Why Michael Gove is Wrong about Qualified Teacher Status


‘Who wants highly qualified teachers?’

This week Nick Clegg attempted to emerge from the shadow of David Cameron and Michael Gove by impressing his own (focus group friendly) opinion on education policy. He reopened the case about whether QTSqualified teacher status – should exist meaningfully for the teaching profession in England. Of course, his latest speech, at Morpeth School, smacked of political posturing, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. At least the speech has triggered some debate and gave the vague impression Clegg was in possession of a spine.

Here is what deputy Nick said:

“That’s why I believe we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

I feel distinctly uneasy using Nick Clegg as my advocate, but thankfully Toby Young (I will wash my hands thoroughly after writing this blog post!) has exposed that policy-light Clegg has actually already rowed back on his apparent staunch defence of QTS here. So let me quickly move on from the Janus-faced Clegg to a real debate about qualified teacher status.

The debate about QTS is bound up in a wider debate about the drive, led by Michael Gove, to initiate deregulation in education – giving Head teachers supposed ‘freedoms‘. In reality, the whole plan for removing the requirements for QTS appears to be more about a desperate attempt to recruit Maths and Science teachers, rather than improving the profession long term. With the botched initiation of the Schools Direct system, whilst the university based ‘Blob‘ is chucked out with the bath water, there is a growing crisis in teacher recruitment.

Removing the requirement for QTS in September was a supposed boon to free up Heads to employ subject experts and other apt candidates quicker. Toby Young has cited that schools such as Eton have long since employed Oxbridge candidates without QTS with great success. If it is good enough for Eton we all ask?

Only, there are holes in the argument to abolish QTS. First, let me redeem myself for agreeing with Nick Clegg, by challenging Toby Young’s Eton argument. The idea that great subject knowledge, gained at Oxbridge or elsewhere, automatically makes a great teacher is unfortunately a pleasant fiction. I don’t have to watch episodes of Jamie’s Dream School – with the likes of Mary Beard and Andrew Motion exercising their titanic subject knowledge, but failing miserably to communicate it to truculent teens – to know that true teaching expertise takes so much more than subject knowledge.

I hereby defend the importance of subject knowledge, but the evidence is proven that expert subject knowledge can be a blunt tool in untrained hands. The concept of the ‘curse of the expert‘ is pertinent. David Feldon’s research provided evidence that many experts are often poor communicators regarding what they do that makes them so, well…expert…in their subject – see here. Hinds, Patterson and Pfeffer also conducted research – see here – that proved that experts were no better in designing instructional materials than relative novices. The novices themselves were more effective in communicating with other novices – imitating the role of the teacher communicating new knowledge to a bunch of inexperienced students.

This research all proves the importance of understanding pedagogy in order to teach with success. It is not just the ‘what‘ of subject knowledge, but the ‘how‘ of pedagogy that teachers must master. The science of learning is a splendidly complex thing. Teaching a class of thirty hormonal teenagers in a rain soaked classroom, on a Friday afternoon, is as complex a task as most professionals will ever have the privilege of facing. This baptism of fire, as practical and real as it undoubtedly is, requires academic understanding and professional reflection.

Understanding how to teach expertly requires expert subject knowledge. It also requires a theoretical understanding of learning, ideally combined with an understanding of cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology, sociology and more! The sweet science is combined with the craft of behaviour management, a deft deployment of leadership skills and no little empathy and understanding of the complex needs of children (and other colleagues for that matter). Put simply, we are not a profession to be cast into the crucible of the classroom without university standard academic training in pedagogy. Whether that be in a university or school based, the requirement for such training stands.

We must rid ourselves of the flawed notion that a first class scientist will become a first class teacher. The correlation may follow sometimes, but I would much rather a common standard for high class training to ensure that this is the case most of the time. If the evidence is that the quality of the training isn’t world class, then rather than throwing out the whole edifice of university-based training, we should collaborate to ensure we create a world class system and an appropriate entry level qualification.

Michael Gove has promoted the value of evidence and research in education; however, by cutting off the links between schools and universities we threaten a relationship between schools and the experts regarding research methodology etc. Characterising university education departments as angry Marxists drenched in socialist venom for the ruling classes is not helpful, nor will it engender an education system that collaborates to the benefit of schools.

