Over the weekend a massive political argument has developed over the Government’s Free Schools programme. Long term readers of this blog will know that I’ve always been opposed to this initiative, particularly because it means that anyone, regardless of qualification, can teach at one of these schools. This is also the case for any state academy; and of course, for any independent schools (the difference here being, of course, that they are funded primarily through fees).
Every political party should be ashamed, in varying degrees, for the current situation. The Conservatives should carry the most blame for imagining and setting up a ridiculous ‘free’ school programme that has been pretty much universally criticised by everyone in the educational establishment. Toby Young seems to be the only defender of the programme that the BBC could find to interview on today’s Today programme.
Labour have been next to useless in their opposition to this programme. The previous Shadow Minister for Education stated a few months ago that Labour, if they came to power, would insist that every teacher in a Free School would have to be appropriately qualified. This is a full three years after the policy was announced and implementation began!
And the Liberal Democrats. What a shambles. Having supported the implementation of the Free School programme at the outset we now have a Lib Dem Schools Minister who is defending it (David Laws) whilst Nick Clegg is attacking it (on this very point about teacher qualification, as well as a requirement to impose the National Curriculum on Free Schools as well as ensure they feed their pupils healthy food).
So, what is all the fuss about? For me, every teacher should be qualified. What does that mean? Traditionally, this has meant that all teachers should have a minimum level of qualification of an undergraduate degree and qualified teacher status (QTS). Both these elements been removed in many schools by this government’s recent educational policies.
Qualified Teacher Status can be obtained in various ways. The majority of would-be teachers obtain it through studying for a PGCE (a postgraduate level qualification that is not the same as QTS but an academic award in its own right and offered to the student by the university and not the Government). Of course, most PGCE courses facilitate the work needed to be assessed against the requirements for QTS as laid out in the Government’s Teacher Standards (which have also been significantly weakened in recent years).
The award of a PGCE, and as part of this QTS, offers would-be teachers many essential skills. Off the top of my head, here is a list of things that I think it teaches students:
- The ability to plan an individual lesson and a sequence of lessons in such a way that learning is initiated, sustained and developed;
- The knowledge to choose and use a range of different teaching resources effectively;
- The techniques of differentiation and personalisation, where learning is tailored to the individual needs of students;
- The ability to assess students’ work, formatively and summatively, so that key learning can be identified and evaluated, so that students can maximise their progress;
- The constructive use of accountability and reporting mechanisms so that the school, parents and others can be assured that teaching is of a high quality and learning is progressing well in the classroom;
- Skilful approaches to communication with students, including the ability to explain things clearly, to model key processes and to question students about their work and promote their thinking;
- The management of student behaviour through positive reinforcement techniques rather than negative approaches;
- An introduction to the wider theories of educational and developmental psychology that underpin all teaching and learning;
- The notion of teacher identity, how it is developed and formed over time, and how it relates to important precursors (i.e. your own identity pre-teaching) and broader discourses (e.g. the subject area that you might be teaching within);
- An important challenge to the powerful but potentially fatal influence of teaching in the way that you might have been taught. QTS develops the central notion of the reflective teacher/practitioner which is an essential attribute if you are to learn to teach well in the classroom;
- Linked to this, the ability to evaluate teaching and learning using specific tools and make changes to your curriculum at key points;
- Detailed knowledge of National Curriculum, exam specifications and the like that frame the work of teachers.
And, to be honest, I could go on for quite a while (but I won’t).
For all these reasons, my belief is that every teacher should have an undergraduate degree, a PGCE and QTS. Anything less than that is selling our children short.
As parents, we have a right to expect that every teacher working within a state school has this basic set of qualifications. If you are unsure, you should ask the head teacher of your free school or academy to account for each teacher’s level of qualifications. Personally, I do not want unqualified teachers teaching my children.
This Government have a different view. They feel that teaching is not something that needs this level of qualification. They are set about systematically to destroy the basis of teacher qualification and give academies and free schools the same ‘freedoms’ that the independent sector have ‘enjoyed’ for many years. But I don’t want my children educated in an independent school or even in an system that adopts the practices of that sector either. Even if I had the money (which I don’t), I wouldn’t let my children spend more than a day being educated under such a system.
As we have seen recently, allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers is a recipe for disaster. I would urge you to promote the view that every state school should be staffed by qualified teachers. Do not settle for anything less.
Finally, I’m sure that many stories about the success of otherwise of individual teachers will be cited in the coming weeks. My brother is a lawyer and has an expression something along the lines of ‘extreme cases make bad laws’. Clearly, there will be good and bad qualified teachers just as there are good and bad unqualified teachers. But building an educational system across England that removes the need for vast swathes of schools not to employ qualified teachers is a stupid policy that will seriously undermine the educational oppportunities of the children at those schools. Thankfully, two of the three political parties seem to have come to the view, eventually, that this is a bad thing. If Toby Young wants to run a school where he can employ anyone as a teacher, he should do that by dipping into his own pocket rather than relying on huge sums of public money.