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The Government was right: as the 2010 White Paper said, the best systems “train their teachers rigorously”

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 31 July 2012

Chris Husbands
“The evidence from around the world shows us that the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of a school system is the quality of its teachers. The best education systems draw their teachers from the most academically able, and select them carefully to ensure that they are taking only those people who combine the right personal and intellectual qualities.  These systems train their teachers rigorously at the outset”.
This quotation gets it pretty well right: It is absolutely true that the best education systems in the world attract the brightest and best into teaching and then train them rigorously.  Put differently, in a different quotation: “The most successful countries, from the Far East to Scandinavia, are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession”.
Both quotations are from this government’s 2010 White Paper, The Importance of Teaching: the first quotation is from the body of the text and the second from the introduction, written by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. In 2010, they got it absolutely correct. It makes it all the more difficult to understand why, just eighteen months later, they are getting it wrong. The decision to remove the requirement that those teaching in (publicly-funded) Academy schools should have Qualified Teacher Status flies in the face of evidence nationally and internationally.
Internationally, the evidence is strong: the status of the teaching profession is related to the quality and status of initial teacher education. England has a very, very good story to tell here. Not least as a result of reforms introduced by the last Conservative government in 1992, requiring all universities to work in close partnership with schools, initial teacher education in England is rigorous, relevant and of high quality. The Ofsted evidence is strong: in 2011, Ofsted reported that highest quality teacher education was to be found in university-led partnerships. Moreover, visitors from around the world come to England to find out how to improve the quality of teacher education. This is a great national success story. Close working relationships between schools and universities, a focus on both research and practice and a concern with standards and pedagogy have produced some exceptional teacher education. There is simply no research evidence at all to suppose that lowering the bar and recruiting significant numbers of unqualified teachers will do anything other than lower standards.
The professional skills of teachers matter hugely. The importance of unpacking subject knowledge in ways which support pupil learning; of understanding how young minds develop; of the ability to plan for the learning of all, including the most gifted and the most challenging; of being able to assess and use assessment to improve teaching; of being able to deploy a range of behaviour management strategies. Teaching is a complex, higher order skill and it depends on high quality training.  None of these things matter any less because a school is an academy or free school rather than a community or voluntary aided school. 
One of the reasons cited by the government for the rule change is that it brings academies into line with independent schools, who are not required to hire those with qualified teacher status. But this makes two errors: first, most independent schools do hire teachers who have QTS, and, secondly, independent schools are not publicly funded. A second reason cited by government is that the rule change will allow schools to hire those with specific skills – talented musicians to teach music, scientists with expertise in industry and so on. But this argument too collapses. First, because of the flexible, partnership based approach to teacher education in his country it is possible to hire people and train them through an employment based scheme. Secondly, the approach equates expert subject knowledge with teaching expertise. Teaching is not simply about imparting facts. It is about engaging young minds, about inspiring learning, about being able to plan the next steps in learning.
The government’s decision is at the very least regrettable. It will do nothing to raise standards and nothing to enhance the status of teaching as a profession. Earlier this year, the government withdrew its plans for taxes on pasties, mobile homes and charitable donations. David Cameron said that the time that it showed “strength and grit” for a government to admit a mistake. It should do so on this measure if it wants to realise the ambitions of the 2010 White Paper.

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18 Responses to “The Government was right: as the 2010 White Paper said, the best systems “train their teachers rigorously””

  • 1
    Ursula Edgington wrote on 31 July 2012:

    Both Lingfield and Gove have lost touch with reality. We simply cannot let them get away with this madness.

  • 2
    Tony Fisher wrote on 1 August 2012:

    I could not agree more. I learned over my 32 year career teaching physics that simply being an expert in your field does not mean that you can convey your understanding to students; many other skills are needed as well. I e-mailed the Headteacher of Brighton College, who publicly voiced his support for these changes, to express my disagreement with his views; I have not had the courtesy of a reply!

  • 3
    Sara French wrote on 31 July 2012:

