QTS levels 1 to 4: not the way forward

The education establishment is agog at Justine Greening’s latest announcement regarding an apprenticeship route into teaching for non-graduates. At the same time, we have the Chartered College of Teaching offering a £850 programme of certification for experienced teachers to differentiate themselves from the rest. In effect, this is all likely to lead to a hierarchical, multi-tiered system of teachers, as spelled out by Laura McInerney in Schools Week. I have deep misgivings about the direction of travel.

Firstly, let me just say that I don’t personally have any problem with some teachers being non-graduates. I know there are many talented people out there who would make great teachers but are denied the opportunity to do so because they don’t have a degree. I also understand that there’s a massive gap between teacher supply and demand that has to be plugged somehow. On the other hand, I want teachers to have deep subject knowledge. Already, with the graduate only route, there are far too many teachers who don’t know their subject as they should (which I find rather shocking). There are also teachers who are teaching outside their own subject. I have encountered, in my short career so far, a history graduate teaching English, a geography teacher teaching history (rather badly) and an English graduate teaching history. At a time where there is growing consensus that raising attainment requires a knowledge-rich approach, I find this troubling. Would entry of non-graduates further dilute rather than strengthen teacher expertise?

However, my biggest worry is how this could lead to a multi-tiered teaching qualification where it will no longer be the case that you are either a qualified teacher with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or you are not. Instead, you will have different levels of qualified teachers, and progression will depend on you jumping through ever more bureaucratic hoops. I know already from my own teacher training experience that the process of obtaining QTS involves many administrative, box-ticking exercises that, in my view, don’t much advance my teaching expertise. I have learned so much more about teaching through reading books, articles and blogs, joining edu-twitter and more importantly, school mentoring and actual classroom practice than through university-led seminars.

My problem is this. To get certification of one sort or another, you need to fall into line with whatever orthodoxy is prevalent in the certifying authority. So for instance, my university tutor has made clear what she expects to see in my lessons when she comes to observe me. Some of these are things that I don’t necessarily believe are best practices, but I will from a pragmatic stance have to amend my teaching to obtain a good grade. I suspect something similar will occur with the Chartered College of Teaching’s programme. Teachers will have to demonstrate learning and practice that falls in line with the beliefs and orthodoxies of the people running the programme. What this means, in effect, is the concentration of power in the hands of the elite few who run such programmes, to dictate the teaching practice of the teachers they certify. Anyone familiar with my blog will understand why I would find this undesirable.

And yet… I know there is a need to raise the professional expertise of teachers and keep them on a path of continuous improvement. I’m not convinced though that this should come from certification, especially if it then creates a situation where those that play the game and get the certificates are offered higher pay. What I would like to see is professional expertise led by school leaders and trusts, who can nurture their teachers, whether they are graduates, non-graduates or graduates without a QTS to their name. We already have good examples of how this might work, with bodies such as the Inspiration Trust leading the way in high-quality CPD and a rigorous focus both on curriculum and effective behaviour management systems in their schools. There are individual heads, not just of free schools, that are forging a way forward in researching best practices and applying them to their schools. Who wouldn’t want to work in the schools led by Clare Sealy, Ed Vainker or Stuart Lock, to name but a few? It’s organisations and leaders such as these that raise standards in schools and improve teachers.

However, for every one of these good school trusts and leaders, you also have those that are not so good. Those, for instance, that fall prey to managerialism or short termism. With budgets stretched to the limit, wouldn’t they be tempted by the non-graduate apprenticeships to hire cheaper, sometimes lower quality teachers and perhaps to try to ease out the more qualified but pricier teachers? There is a risk of that certainly.

Frankly, I’m not sure of the answer to this conundrum. By the same token, I’m fairly certain that putting teachers through more hoops and creating a hierarchy with different levels of qualifications is not the solution.

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