On Friday, just hours before the Olympic ceremony demonstrated the qualities and strengths of Great Britain, the DfE announced that they had changed the rules for the appointment of teachers so that academy schools can hire unqualified teachers.
The immediate kneejerk reaction to what is often kiteflying by Michael Gove, Nick Gibbs or the mandarins behind them is often one of negativity. I was intrigued by this announcement because I am soon to become Headteacher of a large Primary school in a rural community and am aware that in future years I may be in a position where we struggle to appoint teachers. This is due to the traditional difficulty of rural schools to woo students from city based Teacher training institutions. Therefore this announcement was of interest to me in the same way as I am following the development of teaching schools.
The reaction amongst people I follow on Twitter was largely negative or at best remaining unconvinced. One point which was made several times was that it was intended as a ‘back door way of saving money and dumbing down of a profession.’ This runs counter to the DfE statement that it expected “the vast majority” of teachers to have the qualification, but that the change will allow head teachers to bring in professionals with “great knowledge and new skills”. These sit in direct conflict – one suspects that this is about taking on the unions and creating a greater body of teachers who potentially have not come through traditional forms of training.; whilst the other is about getting people who have high level degrees in important subjects or life skills which will help them to engage pupils.
My personal confusion is over the fact that two years ago Michael Gove was talking about the need for teachers to have Masters degree level qualifications and now we have an announcement allowing degree graduates to enter the profession without any training. These, again, lie in direct contradiction to each other and possibly suggest a watering down of the initial announcement.
It was with interest that I read this blog post Dumbing Down: The Tory Way by Andrew Old (who is rarely shy in giving his views but always back them up with evidence, research or examples.) I do not always agree with Andrew’s views but try not to miss his blog posts.
Here are several quotes which resonated with me:
Now I don’t want to overdo the value of QTS. Some PGCE courses are dire. The training signified by QTS is not always worth a lot. However, what QTS does represent is a commitment to join the profession.
Deprofessionalisation can never improve teaching. It will, however, make privatisation easier (by removing the need for private education providers to recruit qualified staff) and reduce the bargaining power of unions over pay and conditions.
Andrew is very much focused on Secondary and I recognise that the main emphasis of this rule change is aimed at this age group but I do wonder how this would work for Primary. It was with interest that I saw a discussion on Twitter involving Sam Freedman Special Policy Adviser (SPAD) to Michael Gove about the announcement. Sam Freedman is very open to discussing policy announcements on Twitter although he has a trick of dismissing those disagreeing with him of being opponents of autonomy or objecting to what others want.
Sam was in a discussion about the lack of qualifications in entrants to teaching and his opening gambit was to use Alex Ferguson as an example as he doesn’t have the UEFA coaching qualifications held by most football managers and coaches. The analogy is interesting but forgets the fact that Ferguson has always appointed the best coaches possible to instruct the footballers such as Steve McLaren and Carlos Quieros. Unless we are going to give every unqualified teacher a highly skilled Teaching Assistant, of course!
Sam’s comments on the subject included:
Nothing will happen unless education professionals decide to use this new freedom.
This seems to suggest that this is absolutely something which will only affect schools which believe that they can benefit their students by appointing unqualified teachers.
…that we want to give a little bit of extra autonomy to schools.
Again, this suggests that this is about giving more power to schools (in contrast to the accusation that education is being nationalised by a Secretary of State who is accruing increasing powers.)
(pupils) could get a great teacher they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
they could get great teachers who they otherwise might not have had.
This I found of huge interest. His use of the word ‘great’ as opposed to good or outstanding (OFSTED categories) was no doubt deliberate as it is more of a superlative than classification. However, it does seem to be a claim of some confidence that schools could appoint someone with a high degree and no teaching experience who would be a great teacher. Sam didn’t say by when they would be a great teacher. So it could be argued that, like someone on the Graduate Teacher Programme, SCITT or PGCE, an unqualified teacher could develop into a ‘great’ teacher. My view is that there is needs to be some evidence that those entering the profession without qualifications are or have the potential to be great teachers.
I don’t think that the comparison with private schools holds on most occasions as there are differences in class sizes, pupil support and the intrinsic motivation of many of the pupils.
Having watched the debate I entered the fray asking a question about evidence:
Sorry to butt in – where is the evidence that there is a stock of graduates who are already great teachers?
I received no reply and so sent a follow (presuming that Sam had missed it in the flow of tweets)
Does the lack of response to question imply that there is no evidence that there is a stock great teacher graduates? (I am aware that this appear terse but the semantics of Twitter sometimes don’t play well in blogs)
To date I have not received a reply from Sam which would suggest either that he has blocked me in the past and didn’t see it, missed the two tweets or chose not to reply.
My view is that there is no evidence to suggest that unqualified teachers are going to be better than those who are qualified. I do not believe that there is evidence that they will be great and this is actually a further announcement from the DfE designed to play to a very specific audience of disaffected Tory voters who are unhappy with the coalition. I am not convinced from reading Sam Freedman’s tweets last night that he even is fully committed to it (his defence was fairly tame compared to previous debates on Twitter involving him).
Do I think that it will dumb down education like Andrew Old? Firstly, I try to steer clear of pronouncing on secondary as it is massively out of my spectrum of knowledge but I do think that schools in cities may find transient employment for owners of good degrees who want to boost their CV without doing Voluntary Service Overseas – this would beg the question of what Teach First is doing wrong to not be involved in this rule change. I suspect that there will not be a huge queue of graduates at Primary School doors but do wonder if artists, linguists and mathematicians may find some peripatetic work without qualification.
I don’t think that the government intend that this will dumb down, Michael Gove probably thinks that this will raise the quality of teaching in a small number of schools.
There are rumours amongst many politicos that Gove is manoeuvring himself into a challenge for the leadership of the party at some point in the future and this would appear to me to sit alongside his challenge to Leveson, his defence on the BBC of the Lords reforms and his alleged briefing against other ministers. This is, I suspect, not intended to massively undermine the profession nor to flood schools with unqualified schools – it is probably about flexibility and playing well in the Tory press. But, I believe it is a bad move as it is not based in any academic research or evidence and this is something which Gove promised from his comments and briefings whilst shadow minister. He has not stuck to this choosing to change his evidence base of choice as he is found out over the years and he should be called out on this.
I will, of course, put any evidence on here once Sam Freedman does reply.