In the highest performing education systems, like Finland, Singapore and South Korea, they typically employ from the top 30% of graduates and they are trained with the integrated collaboration between schools and universities. In England, we don’t appeal to the top 30% of graduates. Why is this the case? Crucially, the status of teachers in those high performing countries is commensurate with lawyers and doctors. Working conditions are better than ours. In those countries teaching is celebrated as a prestigious profession. They all require substantial teacher qualifications that confer prestige upon the profession. Finland famously requires a Masters level qualification for all teachers.

Whilst we have cut any requirement for qualified teacher status, the most successful education system in the world, Finland, does the opposite. This should give us pause. We should ask questions about the policies which have led to the abandonment of a basic entry qualification to the profession, whilst simultaneously the recruitment of graduates to key secondary school subjects continues to fall.

If Gove wants to attract the best candidates then he would do better, in my humble opinion, to not focus upon deregulating school structures and qualifications and instead work upon building up the status of teachers and their qualifications. I would argue we should follow Finland and expect Masters level qualifications for all teachers. Singapore creates ‘Master‘ teacher pathways. We could enhance our own QTS qualification, and subsequent ‘master’ pathways, to skilfully balance the ‘what‘ of subject knowledge with the ‘how‘ of pedagogy to a similarly world-class standard. Gove could aim to raise the profession to the standard of other professions, like medicine, by initiating a Royal College of Teachers, which could be the arbiter of such a gold-standard QTS qualification.

Of course, professional capital requires capital investment. Do schools and teachers matter enough to receive such a financial investment in our austere times? The proof will be in the prioritisation.

Yes, achieving QTS does not confer an absolute standard of excellence, yet, but by removing the expectation of QTS we endanger the status of the profession. By removing QTS we belittle the profession at a time when we need to raise the status of teaching to world class heights if we are to succeed.

In my view, a teacher training qualification is required. If the one we currently have isn’t good enough, let’s adapt it and devise a world-class entry qualification worthy of our profession and the students under our care.

30 thoughts on “Why Michael Gove is Wrong about Qualified Teacher Status”

  1. Well said Alex. The whole situation makes me mad. We also need or remove education from the sticky mits of politicians who are desperately trying to climb the greasy pole of promotion and make a name for themselves, rather than develop a world class education system.

  2. Very well put, Alex. The public school analogy is flawed anyway, because the context is so different. And let’s not forget that ‘subject knowledge’ for primary school teachers means knowledge of all the subjects, in addition to the other teaching skills, crafts and attributes that you mention.

    1. I agree re: Eton analogy. I had to leave out my explanation as my post was too long! As usual, and I am guilty of this too, the primary school experience is sidelined. QTS is even more valuable at this stage as most degree knowledge requires even more significant transformation to be effective in this context.

  3. “Gove could aim to raise the profession to the standard of other professions, like medicine, by initiating a Royal College of Teachers, which could be the arbiter of such a gold-standard QTS qualification.”

    Such a college is in active development – I made a lengthy submission of proposals to its organising body a few months ago, and they are due to report soon. But you are wrong to insist that this ought to be the initiative of Michael Gove: it would kill it from the outset – at least among those who oppose his reforms for “ideological” reasons. A Royal College of Teachers needs to be the bottom-up initiative of those involved in the profession: it needs to be independent of both the DfE and the teaching unions. I have suggested that teachers ought to be admitted to a tiered membership (Associate, Member, Fellow). Those who reach the required standards in professional development will be entitled to append a post-nominal: “ARCT” (Associate of the Royal College of Teachers – one in training or on probation); “MRCT (Member.. – qualified and experienced); or “FRCT” (Fellow of.. – with Masters-level qualification and a mentoring capacity). This will go a long way to improving the standing and prestige of the teaching profession.

    1. That sounds very promising. I understand about M Gove not necessarily being behind the proposal as to preserve its nascent status, but his tacit approval would not kill the initiative if the RCoT had obvious political independence written into its constitution etc. I agree with the bottom up aspect – it is an essential component of any lasting systemic change, but, once more these do need approval, at he very least, from those at the very top. Thank you for your reply – that is very heartening to hear.

