Mike Storey writes: Qualified teachers and a national curriculum

New Classroom“We are, and always will, be the party of education”. So Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said in his speech at Bloomberg last Monday. This is indeed what the Liberal Democrats stand for, and it’s not just an empty sound bite. The policies we pledge to adopt will be to ensure that school pupils will have the right to be taught by qualified teachers and taught a core curriculum – a truly national curriculum.

The recent ‘Trojan Horse’ controversy has shocked the national conscience. It highlighted that some schools ran a risk of depriving children of an all-rounded and fair education. Academies and free schools are based on the concept of autonomy, but this should not mean that children should suffer because of particular interests. Some schools that did have discretion over their curriculum were abusing that by stripping back the curriculum and narrowing the experience of schooling for every young child. Action needs to be taken to ensure children’s futures are not put at risk.

Our policy, which was made clear at the federal conference in March 2013, would change legislation so that, by September 2016, all schools will have the same obligation to employ qualified teachers. We have also planned for every school to deliver a minimum curriculum entitlement, setting out the basic skills and knowledge that every child deserves. This is based on listening to professional educationalists. Both the National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) supports such policies.

This is the idea behind our “parental guarantee”. We want to ensure that all parents can be confident that a properly qualified teacher will teach their child a core curriculum.

We have given all schools the freedom to attract, keep and incentivise the best teachers. We have condensed the national curriculum so there is less direction on how to teach. The Pupil Premium is given to schools without strings attached because teachers know better than politicians how best to spend that money.

Liberal Democrats are supporters of freedom, diversity and choice. That’s why, as part of the Government, we have supported measures allowing schools and academies to overreach their autonomy. We must keep in mind that education is best served when teachers are allowed to teach a curriculum that is important and wholly relevant for children, but also flexible to allow schools to capitalise on particular talents and experiences.

* Mike Storey, Lord Storey CBE, is the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson in the Lords. He is Co‐chair of the Party’s committee on education, family and young people. He was previously Headteacher of a large inner‐city primary school, a Liverpool Councillor (1973‐2011), Leader of Liverpool City Council (1998‐2005) and Lord Mayor of Liverpool (2009‐10). He is a member of the Independent Advisory Panel for the Regional Growth Fund, and takes an active role in education, the arts, and regeneration matters in the Lords. Follow his work via TheyWorkForYou.

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48 Comments

  • David Evershed 17th Jun '14 - 3:31pm

    Do we have any evidence that ‘qualified’ teachers produce better outcomes for schoolchildren than ‘non-qualified’ teachers. all other things being equal?

  • Welcome to Scotland!

    Here, we have had this requirement since the 1960s. It’s regulated by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, with which all teachers must register before being permitted to teach in State schools. A GTC is needed to make sure that teaching standards are kept – oops, we let Gove abolish that, didn’t we?

    We also have a national curriculum. OK, so many will argue that there are flaws with Curriculum for Excellence, and its predecessor 5-14 curriculum, but it’s there – and everyone agrees there needs to be one. Even the Tories are on board with that, and have strongly resisted adopting some of the wackier Govist policies.

    There’s a model for this form of regulation already in the UK, which has been successfully in operation for 50 years. You don’t actually have to look far to see it…

  • You need to have a set of standards by which you can select the best candidate for teaching a subject and also dealing with different types of children on a daily basis as a pastoral tutor

    But does the qualification actually prove that the person in question really is capable of doing that, or does it just mean that they have spent a year doing the course?

    How many people fail the course?

  • Steve Griffiths 17th Jun '14 - 4:08pm

    @Helen Tedcastle

    I agree with all you have said, except that singing and music need to be taught by qualified teachers too. I recall the percussionist Evelyn Glennie saying that she believed children had a right to a musical education as well as the other subjects in the curriculum – and she was right. Sadly in many state schools the subject has largely disappeared and instrumental teaching reduced to a bit of guitar teaching from students wanting to earn a bit of cash. No wonder of the BBC Young Musician of the Year contestants are almost exclusively from private schools. It wasn’t always so.