    I partly agree with you Chris, BUT whilst I gained from my PGCE in many ways, I really learned to teach whilst on placement and in the first few years of my job.
    Developing someone into becoming an outstanding teacher is not rocket science. Firstly it is about the quality of mentoring they receive (from the Universities and the placement schools) and secondly the time for reflection and observation of good practice that they are given in their first appointment and throughout their career.
    This support and organisation of learning are a crucial part of developing the whole package which we label as ‘outstanding’.
    I know plenty of ‘qualified’ teachers who STILL do not have the skills to manage a classroom effectively and organise pupil learning. I also know plenty of people who exhibit bad behaviours and a lack of professionalism in front of new staff. Professionalism is key. Developing a culture of staff who believe in themselves and their line managers. Developing leaders both in school and in government who support not berate.
    When the government dared to suggest that teachers should all have Masters degrees, they were shot down by the profession and yet as you quote above: “The best education systems draw their teachers from the most academically able” Again, I do not think that academia is the answer here – beyond the obvious expert knowledge of their subject.
    In my experience, (and it may well be limited but it is 15 years worth and I am very meticulous and reflective) far too many people pass their QTS who are not suitable candidates. Far too many NQT’s are not supported in a way that is conducive to them becoming ‘expert’ at their craft because, let’s face it, teaching is a very complex process and has become even more so with all the juggling that staff and school leaders face today.
    New recruits to the profession will learn to teach from the people they are surrounded by. Whilst I believe that good teachers are naturally gifted, I do believe that they can also be made. I have trained lots of new teachers personally who were ‘qualified’ but who really didn’t have a clue HOW to teach the subject.
    Positivity is the key. A sense of professionalism and ambition from people who are recruited into schools is far more important than QTS.

  • 4
    Chris Husbands wrote on 1 August 2012:

    There’s not a lot here to disagree with and I tbnink it mostly makes the point that very good initial training is important.
    One some specifics:
    (1) PGCEs are about coaching and mentoring – about universities and schools collaborating. We do, actually, have a natural experiment here which tests the point: in initial training, universities and school collaborate and the quality of the training is high, with good QA. In induction schools are by and large on their own. Some NQT programmes are excellent but the quality is far too variable: as you say, “far too many NQTs are not supported.
    (2) On the point about people passing QTS who sould not. It would be very, very naive for anyone to argue that any assessment system is perfect. I am sure some people pass their driving test who should not (and the rest of us suffer). But the checks are there in PGCE: school-based assessment, university assessment, external moderation, and OFSTED ready to review the whole system. It is a really difficult one to sustain that removing checks and balances will mean that more people will teach well. What we do know is that for many teachers, their classroom management skills dip when they are in a new job.

  • 5
    Sara French wrote on 31 July 2012:

    Funnily, this was just tweeted ot me 😉 End of paragraph 2, beginning of paragraph 3.

  • 6
    Chris Husbands wrote on 1 August 2012:

    But isn;t that the point: nice ideas AND understanding the windy days?

  • 7
    John wrote on 31 July 2012:

    It scares me to think that such a senior voice in the education establishment seems to believe that our current crop of teachers are “the most academically able”, and “only those people who combine the right personal and intellectual qualities.” Our failure is indeed to maintain teaching as a profession of the highest status; one that attracts the brightest and best by rewarding intellectual dynamism, creativity and aspiration. Teacher training is undeniably valuable, but that it should serve as a barrier for successful professionals looking to impart their experience (both implicitly and explicitly) onto the next generation is a stunning indictment of our school system.

  • 8
    Chris Husbands wrote on 1 August 2012:

    Two points in reply: first, the lines you quote are quotations not from me but from the 2010 White Paper.
    The most susbtantive point: there is no evidence that training is a barrier to bringing successful professionals in. There are various ways in which schools can bring professionals in – and I’ve done most of them: they can bring (for example) businessmen or sportsmen in to run ‘master-class’ sessions as part of a longer programme of study (no training needed for that – and it really is about people imparting their experience); they can employ them on instructor scales on fixed term contracts. So there are no real barriers. But there is a framework of qualification which defines teaching _as a profession_. That’s important, and it is seen as extremely important by other countries striving to improve their education systems

  • 9
    Eddie wrote on 2 August 2012:

    I am not a teacher, though I have worked in a training environment in industry, teaching adults. Whilst teaching children clearly requires some additional skills, they are unlikely to need a QTS qualification.
    Furthermore, I am aware of some evidently very poor teachers, who no doubt have the QTS status, otherwise they would not be teaching in schools. This leads me to conclude that QTS does not ensure that teachers have the right personal and intellectual qualities.
    Is the White Paper, when arguing that the “effectiveness of a school system is the quality of its teachers” making a link with QTS. Or indeed the other paragraph quoted, “The best education systems draw their teachers from the most academically able, and select them carefully to ensure that they are taking only those people who combine the right personal and intellectual qualities. These systems train their teachers rigorously at the outset”.
    I do not know, I have not read the White Paper, perhaps the author of this blog would like to comment on why it is being used as evidence against this proposed change.
    Does the author believe that QTS outweighs the need for a depth knowledge, anecdotes and experiences that can bring a subject alive, and can only be gained from hands on experience in the real world of business, rather than from a text book?

