In which I weigh into the debate on qualified and unqualified teachers

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The coalition have had a little falling out recently over education, specifically over the rules regarding unqualified teachers. Currently free schools and academies are permitted to appoint teachers who don’t hold qualified teacher status, and in September 2012 the rules on teacher qualification for all state maintained schools were slightly relaxed. As yet, it’s not clear how big an effect this most recent change has had, but there’s some more information on numbers of unqualified teachers in free schools here.

I’ll pin my colours to the mast upfront, and say that I am a qualified teacher. I’ve never taught in school, and specialise in teaching adults in the workplace and community. However, I still have a bit of a bee in my bonnet over the perceived professionalism of teaching.

The idea of allowing, or encouraging, schools to appoint individuals without a teaching qualification seems to be an attempt to get more inspirational individuals from different professional backgrounds into schools. On face value, that’s laudable. A big part of education is about engaging and inspiring students, and having direct contact with people who’ve achieved success in different professions is one good way of doing that. It’s also a way of bringing up to date expertise into the classroom, and it’s perfectly possible that some of those individuals will be charismatic classroom teachers. Others won’t – in-depth knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge are not necessarily overlapping skills.

However, subject expertise and charisma aren’t the be all and end all of good teaching. You need to be able to do behaviour management, lesson planning, formative assessment, summative assessment, designing learning outcomes, designing learning activities and resources, differentiating within your lesson for different abilities and learning speeds, adapting your lesson plan to the realities of the class in front of you – and all of those things are skills that need to be thought about and developed.

That doesn’t mean that someone who joins a school without a teaching qualification can’t learn those skills, but I do think it demonstrates that teaching qualifications have value. It also suggests to me that politicians in the department of education don’t really understand the complexity of a teacher’s role. It appears that they equate good teaching with simply knowing about your subject and being able to talk about it. Both those things are important, but they’re not everything. A teaching qualification demonstrates that you’ve spent time gaining an understanding of the theories and practice that underpin good teaching and effective learning.

Michael Gove (oh come on – you knew I’d get to him eventually, didn’t you?) has been vocal about GCSE and A’Level ‘grade inflation,’ and spoke last week, defending his preference for more rigorous testing of children. He said:

“Imagine that you had a choice not of schools, but of airlines. There is Test Airlines, very rigorous, and there is Warm and Fuzzy Airlines. What’s the difference between the two? In Test Airlines they actually insist that the pilots have passed a test so that they can fly a plane. How old-fashioned can you get?

“At Warm and Fuzzy Airlines, they don’t bother with these tests to see if pilots can fly. They just concentrate on all of the pilots giving the customers a warm and fuzzy feeling as soon as they get on board. Which would you fly with?”

Well yes. Quite. What I simply don’t understand is why you would apply that logic in one case and decide that tougher qualifications are good for children, but, at the same time, conclude that formal qualifications in teaching aren’t necessary for their teachers? Either qualifications matter and tell us something about a person’s skills and expertise, or they don’t. The bottom line here, I suspect, is that Gove simply doesn’t see teaching as a complex, expert profession; he sees it as something that anyone who knows a bit about a subject can probably have a jolly good stab at. And conversely, that attitude is probably exactly the one that will discourage the most expert and highest achieving individuals in different fields from considering teaching as a career. Rather than opening up teaching, it lowers the status of the profession, and discourages both current and potential teachers. You wouldn’t want an unqualified doctor, dentist, pilot, solicitor, or electrician. So why would you value your child’s (or your own) education less highly than your fusebox?

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11 thoughts on “In which I weigh into the debate on qualified and unqualified teachers

    Julie Cohen said:
    October 25, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Hear hear.

    Like

    Polly said:
    October 25, 2013 at 9:43 am

    heh-heh ‘Warm and Fuzzy Airlines’ – nice point, well made ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

      Alison May responded:
      October 25, 2013 at 9:45 am

      And those aren’t even my words – that’s what Mr Gove himself said in a really spectacular bit of double think..

      Like

    John said:
    October 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

    What are the tests one has to pass to become Education secretary? Can’t someone else just have a go?

    Like

      Alison May responded:
      October 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I could have a go at that ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

    Rhoda Baxter said:
    October 25, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Well said that lady. I’m not a qualified teacher, but I wouldn’t dare to teach kids without some tuition on how to manage the workload, plan etc.

    Like

    Ros Maynard said:
    October 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Thought free schools were supposed to be in some way better, and better funded, than state schools, so why would they want to employ unqualified people?

    Like

    Kate Oakley said:
    October 27, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Try working with an unqualified teacher .With out appropriate qualifications your get a sub standard in education or any other profession . Standards are raised only through qualifications .

    Like

    juleswake said:
    November 15, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Extremely well put!

    Like

    electronicbaglady said:
    December 7, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I may be a bit out of date here, but I remember some years back when the rules were tightened (and in general I am in favour of the profession being treated as a profession!) that it was very difficult at our school to recruit teachers because a number of the best candidates had qualified abroad eg India, and their qualification was not recognised. This meant we couldn’t appoint great, experienced teachers because allegedly they were unqualified.
    I’m not sure if this was ever addressed, but it adds another dimension to the debate ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

    swanview said:
    December 11, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I totally agree. It’s a profesional job. If someone really wants to do it, then they can get the qualifications rather than being an unqualified teacher. I also wonder what’s happened to appreciating experience over someone cheap, in teaching and all walks of life. Supermarket managers barely out of short trousers. Sorry, ranting.

    Like

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