  • Paul Howden 17th Jun '14 - 4:23pm

    I recently met with teaching assistants who are perusing foundation degrees such is the competition for teaching assistant posts. Gone are the days when a dinner lady doubled up as a helper in the afternoon. It is only just that teachers are suitable qualified and/or experienced. Most jobs have minimum qualifications even simple part time retail jobs . This seems a bit of a no brainer.

    @Helen Tedcastle this may infuriate some but I do think Gove is committed to improving schools and education in general (albeit with a bit if pressure from David Laws) and is not too far from what our stance should be. Am interested in what you feel his main failings are?

  • You don’t pass the PGCE unless you have passed the requirements, one of which are the assessments on teaching practice – this soon sorts out the wheat from the chaff

    Just saying this doesn’t make it so: it depends on how strict the assessors are.

    Are there statistics on proportion of applicants accepted, and proportion of those accepted who pass the course? If, say, 60% of applicants are rejected at the interview stage and 50% of those pass the course then I will agree that clearly those who have the qualification have shown themselves to be capable.

    On the other hand if 80% of those who apply are accepted and 90% of those pass then it looks more like the so-called ‘qualification’ is just a rubber stamp and all it means is that you put the time in.

  • Martin Land 17th Jun '14 - 5:01pm

    When I did my PGCE at The Institute, it was generally accepted that between a third and a half would drop out or fail to make the grade. However, I don’t remember the interview process as being particularly difficult. But then I passed, didn’t I?

    How valid is a PGCE? Frankly I can’t imagine how I could be a teacher without it. It’s not just the classroom experience, which is about sorting too, it’s learning to do all the other functions a teacher has to carry out. Dealing with exams and exam board requirements. Learning how to mark work consistently. Understanding how a school, a complex organisation, works. Without these skills you simply cannot do the job and trying to learn these skills on the fly seems remarkably dangerous to me.

    To those who might reply, ‘Ah but the independent schools manage’. I would have to answer by stating that I’ve taught in both and it’s really not the same situation. In an independent school the head of department is not someone perpetually on the edge of a nervous breakdown. They have time to support new teachers. Class sizes are around 10 not 30+. The organisation functions well and supports you – easy enough when you have three, four even fives times the budget per pupil of a state school. A dedicated exams officer. 10 pieces of homework to mark not 30. It’s a different ball game and fitting in to teaching without a PGCE is possible; but in the state sector this is really inadvisable.

  • Calling people who pass a post-graduate course where their teaching prowess is assessed, time-servers, is pretty insulting.

    Surely that depends on how rigorous the assessment is. Is it just, they watch you teach for a few lessons and if at the end the same number of pupils are in the room as were at the start, you pass? Or is it a demanding examination of every part of your performance where if you get anything more than trivially wrong you fail?

    In short, is it more like a driving test or a Royal Marines assault course?

    I honestly have no idea. Which is why I asked if there were statistics. If it’s true that:

    between a third and a half would drop out or fail to make the grade

    then that suggests it is a bit more than time-serving, but only really if it’s closer to a half than a third…

  • daft ha'p'orth 17th Jun '14 - 5:44pm

    @Bill
    Here you go, a thread on exactly this topic: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=2526225 (and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/four-out-of-ten-trainees-quit-teaching-early-report-warns-1771871.html)

    Four out of ten bin out. Another sixteen percent depart from teaching within the first three years.

    PGCE acceptance rate depends on subject, see paragraph 27 of http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmchilsch/275/27507.htm for example. ‘ In 2007-08, for secondary PgCE/PGCE programmes the acceptance rate for mathematics was 65%, for chemistry and ICT 68%, for physics 69% and for modern foreign languages 70%. This compares to acceptance rates for history of 41%, for English of 45%, and for primary programmes of 44%.’

    From what I’ve heard from friends (none of whom stayed in the profession for longer than a couple of years) it’s perhaps a little like a Royal Marines assault course would be, if you replaced all the obstacles with thirteen-year-old lawyers and entitled parents, an armory which insisted on replacing all the weapons with incompatible alternatives on a yearly basis, and a sergeant who demands that all recruits spend an hour a day playing snippy politics and a further two hours of their evenings messing with paperwork.

