I can just see it now. Imagine in a few months time, an opening evening for prospective parents at a fairly established academy. Concerned parent approaches teacher, standing cheerfully in a beautifully designed classroom. “I do want to send my child here,” Parent says, fidgeting slightly. “And this is a terribly awkward question, but I do need to ask.” Pregnant pause. “Are all of the teachers in this department, you know, qualified to teach?”
When a news story hits the pages of the press that leaves your heart in one place and your head in another, there is only one thing for it. Today is one of those days that I once again raise my pen to examine the wisdom (or lack thereof) of those in charge of education policy. This time, the nation has been regaled with the announcement from the DfE that academies will be allowed to recruit unqualified teachers to work in their institutions.
This proclamation has me thinking. Firstly, did the blessed department not see the Daily Mail headlines on this decision, announced so tactically on the day of the Olympic ceremony? Perhaps the story will get lost in a multi-coloured haze of Olympic Rings and discarded McDonald’s wrappers – at least, I imagine, that’s what our policy makers hope will happen. I can see it now – phrases that will inevitably be used by each an every publication: dumbing down, lowering of standards, yet another nail in the coffin. Okay, so the last one is mine. I am filled with a sense of gloom, and not just because the weather has turned again.
Secondly, I have to ask myself to slow down in my response. Is this announcement as universally a ‘bad thing’ as many educationalists and union folk will claim it to be? Well, in a word, yes. I have pondered, most fairly I might add, on the merits of declaring this move as a strategy to drive up the quality of teaching and learning in this country. I can admit that allowing experts in their field into schools – those people who have worked in industry, or for many years in the music industry, for example – may bring a certain something to the complex flavour of a school. It may loosen some of the restrictions on hiring those who have proven themselves to be excellent instructors (and I say ‘instructors’ deliberately, for there is yet a distinction between those who hold QTS and those who don’t) to teach in schools where recruitment and retention are problematic.
Even slowing down to reflect, I am left with the same conclusions. The sad truth, unavoidable in this climate of teacher-bashing, is that the headlines that come with this announcement will only serve to embed the negative perception of the profession. Indeed, the word profession is paramount when we discuss teaching. For so many years, teachers and school leaders have battled to create a profession in institutions where traditionally, teaching was not seen as one in the truest sense of the word. One only has to remember the days of the teacher cliche; patches on sleeves, coffee and grumbling, vocational mothering and the ability to stick pasta to paper were all one needed to be a part of the ‘profession’. School leaders and countless influential educationalists have professionalised the job – it is academic, it is smart, it is rewarding and it is socially acceptable. We have moved from ‘those who can’t, teach’ towards ‘those who can, teach’ and we may have even been flying towards ‘those who know how to do it well, teach’. How can this not be seen, as the unions have pointed out, as a retrograde step?
Does anyone else see the appeal of ‘those who think they can have a shot at it, go ahead and teach’? I’m not seeing it, myself.
Does an instructor have the same awareness of the requirements of teaching well? They may be able to deliver their experience, their insight, but the complexity of what happens in the space of an hour-long lesson is not to be sniffed at. An outstanding teacher makes hundreds of decisions in that time, based on an understanding of the art and science of teaching – they may have spent years perfecting it, studying it, evaluating it. I see the difference between qualified and unqualified all the time – as do many others. There is something to be said about someone who has learned the skills that are needed to lead children towards their futures; there is certainly something to be said about those who have not. You may think: there are plenty of teachers who do not have those skills! My only response is: by suggesting that more people who do not have the skills to teach well should be allowed to work in the same organisations as those who do know, the distinction will only become more problematic. There will just be more teachers who do not know how to do their jobs properly.
Of course, I do not believe for a second that any school leader worth their salt would recruit members of staff that are not capable of actually teaching. Most leaders are acutely aware of what is needed in their organisation, just like in any other. That is why most school leaders employ peripatetic staff to deliver expertise in areas of the curriculum that need this support. We see it all the time in Music and Art and Drama – but the difference is that they are not called ‘teachers’.
Devaluing QTS at this time will only serve to hammer home what many people have thought for a long time – anyone can do it, and so they do. Anyone who remembers the government call for parents to fill in for teachers on strike will understand just how ridiculous the notion is. Not to mention that some of us who work in academies have had to work quite hard to raise the profiles of the places in which we work, against a fairly vituperative backlash from some quarters. This announcement only makes it harder for us to prove that we are committed and qualified education professionals, as opposed to evil government stooges.
Harumph. That is my final word.