The real issue is not QTS, but how it is achieved

There is clear water developing between the three main political parties at Westminster over the need for teachers in state funded schools to be qualified only after a period of training. Regular readers of this blog will know where I stand on the issue as I have made clear my belief in the need for QTS to be backed by a preparation course – see my last blog ‘Teachers are made not born’.

This afternoon the Labour Party at Westminster have an opposition day debate in the main chamber around the topic. This is the sort of debate that normally passes relatively without comment, but what is interesting is the amendment put down by the government in the names of the prime minister and his deputy; and Michael Gove and David Laws. I have reproduced it below with the key section underlined:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add ‘notes that this Coalition Government is raising the quality of teaching by quadrupling Teach First, increasing bursaries to attract top graduates into teaching, training more teachers in the classroom through School Direct and providing extra funding for disadvantaged pupils through the pupil premium which schools can use to attract and reward great teachers; notes that the part of the Coalition led by the Deputy Prime Minister believes all schools should employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status, and the part of the Coalition led by the Prime Minister believes free schools and academies should retain the freedom to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status; further notes that funding agreements with academies and free schools will not be altered in relation to Qualified Teacher Status prior to the next election; and regrets the findings of the recent OECD skills report which revealed that those young people educated almost entirely under the previous administration have some of the worst levels of literacy and numeracy in the developed world, underlining the need for radical schools reform and demonstrating why nobody can trust the Opposition to protect education standards.’

Of course, the really disingenuous of you may reflect that QTS could be awarded after a period of service in the classroom untrained, and that period, as in the past when it was the route into teaching I used, could be two years. The subtle change to the Staffing Regulations in 2012 allowed for schools to confirm that there had been no competency proceedings against a teacher in the past two years. This might permit an unqualified person to be granted QTS as in the past after two years of successful service or at least develop a career in different schools. So long as QTS can only be granted after a period of prescribed training, by an approved route, this is not an issue, but as ever the devil is always in the detail. The real issue is not QTS, but how it is achieved.

There are also matters for those in favour of QTS needing to be backed by training to resolve, especially around training for specific types of school now funded by the State that follow a particular philosophy of education not covered in the present training arrangements. But that should be possible to resolve once the key principle of mandatory preparation has been agreed.

Finally, the Liberal Democrat position on Qualified Teacher Status owes much to the motion passed at their Spring Conference that David Laws thought last week he had proposed – actually it was Lord Storey that proposed it, and Baroness Brinton who seconded it – that had its genesis in the work of Liberal Democrat education activists including the late Andrew Bridgwater who had a hand in the drafting of the motion’s wording. It would be a nice gesture, and a fitting memorial, if a Lib Dem MP recognised that fact during the debate this afternoon.

Teachers are not born but made

I want my doctor to stand up every time I enter the surgery; take my blood pressure at every appointment, and write clearly in handwriting I can read. Actually, delete the last requirement since doctors all use word processors these days, and replace it with a requirement to write in language I can understand. This should be part of all their basis training. Now, I would never presume to impose training requirements on doctors, because as a lay person I have views, but not the expertise to do so, but I do expect them to be trained, and GP training can take four years.

In education it is different; perhaps because everyone went to some sort of school, commentators of all descriptions feel free to pronounce not only what training is needed for teachers but that no training is needed at all. Teachers are born they conclude, and don’t require to be made. Speaking from personal experience that view is just plain bunkum. Let me remind you what was said 50 years ago:

“In the primary and secondary modern schools teaching methods and techniques, with all the specialized knowledge that lies behind them, are as essential as mastery of subject matter. The prospect of these schools staffed to an increasing extent by untrained graduates is, in our view, intolerable.”

Now I am perfectly sure that anyone with the appropriate subject knowledge can teach after a fashion in private schools where parents and children want to succeed, and classroom management isn’t an issue. But even in the selective school I attended in the 1950s and 1960s there were untrained graduate teachers that couldn’t control classes. I recall one sixth form teacher prevented from starting a lesson by the ‘A’ level group placing the desks between the window wall and the door so that he was effectively barred from entering the classroom. Insubordination was not uncommon, and often vicious and personal in its manifestation. Untrained teachers often didn’t have any skills to combat this until they learnt them on the job over time; some learnt faster than others; and some never learnt them at all.