  • Four out of ten bin out

    No, that’s not what the story says:

    A snapshot survey taken six months after they had completed their training – for which the bill is about £87m a year – revealed only 63 per cent were teaching in state schools.

    So these are people who passed their training but had not gone on to take teaching jobs..

    I was asking what is the pass rate, ie, what proportion of those who make it to the end of the course and are assessed, fail (ie, we’re not counting those who drop out during the year, as we don’t know why they dropped out so we can’t use them as a guide of how tough it is to get this qualification).

    The claim being made is that someone being a qualified teacher, ie, having passed the course, makes them much more likely than a graduate picked at random to be able to cope with being a teacher. And I think that will only be true if the course is sufficiently tough to pass.

    So I am wondering how tough the course is to pass. Which is something I know nothing about, but which statistics on those who already passed cast no light on whatsoever.

  • daft ha'p'orth 17th Jun '14 - 6:06pm

    Ah, I see what you mean. That is the way most people effectively fail the training, though. You’re right that it’s relatively rare to be failed on paper, although it’s common to leave before you are pushed. Would it be better to fail the 40% rather than give them an opportunity to drop out honourably?

  • Peter Watson 17th Jun '14 - 6:14pm

    @Bill
    A quick bit of googling (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2414489, http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2444282, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/four-out-of-ten-trainees-quit-teaching-early-report-warns-1771871.html) suggests that around 15% of PGCE students drop out before the end of their course.
    I believe that the “failure rate”, i.e. those who think they’re good enough but are told they are not, is very low,around 1%. (Stones, E., 2002, ‘Supervision in Teacher Education: A Counselling and Pedagogical Approach’).
    However, the very high dropout rate for a postgraduate course is probably a fair indication of how tough a PGCE is, and that students jump before they are pushed.
    Also, I don’t think that teacher training and qualified teacher status is being promoted solely because it filters out the bad teachers. Instead it is about better preparing all of the teachers who go into the profession.

  • Bill

    What is your problem?

    You could say the same about every single qualification taken by anybody?

    How about asking the same question of lawyers, surgeons, GPs, nurses, gas fitters, electricians, chemists, engineers etc etc etc.

    I would be interested to know what you do and then we can ask you questions of how you judge yourself competent to do what you do?

    I work in an industry that is incredibly hazardous and so depends on qualified people – perhaps you would like a go at it as well seeing my qualifications may have been granted by ‘time servers’. We could see if the outcomes of allowing an unqualified person doing it are any worse than having qualified people – may be a few casualties but what does that matter….

    Jeez!

    I think Helen’s suggestion is good – see for yourself seeing you doubt everyone else’s opinion

  • Alternatively, you could google the information you require.

    I have tried but Googling ‘qts pass rates’ only seems to get information about the scores necessary to pass the prerequisite maths and English exams (which are disturbingly low: 63%?! Surely anybody wanting to teach should be getting at least 90% on a simple maths test).

    I would be interested to know what you do and then we can ask you questions of how you judge yourself competent to do what you do?

    I don’t work in an industry were a particular qualification is required of everybody: when I hire people it is on the basis of an interview and they are judged by their results, not whether they happen to have a particular piece of paper.

    The claim was made that for teaching, that would be a bad way to hire because lots of people who apply for teaching jobs might not be capable of it, in ways that would be difficult to assess at interview; so the possession of the qualification should give some confidence that the person can indeed do the job.

    But the logic of this is: without the qualification, X number of people might apply but only (say) 50% of them can do the job.

    So for the qualification to do its job of accurately identifying which prospective teachers are in that 50%, then we would expect that of the people applying to do the qualification no more than 50% would pass, right?

    Otherwise people are getting the qualification who still aren’t capable of doing the job.

    So I just wanted to check that that is the case: that the qualification is really selecting out only those few capable of doing the job, and it’s not being used just as an artificial barrier to entry, a ‘you have to pay your dues’ thing like requiring all members of a profession to be a member of a guild, membership of which is obtained by paying a load of fees and sitting a very simple exam that nobody fails.