  • 10
  • 11
    Graham Newell wrote on 1 August 2012:

    I think a number of important issues are being raised here: not least that a critical issue around the future of our profession is being slipped under the radar without due discussion and reflection. The impact of this decision will be with us for a very long time and could well unravel as one of the most important ‘innovations’ by Michael Gove.
    An interesting comment was posted onthe ‘Going Beyond CPD’ Linked In group by Sue Cousins when she said, “If there is no longer a recognised status for the professionare we no longer a profession”.
    I do have many reservations around the delivery of traditional CPD. I believe that far too much is not contextualised and we do not have a strong enough culture of observation, coaching and developing commu nities of practice but, that said, Chris’ comment that we need to balance practice and theory is on the nail.
    For me, one of the key issues is that Michael Gove’s decision places an undue focus upon the content of the curriculum and not the pedagogy required to deliver it. If the only important part of education is imparting knowledge rather than the skills of learning then we will not be developing a workforce for the 21st Century.
    We developed Iris Connect as we saw the evcidence from both research and practicethat coaching, mentoring and building the social capital of the staff room were key to building professionals at the front line but this cannot be done in a vacuum of theoretical knowledge or without the skilled support of other professionals.

  • 12
    Mike Cushman wrote on 1 August 2012:

    One danger we guard against is that Gove and his supporters will argue from anecdote rather than evidence.
    I am sure one can find individuals who are gifted teachers without training and individuals with the best training who are not and they will generalise with the certainty of ignorance that such examples prove that this proposal is right. Whereas, as this blog post demonstrates, what is lost from a few gifted individuals not entering teaching is overwhelmingly compensated for by the increase in teaching quality from good initial training.
    Much good teaching practice is contra-intuitive and is developed through training. Gove wants teaching based on a reactionary common-sense unchallenged by evidence and research. This proposal is a step on Gove’s ideological campaign against modernity and equality not the whole story.

  • 13
    sifish67 wrote on 1 August 2012:

    Reblogged this on kipmcgrathashford and commented:
    An excellent blog from Professor Chris Husbands who argues the importance of having Qualified Teachers to teach our children.

  • 14
    Dougie wrote on 1 August 2012:

    Professor Husbands doesn’t seem to have much confidence in the ability of headteachers to use this new freedom sparingly but effectively. Why not?
    As Professor Husbands implicitly recognises, many thousands of children are being taught every day by people without (albeit working towards) QTS. Unlike Mike Cushman above, I do not believe we can afford to lose “from a few gifted individuals not entering teaching” – teaching needs all the gifted individuals it can get.
    Would it be too cynical to wonder whether the teaching unions fear that the appearance of a few gifted individuals in state schools will reveal the abilities of some of their members in an unfavourable light?

  • 15
    Chris Husbands wrote on 1 August 2012:

    Dear Dougie
    Thankyou for responding. It is not a matter of trusting headteachers – which I do – but about recognising the pressures on them. It’s also not a matter of whether we lose “a few gifted individuals” – there are any number of ways Heads can use and deploy them currently – on an instructor basis, through employment based training. The issue here is – as someone comments above – about the threshold for entry to a profession, and about the checks and balances which are in place.

  • 16
    Mike Cushman wrote on 1 August 2012:

    If they are gifted and committed they will want to get the training they need rather than being so arrogant they think they know it all already.
    Our state schools are stuffed with gifted teachers as my two children who both went from inner London comprehensives to leading universities can testify.

  • 17
    Sara French wrote on 1 August 2012:

    This is an excellent evaluation of the situation and we can only hope that a common sense approach will prevail amongst school leaders. I was having a bit of deja-vu with paragraph 7 🙂 (great minds and all that) http://blog.geoffbarton.co.uk/site/Blog/Entries/2012/7/31_Policy_Tourists.html

  • 18
    Anonymous wrote on 2 August 2012:

    As someone who began to train as a teacher I am very well aware that I am not a teacher. Nor do I wish to be a teacher. Nor do I believe I would make a good teacher. In fact, I believe – for all my expertise in Science, Techology and Mathematics – it would be detrimental to the education of any class that was expecting to learn from me. I cannot teach. I can do. I can do very well thank you.
    I do recognise that teachers do not always have access to the latest – frankly, very exciting – pieces of science. Which might well be related to the fact that teaching is both hard work and time consuming. When do teachers get a sabbatical to go and discover new and exciting parts of their taught field: not the summer, too much preparation for the autumn; not the autumn, too much groundwork for the next Spring; not the winter: too much teaching.
    By all means, invite experts into schools. But they should be expertise on tap, not on top. They should be there to directly teach. They should be there to support and transfer knowledge to the teaching staff. Why introduce bad teachers with no vocation for teaching into a system that will then need to make adjustments to accommodate them: the alternative is to enrich teachers’ with access to expertises. Making sense of that and communicating it to a new generation of Learners takes a lot more than being an expert.