In January 1971, I embarked on my own career as a teacher by joining the staff of Tottenham School in Haringey. I was an untrained graduate persuaded to fill a casual vacancy by a head desperate to have a full staffroom that January. Frankly, I taught nothing to anyone for the first two terms. I had no skills, but lots of subject knowledge I couldn’t pass on to the pupils. Gradually, over the next five years I acquired the skills so that I believe that I could eventually teach any group of pupils and also manage the other parts of a teacher’s role to the level required in those days; a much lower standard than is required today. Along the way I resorted to all sorts of interesting control techniques such as Friday afternoon films played backwards through the projector as a reward for good behaviour, and punishing whole classes for the poor behaviour of a few pupils. I noticed that many of the trained teachers made much better progress than I achieved with pupils, but the lure of a salary was too great rather than a return to college for another year.

Interestingly, when I started working in teacher education in the 1980s I found the same lack of training for tutors. There was no training in classroom observation or understanding of how to be an effective trainer of adults as opposed to teacher of children.

Teaching is not an easy profession, not because it is difficult to acquire the subject knowledge, but because it is a challenge to pass that knowledge on to the next generation. Parental pressure to learn may help with some children but except where the school can threaten to remove the pupil that alone is not enough to bolster a graduate armed with subject knowledge and nothing else or to support them in the classroom and in their wider responsibilities for young people across 190 days of the year.

More than 150 years ago this was recognised by those recruiting teachers for elementary schools, and also by Dickens in his novels where teachers and educators receive something of a mixed press. Let me end with a quote from The National Society Annual Report of 1842 about selecting trainee teachers:

It is not every person who can be fitted for the office of schoolteacher. Good temper and good sense, gentleness coupled with firmness, a certain seriousness of character blended with cheerfulness, and even liveliness of disposition and manner; a love of children, and that sympathy with their feelings which experience alone can never supply – such are the moral requirements which we seek in those to whom we commit the education of the young.

This was the criteria from which they wished to add the training, recognising even then that these qualities alone were insufficient to make good teachers. It seems that some will never learn.

Private education, but State Funded?

As a nation, can we afford private education funded by taxation? For that is surely what Nick Clegg was offering when he said in his keynote speech earlier today:

“But I am totally unapologetic for believing that, as we continue to build a new type of state funded school system – in which parents are presented with a dizzying range of independent, autonomous schools, each with its own different specialism, ethos or mission “

So if you want a school for your child, and are prepared to meet the food standards, follow the National Curriculum, and employ qualified teachers, my Party, the Lib Dems, will fund it even if there is another school down the road. As a result could every humanist is a village with a Church of England primary school have an academy that looks like a typical community school even though both schools will be half empty? I bet the Treasury wouldn’t approve that. But, Nick might, of course, have been talking only about urban areas.

With the huge rise in the pupil population that is occurring over the next decade we will certainly need more school places, as David Laws discussed for two hours yesterday with the Education Select Committee members at Westminster. But, choice, and a funding guarantee for existing schools, plus the Pupil Premium, means any further inflow of pupil numbers from hard-pressed parents currently paying for school fees that now want the State to pay for their child’s education, but on their own terms in respect to ethos and mission, and presumably admission criteria, and who might see this parental guarantee as a good deal, will cost the State money to finance the switch of sectors for these children. In 2002, I calculated that the cost of such a transfer might be more than £2 billion, and it would certainly be more now. It might even bring back many of the former direct grant day schools that left the state system over the issue of comprehensive intakes in the 1970s since they presumably meet most of the criteria set by Mr Clegg.

If this huge influx of new schools happens in the secondary sector over the next few years, then either other services will be less well funded or taxes will have to rise.