  • David Evershed 18th Jun '14 - 12:29pm

    Its seems no one has yet been able to answer the question in my comment at the start which was:

    ” Do we have any evidence that ‘qualified’ teachers produce better outcomes for schoolchildren than ‘non-qualified’ teachers. all other things being equal?”

    Instead the debate has been about the quality of the qualification.

    Surely we first need to discover whether having ‘qualified’ teachers results in better educated children or not and to what degree they make a difference either way and why?

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '14 - 12:48pm

    David Evershed: ” Surely we first need to discover whether having ‘qualified’ teachers results in better educated children or not and to what degree they make a difference either way and why?”

    I have logged in with the ‘bird’ logo simply to show that there are people in this party (evidenced by the logo) who think that Michael Gove has done immense damage to education since 2010. One of his worst moves was to put about the idea that unqualified teachers are to be welcomed into schools to teach our children. This party is firmly disagreeing with Gove for reasons given in the article above and throughout this thread.

    let me rephrase your statement: Surely we first need to discover whether having ‘qualified’ doctors results in healthier children or not and to what degree they make a difference either way and why?”

    Would you ask this question on a health thread? Doubt it.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jun '14 - 12:58pm

    @David Evershed ” Do we have any evidence that ‘qualified’ teachers produce better outcomes for schoolchildren than ‘non-qualified’ teachers. all other things being equal?”
    Conversely, before dropping the requirement, did Gove have evidence that ‘qualified’ teachers do not produce better outcomes for schoolchildren than ‘non-qualified’ teachers. all other things being equal?

    I think the ‘all other things being equal’ would make it difficult to carry out a study.
    However, evidence for the value of qualified teacher status (which seems like common sense to me anyway) might be out there. Google pointed me at http://www.nrdc.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=1497 which states, “The researchers found strong evidence in the sample that better qualified teachers have learners who make more progress between the initial and final assessments.”

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '14 - 1:39pm

    Stephen W

    You neglect to mention the three to four years spent by teachers obtaining a first degree and in some cases a second, before obtaining a PGCE. That adds up to a fair amount of time studying does it not?

    Teaching is a graduate profession. You forgot that bit didn’t you.

    By the way, at least one third of the PGCE is dedicated to teaching practice, not 80% learning by doing. Perhaps you are thinking of Schools Direct. And you are wrong again on the theory of learning – it is actually invaluable as a background to planning suitable and appropriate lessons as is the subject theory.

    As I have actually been a teacher, I can tell you – it is useful and necessary, especially in the early years as one gets to grips with teaching the subject to different types of children.

  • Steve Griffiths 18th Jun '14 - 1:54pm

    @Helen Tedcastle

    Yes, well said Helen.

    It would be interesting to know whether Bill or Stephen W have ever experienced standing in front of a class of children to teach?

  • You neglect to mention the three to four years spent by teachers obtaining a first degree and in some cases a second, before obtaining a PGCE. That adds up to a fair amount of time studying does it not

    It does. So what do they gain from the extra year doing the PGCE?

    Firstly, the PGCE is the initial qualification which is met in order to prove you have met basic professional standards

    How basic?

    Could I get a PGCE, if I signed up and did the year?

    If so, then it definitely is not fit for purpose, because I would be a terrible teacher.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '14 - 3:47pm

    Bill

    Okay Bill, I have spent some time trying to explain to you why teachers should be qualified to teach children, so now the ball is in your court. Please give us reasons why you think unqualified teachers should teach my children.

    This should be good.

  • Peter Watson 18th Jun '14 - 4:14pm

    @Bill
    “So what do they gain from the extra year doing the PGCE?”
    Hopefully they learn how to impart some of the knowledge they’ve gained from 3-4 years studying a subject they like to a class full of children who don’t want to be there and who maybe lack ability or interest in that subject.
    From the outside, a PGCE looks like an ideal combination of theory and practice.

  • I have spent some time trying to explain to you why teachers should be qualified to teach children, so now the ball is in your court. Please give us reasons why you think unqualified teachers should teach my children.

