefer to hire Oxbridge graduates direct. As a private school Head he can exercise that choice freely – as can all other Heads at private schools. But is this because an Oxbridge or even a Russell Group degree prepares you better for teaching? Or is it more likely that those who have been to Oxbridge are better placed to coach those students in how to work the system to their advantage and get, like them, to Oxbridge?

Increasingly in my time in ITT I see private schools hiring more and more qualified teachers and putting staff through QTS. I do not see them decreasing the number of qualified teachers in favour of the good Oxbridge degree (or any other good degree for that matter).

Then came a bizarre part of my conversation with Mr Martin.

Well, the evidence from the many calls, e-mails and conversations I have daily with Heads and our partnership schools is that most state Heads (including academies) want qualified teachers. I know that our Sussex trainees have been employed in all schools types from top private schools (including Brighton College before Mr Cairns tenure) to high profile free schools, such as the West London Free School. Our employment rate, consistently over 90% with, often, 100% in Primary and many shortage subjects, show our trainees to be coveted by our schools.

I’d be interested if any Head could cite a case where excellent QTS NQTs were passed over for unqualified teachers – excluding of course because of any cost related reason. A newly qualified teacher would start on around £22,244 but the unqualified rate could be as little as £16,298. Mr Martin would also abolish these pay rates allowing Heads (actually governing bodies and MATs) to set their own rates. A free market with choice. But as Simon Jenkins argues well in a recent Guardian article, the free market and schools do not go well together.

But the thing that struck me most was the claim from Mr Martin that he didn’t favour extensive training. Why? Surely you would not want someone who is a professional to not have been trained? He cited many large companies that take people on without training and then train them on the job.

(the phrase ‘train on the job’ came up a number of times and I also refer readers back to part one where I show that uni training is as much on the job as school direct). He also mentioned soldiers, but as I reminded him you would not send a ‘soldier’ straight into a battlefield situation to ‘train on the job’ all soldiers have basic training as a minimum before they get anywhere near a battlefield or a conflict zone.

Earlier in the conversation, Mr Martin stated that:

It’s still politicians choosing how people are trained. Remember, School Direct is the favoured approach and any limits put on numbers are put on HEIs first and School Direct Last. Politicians are also still determining that more places should go to School Direct regardless of its success rate.

Do ‘Qualified’ Teachers Make Better Teachers?

It would be nice if there was research which showed that teachers who were qualified (i.e. trained and certified as teachers) had a more positive effect on student achievement than those who were not. One extensive piece of research which shows just that was carried out 15 years ago in the US. It concluded, amongst other things that:

Among variables assessing teacher “quality,” the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers’ education levels (Darling-Hammond, 2000 p.32)

In other words, by all means strive to hire those with good degrees, even masters or PhDs if you like, but combine that with training and certification as a qualified teacher and you will get better teachers overall.

What About the Trainee Teacher – do they have a choice in this?

There is also a fundamental ‘missing element’ here – so far the conversation has been all about Heads (and teachers) choosing how teachers should be trained, with his insistence that School Direct is the preferred choice of some (many?) Heads – though evidence as to how many actually wanted the system initially is glaringly absent.

What about those who wish to train to teach – they must have choice also. Prior to 2010 they had choice and many choose the University PGCE route. The BEd route is often the preferred route to primary. Post 2010 their choices have actually been reduced. The massive switch of provision to school direct only, the capping of places for ITT in university in favour of school direct for popular routes e.g. English, History, PE, primary forces candidates to choose school direct even if it is their wish to train in a university. They often do this, seeing the benefits of M level study and not just (in some cases) QTS. Heads must also ‘choose’ school direct and bid for places in the hope that a university partner will support and deliver what they want – even if they do not really wish to take on the extra burden of administration etc. involved in school direct. It’s either that or hope that enough trained teachers come out of the system that they can employ.

The ‘free choice’ market, beloved by Mr Martin is also not really a free choice. There is evidence that a number of school direct teaching schools are pre-selecting those who they perceive to be the best trainees and signing them up to jobs while other schools, who may be in partnership, but who are not leading or teaching schools, lose out.

At present there is a teacher recruitment crisis and it was amply predicted by all sectors well in advance. The DfE even to this day ignores the evidence from all the teaching unions and Heads leaders – their response to the ‘crisis’ is, in the words of one twitter user (not a teacher I may add, but a school governor) ‘delusional’. In a BBC report on 11th January 2016 the DfE response to the teacher recruitment crisis is as follows:

A Department for Education spokeswoman said it had worked with the profession to “raise the status of teaching”, adding that that a record number of highly-qualified graduates and “experienced career changers” were now teaching.

She added: “But we are determined to go further, and recognise that some schools find it harder to recruit the teachers they need, which is why we are expanding the great Teach First and Schools Direct programmes and we are launching the National Teaching Service, which will mean more great teachers in schools in every corner of the country.”

I’m sorry, but this is a pitiful response to a national teaching recruitment crisis.

How does abolishing the need for any formal qualifications in teaching ‘raise the status’ of teachers? It does just the opposite.

Pay has been massively eroded with a further 4 years of a maximum 1% rise – a rise which some schools are withholding due to budget cuts.  This does nothing to ‘raise the status’ of teachers – again, quite the opposite.

The National Teaching Service – as far as I can see – is not about training more teachers, but taking good or excellent teachers from one school to place them in another.

Notice also, in the DfE comment, how university training routes does not even warrant a mention.

Teach First is still a very minor route into teaching and I doubt has the capacity to expand to adequately meet the crisis. And in all this chaos, the best recruiters, the majority recruiter with nearly 50% ‘outstanding’ provision, is being stopped from expanding and is being cut back, all so that Gove’s (now Morgan’s) reform can provide ‘choice’ to Heads – choice that they had before, but which now is no choice, but a forced position to bolster a flagging and failing route that was rushed and badly implemented. As I stated in Part 2, it’s no choice!

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