Nick’s other big idea, of superheads for failing schools, has been tried before with mixed results. The difference this time is that he seems to expect these new head teachers to take the job for the long-haul rather just until the school improves. But that’s what every chairman says when they appoint a new football manager. If these superheads are to be employed by Whitehall, then it is another nail in the coffin of local authorities’ involvement in education. After all, until recently, Oxfordshire and many other authorities had a pool of primary heads to undertake just this sort of role, and they already knew the school and the area. The money might be better spent identifying what works for schools that are under-performing, and providing local help and support. In some cases it might mean a new head, but in others raising aspirations or dealing with a problem outside the school that is affecting a group of children may be what is needed to raise performance.

What does a ‘Qualified Teacher’ mean to Mr Clegg?

What does being a ‘qualified teacher’ mean in Nick Clegg’s mind and how far will his guarantee go? Will he go further than the need for just a teaching qualification and guarantee parents that he will work towards a profession where teachers are not only qualified in teaching, but also qualified in what they are teaching?

To be a successful teacher requires a range of different qualities but, at least in the secondary sector, there ought to be a minimum level of subject knowledge equivalent to two years of an honours degree. Anyone without this basic level of knowledge should be offered Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses to allow them to acquire sufficient knowledge before they complete their teacher preparation experience. Even those with the requite degree may still lack expertise in areas of the school curriculum in their subject, and ways should be found to allow them to continue to acquire such additional knowledge. Any programme leading to Qualified Teacher Status should be restricted to preparation for specific subjects and phases rather than continue to be generic as at present, where a teacher with QTS can teach anything to anyone at any level of schooling. The fact that more than 20% of those teaching some Mathematics in our schools do not have a qualification above ‘A’ level in the subject may explain why many children neither enjoy the subject nor do well in it.

Qualified Teacher Status should be restricted in the subjects and phases where teachers are allowed to practice.

 However, it is in preparing teachers for the primary sector that I believe that most attention needs to be paid. The present post-graduate course attempts to cram the equivalent of a quart into a pint pot. Many curriculum areas receive scant attention, and there is no guarantee that the time in school will effectively dovetail in developing the time spent on the programmes outside the classroom. It is time for a thorough overhaul of how primary teachers are prepared. In the first instance, the undergraduate training route should be replaced by a wider first degree programme that would prepare graduates to work in a range of services including youth and social work as well as teaching. The specific training to be a teacher would be entirely postgraduate. Such a new degree would prevent undue early specialisation among those entering university straight from school.  It would also avoid the bizarre situation created by the Coalition whereby graduates wanting to become a teacher are subject to a minimum degree standard, except in Mathematics and Physics, but no such standard is imposed on undergraduates. As with the secondary sector, where there are already virtually no undergraduate teacher preparation courses, graduates of the new courses would not be licensed to teach at any level in the primary school, but would be certificated to teach at a particular Key Stage.

Overall, graduate training would be on a two year model leading to a Masters degree with the possibility of appropriate credit against the subject components of secondary subject training for those with appropriate honours degrees.

Teacher Training, and especially training for primary teachers, needs a radical overhaul. All teachers should be expected to study to a Masters level.

For too long the nation has under-invested in its teacher preparation programmes because politicians have never really been convinced of the need for such courses. If this is the first step on the road to a fundamental reappraisal of what we want form qualified teachers, then it is a welcome move. But, if Mr Clegg is just embarking on a bit of marketing then it will be an opportunity lost.

Leading on Free Schools

The news that Nick Clegg’s speech on schooling, scheduled for later this week, has been either leaked or handed out in advance to the press that presumably then ignored an embargo should not come as much of a surprise. Even though Nick Clegg’s speech isn’t to be until Thursday, and was billed as about standards in schools, it would appear to have been communicated to the press further in advance than is usually the case. Either way, one wonders whether his office bothered to consult anyone in the Party with views on education.