    I was just trying to find out what the difference between an unqualified and a qualified teacher is.

    I mean, some qualifications really do prove something about the person who possesses them. They prove that the person is capable of something which most people are not capable of. So if you want to hire someone who can do that thing, and you hire someone with the qualification, then you are sure you are getting someone who can do the thing — whereas if you hire someone without the qualification, well, they may be able to do the thing but they equally may not, so you’re taking a chance.

    For instance, if you want to hire someone to fly an aeroplane for you, you probably want someone with a pilot’s license.

    Some qualifications, by contrast, tell you pretty much nothing. Qualifications where you just pay some money, turn up at a test centre, do an easy multiple-choice exam, perhaps repeat a few times, and then get given the qualification. Any graduate could do it, well, maybe not some media studies graduates form ex-polys, but any real graduate.

    In the latter case, the possession of the qualification tells you nothing about the capabilities of the person possessing it. It only tells you whether they spent the time and money to jump through the hoops. Someone with the qualification and someone without it are both equally likely to be able to do the thing.

    (These types of qualifications are often used by professional bodies in order to maintain their control over an industry, just like medieval guilds would require people serve apprenticeships to masters before they could set themselves us in whatever business.)

    Is a PGCE the first type of qualification, that really proves something, or the second, a meaningless bit of paper?

    If the second, then there’s really no difference between hiring someone with and someone without the qualification to teach your children, because both are equally likely to be able to do, or not do, the job.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '14 - 5:14pm

    Bill
    I notice you have not answered my question, which leads me to think that you haven’t really thought through the implications of allowing unqualified staff to teach children day in, day out. In fact, I think you have a generally jaundiced view of a. professional qualifications b. people who decide to teach as a career and opt to be trained.

    The difference between hiring someone who might be able to teach across the ability range but who has no proof of this competence and someone who has actually made the effort to be trained and go through a tough assessment of competence to arrive at QTS – is pretty self-evident to most people.

    I wouldn’t use an unqualified electrician for instance – maybe you would – if they impressed you at interview and talked a good game, without any objective evidence of competence like a certificate.

    Education is too important to leave the teaching of children to chance.

  • I notice you have not answered my question, which leads me to think that you haven’t really thought through the implications of allowing unqualified staff to teach children day in, day out

    Have you thought about the implications of allowing incompetent staff to teach children day in, day out?

    The difference between hiring someone who might be able to teach across the ability range but who has no proof of this competence and someone who has actually made the effort to be trained and go through a tough assessment of competence to arrive at QTS – is pretty self-evident to most people

    Are you saying that there are no qualified, incompetent teachers? That being qualified is a guarantee of competence?

    Because as I understand it at the moment all (or almost all) state school teachers are qualified, and quite a lot of them are incompetent.

    Which suggests that the qualification is not as tough an assessment of competence as you posit.

    In which case — if the qualification is not guarantee of competence — what is the point of it?

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jun '14 - 6:11pm

    @ Stephen W
    ” The PGCE my housemate is currently completing involves 1 day at week at university. The other 4 days a week since basically the very start she has just been pitched into a school and left to get on with it to the best of her ability.”

    It may be a ‘top’ university but the course they offer is not very good in my opinion. Basically, a top university can have variable departments can it not. Always best to choose a university for the course not the general reputation.

    Normally, the first term of PGCE involves an initial placement followed by most days in college and a one day a week placement in school. The term is spent learning subject methods, pedagogy and preparation for teaching practice.

    Spring term is entirely spent in school and on assessed practice. The Summer term again, involves weekly placement and learning in college. To me – as this was my experience – this was an excellent preparation for the rigours and demands of teaching full-time. My only real criticism was that insufficient time was spent on the role of a pastoral tutor.

    So no. I maintain that a good PGCE course is invaluable preparation. It was very tough – probably that year plus my probationary year following, were the hardest two years of my life.

    I’ve been through it so can speak from experience. What about you?

  • It may be a ‘top’ university but the course they offer is not very good in my opinion

    But at the end of it, she will be just as qualified as those who have done a ‘very good’ course.

