Teachers Need To Inspire – They Don’t Need Teaching Qualifications

Nick Clegg - Courtesy: BBC

Nick Clegg – Courtesy: BBC

In the wake of the Al-Madina Free School row Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is calling for free school teachers to be formally qualified.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the Liberal Democrat leader needs to create some clear distinctions with the Tories ahead of the next election and also the tricky issues of coalition politics and Clegg’s apparent divergence of views with Liberal Democrat colleague and Education Minister David Laws; for this issue raises a far more fundamental question.

Have we got the debate the wrong way round? Do teachers actually need any formal teaching qualification? Should we not be asking whether there is a case for extending the right to appoint teachers who do not possess a formal teaching qualification from free schools and academies to ALL state schools?

In England and Wales, state schools, except for free schools and academies, can only hire teachers who have achieved what in the jargon is known as “qualified teacher status” or QTS. You need an undergraduate degree and some kind of additional educational qualification, such as a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), to get QTS. Some teachers can take a degree in education – a BEd – that, if awarded, automatically confers a QTS.

Does QTS matter?

But does QTS matter? It is far too soon for the evidence to be in yet on academies and free schools, notwithstanding Al-Madina, but the track record of independent schools is there for all to see. Independent schools are not required to hire formally qualified teachers and they massively outperform state schools in terms of CGSE and A-Level results. An analysis of A-Level results shows that 30.6 per cent of independent school pupils achieved three A grades at A-Level in 2012 compared with just 10.6 per cent of state school pupils and this out-performance happens year-in, year-out. Independent schools are also disproportionately represented at top-tier Russell Group universities.

Now, to be fair, there is research evidence from the Sutton Trust to suggest that once at university, state school educated undergraduates outperform privately educated undergraduates with the same A-Level grades, all other things being equal. On one level, though, this is hardly surprising since these state school pupils will have had to have worked so much harder relative to their more privileged independent school educated university chums – and, presumably, they carry this hard-work habit through to university.

Rich kids are not smarter – independent schools are better

But, on another level, this research misses the key point that proportionately far fewer state pupils achieve the top A-Level results and get to a top flight university in the first place, compared with independent school pupils. Unless we accept that rich kids are basically just smarter than the rest, then we are forced to conclude that there is something inherently superior about the independent system. And the state sector should be trying to emulate it, rather than extend regulation as Clegg wants.

Of course, independent schools benefit from smaller class sizes, the right to be selective on admissions, the ability to pay higher wages and, bluntly, more money. But they also benefit from something else as well: culture. Independent schools can hire who they want irrespective of qualifications and they can get also get rid of under performers much more easily than the state sector. This breeds a culture of success that is transmitted to the children. Mediocrity is not an option. When was the last time you heard of a teacher in the state school near you being fired for poor performance?

Performance management is how you maintain quality in any business; and unlike QTS it is continuous and not just a once-off stamp of approval. State schools need to have much tougher performance management systems and it must be made easier for them to get rid of poor teachers.

Inspiration is the key

But there is something even more fundamental to this debate than hiring and firing and performance management; and many of us will have experienced it for ourselves when we were at school. You will have memories of the one or two teachers who knew how to make lessons interesting, who could excite you, who could engage the whole class – who could inspire…

Show me an inspirational teacher and I will show you a motivated class. Inspiration counts more than all the qualifications in the world. There is no way to measure inspiration through any degree or postgraduate course that I am aware of but you can glimpse it, occasionally, at interview. In a straight fight between an inspiring teacher and a qualified teacher, I would opt for inspiration every time. And so would the kids.

Nick Clegg is wrong. We need to abolish the requirement for QTS in all state schools, introduce meaningful performance management for all teachers, make it easier to fire under-performing teachers and, somehow, seek out the truly inspirational among us and offer them jobs in our classrooms.


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