After all, it is more than three years since the Liberal Democrat Party Conference at Liverpool passed the following motion about Free Schools:

Conference is concerned by the establishment of academies and free schools under coalition government policy.
Conference re-asserts its commitment to the key principles agreed at the spring 2009 conference in Harrogate in policy paper 89, Equity and Excellence, and specifically that:
i) Local Authorities should retain strategic oversight of the provision of school places funded by the use of public money.
ii) Local Authorities should continue to exercise their arms-length support for all state schools funded wholly or partially with public funds with particular emphasis on their work with 
disadvantaged pupils.

Conference calls on government to ensure that schools remaining within the Local Authority
family are not financially penalised by the creation of academies and specifically:
a) That academies should be required to pay the full cost including administrative overheads for
any services they buy back from the Local Authority.
b) That academies should have only observer status on the Schools Forum as they have placed themselves outside the democratic system for the funding of education.
In relation to ‘free schools’, conference calls on all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option because it risks:
1. Creating surplus places which is prejudicial to the efficient use of resources in an age of
2. Increasing social divisiveness and inequity into a system which is already unfair because
of the multiple tiers and types of schools created by successive Conservative and Labour
governments and thus abandoning our key goal of a high quality education system for all
3. Depressing educational outcomes for pupils in general.
4. Increasing the existing complexity of school admissions and exclusions.
5. Putting at risk advances made in making appropriate provision for children with special
6. Putting in jeopardy the programme of improving school buildings.
7. Wasting precious resources, both human and material, at a time when all efforts should be

focused on improving educational outcomes by enabling effective teaching and learning to

take place in good local schools accessible to all.

8. Increasing the amount of discrimination on religious grounds in pupil admissions and the employment of teaching staff, and denying children access to broad and balanced Religious Education about the range of different world views held in society.

That motion was proposed by Cllr Peter Downes of Cambridgeshire, and seconded by myself. As the BBC noted, earlier this week the Minister of State, David Laws, was still taking a different line to that now being espoused by his leader about free schools. So that raises a second issue, about leadership styles. I voted for Nick Clegg in the leadership election because, having been on working parties with both candidates, I admired Nick’s positive attitude to making things happen. But, taken to extremes such a driving force can make others feel left out, as I imagine most of the part’s education lobby are feeling this morning after listening to the BBC news report.

We await the details of the speech to see how far Nick has moved his position within the Party away from both Mr Gove’s and Mr Hunt’s ‘private schools on the rates’ approach to education, and also what justification Nick gives for his change of heart. but, I suppose we must be grateful for any re-think of policy in this area that was never a part of the Coalition Agreement.

A lesson in Economics

Earlier this week Education Ministers were reminded of one of the basic tenants of free market economics, namely that it is price that usually regulates supply and demand. Ministers, facing under-recruitment against the expected need for Mathematics and Physics teachers in the future, raised the price that they were prepared to pay trainees, and also widened the scope of those that would benefit by adding a class of graduates with a relevant degree and a good ‘A’ level. This re-opened the door to those with 3rd Class degrees in Mathematics to once again train as teachers rather than be hired by academies and free schools without the benefit of any training.

Nobody with an interest in the history of teacher supply should be surprised by this move. After all, Mathematics and Physics were the two subjects exempted from the original requirement for all graduates to be trained that was introduced in the late 1970s. The exemption was for the very same reason as now, a shortage of teachers in the subjects. Indeed, it wasn’t until well into Mrs Thatcher’s economic crisis that the rule was changed to bring these two subjects into the training fold. How bad the under-recruitment was this year will become apparent next month when the ITT census is published.

As there are to be no formal control targets for Mathematics and Physics this year, Ministers and officials clearly hope that the new scholarship and bursary arrangements will attract more applicants than for the training round that started this autumn. If it were to do so then, because many trainees will not be guaranteed a teaching job, candidates will need to assess whether the supply of trainees might exceed the ability of schools to offer them teaching posts in 2015. However, judging by my inbox, schools are already finding it a challenge to recruit teachers in these subjects, as I predicted would be the case in the Report I wrote during the summer of 2012 for the Pearson Think Tank.

