Should anybody be allowed to teach your children?
If you’ve been following the recent debates in the press, interviews on the television and arguments in the House of Commons, you’ll know there is something of a political storm brewing.
It may surprise parents to know, but independent schools are free to employ whomever they wish (subject to safeguarding checks) to the role of teacher (or Head Teacher for that matter) in their schools. This has always been the case in the independent sector. So for example, an excellent graduate with a degree in English could be appointed as an English teacher without ever studying how to teach.
In contrast, schools in the state sector, may only employ qualified teachers to teaching positions. In addition to having a degree, teachers must hold QTS (qualified teacher status), obtained through either a specialist degree in teaching with QTS, or through a number of post-graduate qualifications, some being school based qualifications, assessed externally.
Mr Gove (Secretary of State for Education) has opened up a can of worms by offering the same freedoms that independent schools have, to state funded schools, such as Free Schools and Academies.
The recently appointed Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt is quoted as saying that under this Government, become a teacher is easier than flipping burgers thanks to the Government.
The argument goes something like this: independent schools are typically credited with providing pupils with an excellent education, so extending the freedoms they enjoy to some schools in the maintained sector could raise standards.
Richard Cairns, Head Master of Brighton College, has entered into the debate by pointing out that approximately a third of his teachers do not hold qualified teacher status.
So in a nutshell; do you need to be a qualified teacher to be a good teacher?
My answer to that questions would be a qualified ‘usually’!
It’s easy to be anecdotal and talk about inspirational teachers who were ‘unqualified’ and by contrast, awful teachers who were qualified teachers. This doesn’t really advance the argument.
I believe, especially when we are talking about the education of primary-aged children, that graduates being trained in how to teach, enhances their effectiveness as a teacher. Understanding how children learn, how their brains develop, how children assimilate new skills and how children acquire language, are all very important for teachers to know. The dark art of teaching is not just something that is just in the genes! Pedagogy, defined as both an art and the science of teaching.
Equally, effective classroom control, the ability to assess children’s learning and how to teach children in an interesting and stimulating way are key elements of teaching as well. However well-qualified a graduate is in a particular subject, does not necessarily mean this translates into them being an effective teacher.
As a general rule, the younger the child, the more a teacher needs to know and understand about pedagogy. At the other end of the ‘teaching’ spectrum, a university lecturer could be a rather dull unqualified teacher, but their subject knowledge in their chosen discipline is key. By this time, young adults can cope with experts who are unhindered by concerns of how their students learn.
So by extension of this argument, there could be a case for well-qualified and enthusiastic graduates sharing their subject knowledge with well-established, sophisticated learners in the sixth form.
I’m not saying that some graduates, without any formal training in teaching, can’t become good teachers. What I am saying is that good graduates, with a passion for enthusing others, could become excellent teachers with additional training and qualifications.
I believe Mr Gove is misguided in his belief that teachers teaching our children, whether in the independent or maintained sector, don’t need formal training or qualifications in teaching. We should strive to have the best-qualified teachers and graduates teaching our children, and not enter a race to the lowest common denominator. And what about those good ‘unqualified’ teachers in our schools? We should give them the opportunity to obtain QTS (qualified teacher status) by in-service training. They may even find this helpful and all our children would benefit as a result. The deregulation of teacher training is not a panacea to raising educational standards.
I look forward to the introduction of formal qualifications and training for Members of Parliament, especially for Secretaries of State. Just imagine, a qualified Head as Education Secretary, a soldier as Defence Secretary, a surgeon as Health Secretary…. where would it all end?
Head Master and qualified teacher