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.