Now I am sure that the Treasury, as guardians of public spending, won’t be pleased with the need to increase bursaries, and may wonder why more hasn’t been done to increase supply in other ways? The management of Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses has been poor over the past year, with the National College needing to do more to recognise that this is a potentially important route into teaching for many studying applied degree subjects. Indeed, there is a case for the government to be working with Vice-Chancellors in order to offer a constructive two-year course leading to qualified Teacher Status that would allow undergraduates to switch courses into a teacher preparation course at the end of year two of their degree but still be awarded both a foundation degree and a teacher preparation qualification. However, such a move would need to recognise the role that higher education can play in training teachers: not something Ministers are yet prepared to really accept.

Since it is likely that Ministers don’t know why, during the last recruitment round into training, schools generally had a lower success rate at converting applicants into trainees than higher education this is one area where urgent research is needed lest the outcome in 2014 be worse than this year if more places in some subjects are transferred to schools.

In reorganising the bursaries Ministers might at least have stuck to their own principles. The absence of anything but a national flat rate for bursaries suggests that recruitment into training is a national problem; it almost certainly, isn’t. Again the Treasury may ask, would it not have been cheaper to pay the extra premium just to those training in London and the South East this year, if that is where the largest amount of under-recruitment has occurred? After all, there can be no difference between a subject variation and a geographical variation in the amounts paid.

Planning on the back of an envelope

Education planning now seems to be in the hands of either a member of the House of Lords for the Tory Party or groups of parents for the Labour Party. I am not sure my own Lib DemS even understands the concept of planning, just as they also don’t sometimes seem to understand how markets operate.

Lord Baker’s idea of vocational colleges for the 14-18 sector chimes well with my 2002 Report on ‘No Child Left Behind’ for the then Lib Dem education spokesperson, now Lord Willis, where I was one of the early advocates for a 14-18 sector. The difference was that I wanted the sector as part of rational planning for the whole age-group, not just the abstracting of limited numbers of young people across the country to attend such colleges. How will it really work in rural areas unless someone pays for the transport costs? In London the Mayor has so much cash that he can provide free transport for secondary age students to travel to school anywhere in the Capital. Locally, in Oxfordshire, the ruling Conservative and Independent Coalition will probably struggle against budget cutbacks to maintain the present level of home to school transport provision in 2014.

If the Tories have abrogated planning to Lord Baker then Labour seems, according to the new Shadow Secretary of State, to be happy to pass the baton for the future of our school system to random groups of parents that presumably want private schools on the rates. I suppose that is one way of reducing the influence of the independent schools, but it will come with a hefty funding cost or will produce a lot of disappointed parents. But, perhaps Labour has noticed that relatively speaking apparently fewer new schools backed by parents and teachers are now being approved than in the first rounds of free school applications.

There has been a lot of thinking about schooling over the past decade by the many lobby groups and think tanks, as well as national anguish about the performance of our school system. So we are not short of ideas, what we are short of is proper planning. Why spend money on new schools when we have the FE sector that can now take pupils from 14. The FE sector needs attention anyway, and a real boost in both resources and status, along with an encouragement to raise outcomes in the way that many schools have achieved during past decade. There is also the danger that planning 14-18 without thinking about what goes before or comes afterwards for all young people is disruptive of Key Stage 3, and may require a huge expenditure on school buildings using cash that might better be used for other areas such as social housing projects.

Finally, I haven’t heard anyone mention the teachers that might be needed, and whether Lord Baker’s plans will be neutral in staffing terms? There are not enough highly qualified maths and science teachers to go around at present. If we increase demand, by teaching more science and technology, then the discipline of the market will be reflected in the price schools will have to pay. We are already at risk of not training enough mathematics, physics and computer science teachers, and it is important to know the effects of any shortfall on other schools if the vocational colleges are funded sufficiently well to take first pick of what teachers there are.

A new approach to 14-18 is definitely needed; whether more schools is the answer is open to debate. There might be better use of the resources. Bringing back 14-19 FE back into the DfE, and away from BiS might be a start.