    So how can you continue to insist that the qualification tells you anything about the ability of the candidate to do the job, if by your own admission people can get the qualification by doing a ‘not very good’ course?

  • Bill

    You seem to have real chip on your shoulder about qualifications, out of interest what professional qualifications do you have and what do you do as a job? This is of interest because you can then explain how a person is judged competent for this role

    I take from your comments earlier about not needing specific qualifications for your job that you have no real experience of recruiting people that do need a certain level of professional knowledge

    A qualification, such as a PGCE, is a controlled qualification and has minimum standards and the syllabus covers the minimum professional training considered necessary to do a job.

    What would you replace it with, anyone who wants to be a teacher would need to do some professional training and be tested on it…or do you think that anyone off the street can go into a classroom and teach without validation?

    Also, I don’t think any qualification would claim to ensure 100% that the person trained will go to be a success at a specific job as there are too many other variables involved. This is the same in teaching as any other job…..

  • I take from your comments earlier about not needing specific qualifications for your job that you have no real experience of recruiting people that do need a certain level of professional knowledge

    Of course people I recruit do need a certain level of professional knowledge, and ability.

    It’s just that I know that there is no piece of paper which can guarantee they have that. They might have a qualification but lack the knowledge and ability. Or they might not have the qualification, but still be able to do the job.

    So while I might look at someone’s qualification, the only real test is: can they do they job?

    It would be stupid for me to institute a rule that I will only hire people with a particular qualification, as ‘having that qualification’ and ‘being able to do the job’ are at best tangentially related.

    So with teaching: having the qualification doesn’t guarantee they can do the job, not having the qualification doesn’t suggest they can’t.

    As someone wrote above, there are many bad teachers with the qualification, and many good teachers without.

    So why have a rule that they must have the qualification? Why force someone who can do the job to waste a year of their life (and they only get about seventy of them, maybe eighty, so wasting one of them is a reasonably big deal) getting hold of a piece of paper if they can do they job anyway?

    I understand that if you were forced to get the qualification then you are going to want to make sure others have to do the same. But from outside, it looks very much like institutional protectionism.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jun '14 - 2:06pm

    @Bill “there are many bad teachers with the qualification, and many good teachers without”
    The same applies to any profession and any qualification. It is not a reason to discard the PGCE.
    A PGCE is a postgraduate qualification, and much like an MSc is either a pass or a fail. Somebody either has the qualification or they don’t.
    It is also a bit like a conversion course for somebody with a degree in a different subject (some teachers may bypass it by entering the profession with a degree in education). At the end of the PGCE year they have learnt about the theory of education and teaching, and they have practised it with feedback on their performance under the watchful eye of a tutor in a variety of situations. And at the end of that they have a piece of paper to record that they have done all this, and performed satisfactorily. It seems to me that all of these elements are essential.
    Perhaps there are other ways to achieve this, especially to support older people changing career (I think the loss of the Open University PGCE is a shame as it looked like a way to “blend” the transition from into teaching from another job). But simply joining a school and learning on the job does not sound like the best approach for teaching. If we think about attracting and recruiting graduates nationally, coordinating placements in order to gain experience in different types of schools, providing experienced mentors, delivering structured off-the-job training on educational theory and alternative practices, assuring and maintaining good common standards for all trainees, avoiding issues similar to the recent “trojan horse” controversies, etc. then it seems that we’d end up with some sort of qualification administered by universities or LEAs (maybe overseen by a Teaching Council or Institution), a bit like the PGCE.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jun '14 - 2:34pm

    Stephen W “Not my own personal experience but 5 different people I closely know who have gone through one form of teacher training or another in the last 4 years and have said very similar things”
    Of the 70 or so people on my degree course, approximately all of them moaned about it at one time or another, and then variously went on to be good, bad or indifferent as chemical engineers or in other careers. Doesn’t mean much. The plural of anecdote is not data.

  • “We are, and always will, be the party of education”

    What party says education is bad? It would akin to coming out against motherhood or apple pie.

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