  4. QTS should be more than just a hoop to jump through. It should include a commitment to ongoing quality training, mentoring and reflection. While a foundation of theory is desired, it is through further learning, practice and feedback that we become better teachers. This progress should take place with others as part of a network of collaboration and support. QTS is a start.

  5. Absolutely spot on. It baffles me that Gove incessantly refers to Finland as a successful jurisdiction and then does exactly the opposite of what we would need to do in order to emulate their success – no independent schools, high entry requirements, significant investment in professional development, no draconian inspection regime, formal education starting at 7. I once had an ex Royal Navy PTI in my department – an excellent linguist, fluent in French and German, but whose classroom management approach was derived from bawling at ratings on the parade ground of HMS Raleigh, Needless to say, he didn’t last, as the litany of parental complaint grew ever longer. Of course we need subject knowledge to a high level, but the alchemy of teaching requires all of the elements you so eloquently describe above. I truly fear for the future. Gove’s legacy will a system so far dismantled it will be difficult to put back anything coherent.

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  9. Spot on Alex; backed up with research/evidence. In 10 years, we will all look back on this period, as an absolute nightmare for the profession, reminiscing the days of ‘Gove’s dissection of the profession’.

  10. mariano gutierrez alarcon

    just to add some food for thought, in Mexico today gov is trying to implement a qts system, if you read the why is necessary to do so, may give a nice warning of the slippery slope uk may enter if removed… among other things you can inherit your teacher post from and to family members without any exam or qualification, have one of the most segregated systems where public school is the last and not the first option until you reach higher education….

  11. When I was a student at an independent school (nowhere near as posh as Eton!) we had a few new teachers join without QTS, although it wasn’t the norm. The first year or two was enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, and most of those who hadn’t done any kind of initial teacher training really struggled. Had they gone straight into an average comprehensive like that, they would have failed completely within a month. Interestingly, that policy only seemed to come about under the headship of one particular social climber; before he arrived, I’m not aware of any teachers being appointed without QTS.

  12. There’s no reason to be baffled unless you assume that Gove says what Gove means. That’s your mistake, right there. Gove wants to privatise state education and help his buddies and cronies to make a profit, and to dismantle the unions and any hint of leftyism from The Establishment. That much is clear from everything he has done to it. To make it seem more palatable to the public, he wraps it up in rhetoric about improving standards education and freedom for innovation and whatever other guff seems like it will appeal to people’s interests. But there’s no consistency anywhere, because he genuinely doesn’t care about the impact of his changes on students, they are just collatoral damage.

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  19. Nope. Started off well enough. I don’t agree with departed Gove on scrapping QTS. Delivering subject knowledge is an art. Not a science.
    I agree with a lot of the points you raised about people with excellent subject knowledge but it being in effect trapped in themselves whilst they are incapable of sharing that knowledge to others.
    What i object to is insisting teachers be MASTERS qualified.
    Does every student we teach have to have access to the pinnacle of excellence in that subject? No. In MANY cases this is a secondary school scenario I’m on about now, the kids would not even have the capacity to understand the subject matter of GCSE quality but we try!
    Many humans are capable of teaching knowledge to others as long as relatively speaking they know more and are able to communicate this so why the emphgasis on Masters qualification? In fact i perform as well as other wasters teachers I know!
    Dear me.
    I am not masters level qualified asI entered the field late in life and got fed up of studying but I have a pretty good success rate for GCSE pupils in the schools I have been at that I put mostly towards my ability to share that humble kowledge [degree qualified & QTS] which I do possess.
    If they want more. then they go to further eduction!
    Ok, Rant over! lol! I enjoy your posts but had to have a little vent at that. Hope you are not offended!

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    1. Many teachers in primary have QTS but no degree. When the pupils leave primary many can’t read and write. Then they go on to secondary, more QTS, similar result, many can’t read and write. Many come knocking on the door to FE where these type of teachers (some called lecturers) have to sort out these unfortunate now called students with things like Basic Skills, Functional Skills, Skills For Life and other so called courses which end in the word skills. But these FE educators are doing it without QTS.

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