What makes a great teacher? This question has become the subject of wide debate in the wake of the government’s decision to remove the requirement for teachers to hold qualified teacher status (QTS).
Secretary of state Michael Gove refers to teaching as a craft that is best learned by teachers watching and learning from other teachers. Conceptualising teaching simply as a craft ignores its professional nature. Teaching is an art, a science and a craft. The art of teaching is about being responsive and creative and developing intuitive capacities. The science of teaching is about using research and evidence to inform decisions on how to teach. The craft of teaching is about mastering the full range of skills and practices needed. This broader vision of teaching is critical to seeing teaching as a profession.
QTS, in which the importance of both practical and theoretical development is emphasised, is therefore essential for ensuring that teachers develop the full range of skills they need.
Teachers need a secure grounding in the subject and curriculum areas they teach but possession of subject knowledge is, of itself, insufficient to ensure the highest levels of pupil progress and attainment. This is a key reason why teacher training and QTS were originally introduced.
Teaching is a complex and challenging job requiring discrete skills and abilities. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has highlighted the central role that high-quality initial teacher education plays in the development of the highest performing education nations. All of the countries ranked as the highest performing by the OECD, including Finland, Singapore and South Korea, have national qualifications and standards for teachers.
An NASUWT study has shown that in a relatively short period since the coalition removed the requirement for teachers to have QTS, the use of unqualified staff is rife. Almost two-thirds of respondents report the use of unqualified staff to cover long-term sickness absence and teacher vacancies, undertake curriculum development and to prepare pupils for exams. Three quarters felt the problem was getting worse and that unqualified staff were being used as a cost-cutting measure. At a time when school budgets are under pressure, decisions on who to employ are increasingly financially driven.
This reaches to the nub of the issue. The removal of the requirement for QTS is not and never has been about encouraging a wider range of professionals to work with pupils in schools, as the coalition claims.
Qualified teachers need to be recognised and rewarded as highly skilled professionals. They need to be supported by working conditions which enable them to focus on teaching and learning. Removing QTS and downgrading their skills and expertise, freezing and capping their pay, removing entitlements to pay progression and attacking conditions of service, are all about driving down costs to mask cuts to the education budget and to make schools attractive to private providers.
This is an agenda that is wrong on so many levels. It is leading to the abuse and exploitation of unqualified staff. It is removing the entitlement of our young people to be taught by a qualified teacher, subjecting them to the whims, preferences and cost-cutting measures of individual schools, and it is removing parents’ entitlement to certainty that their children will be taught by a qualified teacher.
It is good to note that the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, has come out strongly in favour of restoring the requirement for QTS. If his proposal for a licence to practise combines this commitment to introduce, within a national framework of pay and conditions, a contractual entitlement for all teachers to CPD and to re-establish a proper system of professional regulation which ensures that all headteachers have QTS and NPQH and are accredited to lead and manage schools, then this is a basis on which progress could be made.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and schools minister David Laws have also pledged publicly to restore the requirement for QTS. Aren’t they ministers in the coalition government which made the decision to remove it?