Hey Nicky, leave those teachers alone!

Posted by Simon Goulden on 06 Jun 2016

I promised to return to the education White Paper ‘Education Excellence Everywhere and the subject of Initial Teacher Training gives me just that chance.  Over the years our community has developed a range of teacher training programmes, delivered both at LSJS and through school led initiatives. The Jewish Teacher Training Partnership, JTTP, has been running for a number of years and is rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. Its Schools Direct programme, in both primary and secondary modes, is nationally recognised. For example, the Jewish Primary Schools Consortium, the partnership of over 20 North London schools, represents the whole spectrum of Jewish practise and within the consortium schools with similar ethe (I’m no Greek scholar!) operate in clusters. Put at its simplest the mission of the JTTP has always been to increase the number of teachers delivering high quality education in the Jewish sector. What is unique, of course, is the opportunity for specialist teachers of Jewish Studies / Limmudei Kodesh and general primary practitioners to develop their teaching, personal and professional conduct within our schools. But each trainee has the opportunity to match the school placements with his or her own ethos. At the end of the programme, trainees obtain QTS, Qualified Teacher Status, the guarantee of standards and experience, which is accepted throughout the system. What on earth could be bad with that, you may ask?

Well, we already know that academies currently have the option to employ unqualified staff. Of course, there is no suggestion that Headteachers of academies are bringing in plumbers and barbers to teach A level chemistry, but they could, in theory, I suppose. So what exactly is the government proposing? Nothing short of replacing the current‘ Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS) with what it claims is ‘a stronger, more challenging accreditation based on a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom, as judged by great schools’.

This new accreditation, so the White paper claims, ‘will raise the quality and status of the teaching profession, better recognising advanced subject knowledge and pedagogy that is rooted in up-to-date evidence’. The new process seems to take away all the corpus of expertise built up over so many years in establishments such as LSJS and puts headteachers in charge of accrediting new entrants to the profession. It will also give schools the option to bring in experts from other fields – and with no qualification needed, at least to start with. There is also the fairly vague intention in the White Paper to establish a College of Teaching, run for teachers by teachers. Whilst anything which enhances the profession is, as far as I’m concerned, welcome, I just wonder, however, about the voluntary membership nature of this new organisation. And what – exactly – will it do?

Of course, nothing can be more important than developing and supporting a high quality teaching profession but, to my mind, the government has not provided any real evidence that Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is ineffective. As I noted above, the replacement will be a non-mandatory accreditation scheme and academy headteachers will still remain free to decide on what requirements - if any - they make of any potential teacher. Can it really be that parents will wholeheartedly welcome the introduction of headteacher ‘flexibilities’ which might result in many more children being taught by unqualified teachers? Goodness knows the job is tough enough as it is!

We are always being urged to provide evidence based learning, but I must admit that I am not aware of any evidence which shows that the use of unqualified teachers raises standards in schools. I do know that some recently published research by the Social Market Foundation’s Commission on Inequality in Education (which you may feel has it own axe to grind), found that the quality of teaching is the most important factor for educational outcomes. Unqualified teachers + high staff turnover + more and more demands = a recipe for stress and early retirements, if not worse.

Is that really what Nicky Morgan wants?

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