The importance of qualified teachers


Even the government is divided over whether unqualified individuals should be allowed to teach in state-funded schools. Dr Joanna Goodman considers the debate.

Debating the issue of the necessity for teaching qualifications for individuals employed by schools as teachers, the government views are divided, with Mr Gove advocating that academies and free schools may draw on the subject knowledge and passion of people without formal teaching qualifications, while Mr Clegg is of the opinion that schools should employ only qualified teachers to ensure “basic quality standard”.

Educationalists believe that standards are threatened by the absence of a national policy for trained and qualified teachers and trainers.

However, Mr Gove’s department disagrees, stating that state maintained schools should be able to “hire brilliant teachers who have not got qualified teacher status – and have the same advantage that private schools have to bring in great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists to inspire their pupils”.

Dr Seldon, head of Wellington College, compares teaching to parenting, where qualifications are not needed, and believes that Mr Clegg and others, who argue for teachers to be qualified, are misguided regarding the teacher’s role who, he says, is “much more akin to that of a parent (...) yet no one is suggesting parents go off for a university course to qualify as a parent”.

Although in his recent speech he made reference to teaching as a profession (strange analogy to parenting here) and acknowledged it as a reflective practice highlighting passion, intellect, love of subject and children as required qualities, his focus on teaching also fails to recognise that the aim of teaching is to enable learning, hence, I assume no references to pedagogy or necessity for teacher training.

Arguably, subject expertise and passion are teachers’ great qualities, however, for effective, by which I mean active, self-regulated and autonomous learning to occur, the focus of this debate needs to shift from the teacher to the learner. In this whole debate on qualified/unqualified teachers, we seem to have lost sight of what teaching and learning are all about.

Learning is complex and, although some students can be naturally attuned to meta-cognition, this is not the case with the majority of learners who need to be taught how to engage actively with the learning material, where knowledge acquisition is right at the bottom of the learning taxonomy.  

Therefore “good teachers”, to be effective in class, need much more than subject expertise and intellect. Great teachers are able to facilitate learning through the use of formative strategies in class and know when to step back, to allow for pupils’ reasoning, application and self-discovered, independent learning to occur.

In order to have a better understanding of principles which encourage children to learn and why some children are more successful than others, extensive studies into the psychology of learning focused on motivation and, in particular, on the association between motivation and learning outcomes have come to the fore (Boekaerts, 2002; Dweck, 1986), and it is relevant, when discussing classroom learning, to explore some theoretical aspects of learning which scaffold classroom interaction.

Learning is one of those terms about which many assumptions are made, but around which there is a silence in terms of assertions because it is complex and specific to different learners, and no single strategy works for all (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1998).

According to Hirst and Peters (1989), “educating people is not done by instant fiat. It takes time, and a variety of different processes of learning and teaching are involved”. 

Drawing on a range of European studies, including her own research in the Netherlands over the last 20 years, Boekaerts (1995) concluded that motivation, an essential element of successful learning, conceptualized in her research as specific self-regulatory skill, was necessary for learners to experience success in educational outcomes.

Since learning is not just limited to knowledge acquisition, for effective learning to occur, learners need to be equipped with appropriate skills, which means they need to know how to learn in order to be fully successful.

These skills are developed through classroom interactions and classroom dialogue by trained professionals whose aim is not just to impart or introduce knowledge, or new material, but to ensure that learning at a deeper level takes place and progress is made by individual students.

To assert, that this can be done by any unqualified individual with subject expertise, or indeed to liken it to parenting, is, frankly, both insulting and ridiculous.

Although I agree that not all qualified teachers are excellent and some industry experts can make excellent teachers, the training, including NQTs’ induction process, provide common ground for development and reflection, giving teaching a professional framework. 

Likewise, references to independent schools having the opportunities to employ unqualified teachers are hardly appropriate. First, the vast majority of independent school teachers have qualified teacher status. I have been recruiting teachers to independent schools for many years and it has never been a consideration to recruit an unqualified teacher.

Second, even if the private sector has the ability to employ unqualified academic staff, independent schools, and not all of them are beacons of excellence, work under different conditions to maintained schools, and what may be appropriate in some independent schools, would not necessarily be appropriate in state-funded schools where about 93 per cent of pupils are being educated.

In my view, the debate should focus more on learning, rather than on teaching. It is more about developing pupils as independent, sustainable learners – skills which are key to future success in the digital age, where students need to be prepared for life-long learning and multiple career changes. 

To assert, that this job can be done by unqualified individuals, however charismatic and knowledgeable, is to deny students opportunities that they deserve.

Teacher effect on learning is huge, just look at Professor John Hattie’s work on effect sizes in his paper Influences on Student Learning (Hattie, 1999). See below for more.

Students have only one chance of every year in education and their learning should be guided by qualified teachers who are committed to life-long learning themselves.

  • Dr Joanna Goodman has a doctorate in education from King’s College London. She is an educationalist with curriculum expertise, assessment in particular, and leadership development. She is an experienced senior school leader, a school inspector and director of Cromwell Consulting.

Professor John Hattie’s table of effect sizes
In his paper Influences on Student Learning, Prof Hattie, Professor of Education at Auckland University, New Zealand, says that “effect sizes” are the best way of answering the question of what has the greatest influence on student learning. The effect sizes in his table are averaged from 180,000 research studies and form a credible guide for what has the greatest influence on student achievement. An effect-size of 1.0 is typically associated with advancing learners’ achievement by one year, or improving the rate of learning by 50 per cent or a two-grade leap in GCSE. An effect size of 0.5 is equivalent to a one-grade leap at GCSE. The list below shows Influence–Effect Size–Source of Influence:
  • Feedback–1.13–Teacher 
  • Student’s prior cognitive ability–1.04–Student 
  • Instructional quality–1.00–Teacher 
  • Direct instruction–0.82–Teacher 
  • Acceleration–0.72–Student
  • Remediation/feedback–0.65–Teacher 
  • Student’s disposition to learn–0.61–Student 
  • Class environment–0.56–Teacher 
  • Challenge of Goals–0.52–Teacher 
  • Peer tutoring–0.50–Teacher 
  • Mastery learning–0.50–Teacher 
  • Homework–0.43–Teacher 
  • Teacher Style–0.42–Teacher 
  • Questioning–0.41–Teacher 
  • Peer effects–0.38–Peers 
  • Advance organisers–0.37–Teacher 
  • Simulation & games–0.34–Teacher 
  • Computer-assisted instruction–0.31–Teacher 
  • Testing–0.30–Teacher 
  • Instructional media–0.30–Teacher 
  • Affective attributes of students–0.24–Student 
  • Physical attributes of students–0.21-Student 
  • Programmed instruction–0.18–Teacher 
  • Audio-visual aids–0.16–Teacher 
  • Individualisation–0.14–Teacher 
  • Finances/money–0.12–School
  • Behavioural objectives–0.12–Teacher 
  • Team teaching–0.06–Teacher 
  • Physical attributes (eg class size)–0.05–School
Further information
  • Boekaerts, M. (1995). Motivation in Education. The British Psychological Society.
  • Boekaerts. M. (2002). Motivation to Learn. Educational Practices – 10.  InternationalAcademy of Education.  UNESCO booklet.
  • Dweck, C. (1986). Motivational process affecting learning. American Psychologist. 41(10): 1040-48.
  • Hirst, P. H. and Peters, R.S. (1989). The Logic of Education. London: Routledge.
  • Schunk, D. and Zimmerman, B.J. (1998). Self-Regulated Learning: From Teaching to Self-Reflective Practice. Guildford: Guildford Press.


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