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Dumbing Down: The Tory Way

July 27, 2012

For a short time it seemed the tide might actually be turning. The government might actually be against dumbing-down. They might actually want teachers to know what they are doing. They might have an educational agenda beyond privatisation and union-bashing. They might actually care about what happens in the nation’s classrooms.

My optimism just ended. Tonight the government announced (apparently on Twitter) that academies would be able to employ unqualified teachers (i.e. without QTS). Now I don’t want to overdo the value of QTS. Some PGCE courses are dire. The training signified by QTS is not always worth a lot. However, what QTS does represent is a commitment to join the profession. If you want to dedicate your life to teaching then you needed to, at the very least, work towards QTS status. Teaching was not seen as something you do for a few months when there are no better jobs available. It is a career and a profession, not something to be done in a gap year before starting a real career.

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Now, in the government’s fantasy, the absence of QTS will lead to schools employing highly qualified experts. Former academics would, perhaps, just wander into schools and begin a teaching career no questions asked. Part of the inspiration is the extent to which private schools employ unqualified teachers if they have the right academic qualifications. However, aside from the question of whether the teaching in private schools often suffers as a result of this (and there is considerable anecdotal evidence suggesting it does), this completely misunderstands the mindset of state school SMT. Whereas the head of a private school will usually be highly academically qualified themselves and be looking for somebody with a similar background, our state schools have not valued academic achievement in a long time. Headteachers do not go out of their way to get the best qualified staff as it is. There is simply no reason why lowering the bar in one way (QTS required) will give any reason to raise it in any other way. All that has happened is that teachers just became cheaper. You no longer have to pay even enough to attract somebody who shows signs of having wanted to become a teacher.

The image of teacher recruitment I now have is one where, in the event of a vacancy, SMT calls upon anyone they know (a family member, a former pupil) who has just finished a degree in a vaguely suitable discipline and is now unemployed. Sure, they might not be any good at teaching but they are cheap and easily replaced. The dumbed-down ethos of so many schools, which says teachers need to be only one step ahead of the pupils, will now come with significant financial rewards.

Deprofessionalisation can never improve teaching. It will, however, make privatisation easier (by removing the need for private education providers to recruit qualified staff) and reduce the bargaining power of unions over pay and conditions. Despite all the rhetoric of wanting a rigorous curriculum, this policy reveals an agenda that puts saving money and attacking the teaching profession above attracting anybody with the ability to teach a demanding curriculum.

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45 comments

  1. “Now I don’t want to overdo the value of QTS. Some PGCE courses are dire. The training signified by QTS is not always worth a lot.”

    Bravo, a few lazy sweeping generalisations and you’ve just supplied critics of QTS with all the ammunition they need to. Why even bother trying to defend the profession?


    • I have no agenda here but to express my views. If it’s a choice between pretending teacher training is good, and admitting the truth, (i.e. that it is usually pretty bad) then I’ll speak the truth as I see it. I don’t believe in starting with the conclusion and then manufacturing premises from which it can be argued. If you can’t argue for a policy without resorting to denialism, then it’s a bad policy. If we pretend that teachers are good if they have QTS, and bad if they don’t, nobody will believe us and the argument for QTS will fall by default. QTS sets a minimum level of commitment that ensures you can’t just place anybody in a classroom. That is all, but that is enough to justify it.


      • I would question the idea that QTS can only be seen as a test of commitment. Although the content of some training courses doesn’t prepare teachers as well as they should, I think the majority of courses do provide valuable training. I think more importantly than this, training courses provide the time and space to reflect on your teaching with your peers and with an experienced mentor. I think that this leads to a reflective attitude in teachers that improves standards, perhaps not immediately, but as gradual professional development throughout a teacher’s career.


        • I can’t agree. I went to one of the better universities for teacher training (and my experience is considerably better than many teachers of my generation who went to far worse establishments) but I still can’t think of anything I do now that makes me think: “I learned that as a PGCE student at university”. Like most PGCE courses there was minimal behaviour management, no up-to-date psychology, and plenty of pet enthusiasms of lecturers that were of no relevance to the chalk-face.


          • It seems incredible to me that schools of education still offer precious little in the way of behaviour management.

            Its the principle cause of anxiety for new teachers and I would argue is one of the key elements to effective teaching.

            If you cannot command a classroom or convey your expertise it doesnt matter what you know or how well you know it.


  2. I totally agree that deprofessionalisation is wrong, however I am a highly qualified and experienced teaching assistant (paid a pittance) who often has to stand in a classroom where the students are completely out of control and there is no learning going on at all! I would have loved to train as a teacher and many of my colleagues say I should do so, but due to circumstances when I left secondary school I had to work immediately. I feel that each case needs to be taken by its own merits.
    Teaching is a vocation. I believe that to be good you need to be both knowledgeable AND dedicated in trying to improve young peoples lives. A degree does not mean that you have the second part of that which is maybe why so many young teachers are leaving the profession.


    • I was very careful not to over-egg the QTS pudding. Nor to suggest that there are no good unqualified teachers. Ultimately the problem with this policy is that the harm caused in the worst case scenario significantly outweighs the good in the best case scenario. I would be very happy to see more routes by which people could become qualified teachers, including routes aimed at those who are yet to get a degree. But glossing over the need to qualify is not the right way to go.


  3. I thought that the recession meant lots of people were flooding into QTS and teacher training courses?

    So are there really teacher shortages?

    I would understand removing QTs as a requirement when we cannot fill vacancies, say 10 year ago, but now seems an odd time to do it….?


  4. Thank you. A brilliantly written post which sums up the problem beautifully.


  5. I teach in the private sector and my school frequently appoints teachers without QTS. It is correct to say that often these teachers lack an awareness of good practice. More so they have not had any practice and so have to learn on the job to the detriment of their first cohort of students. On the flip side I know of many brilliant teachers without QTS. My school is able to attract highly qualified intelligent professionals who might be weighing up leaving another profession to train with all the risks involved. Getting a job without having to train persuades them to leave jobs like law and city finance despite big losses in wages. Afrter a year of pain our school frequently finds it has made a great appointment and it means we have punched above our weight in terms of the quality of the teachers we are able to recruit. As long as there are not too many non qualified staff at once it is generally works OK. But the head teacher often appoints too many at once and we can’t carry them.
    However… I very much agree with OA. This is because my experience of the state sector is that they are not even trying to recruit highly qualified professionals, strongly believing there is no correlation between intelligence and grasp of the subject and successful teaching. The unions seem to imply that nearly every graduate from a top university is almost necessarily a bumbling fool when it comes to communicating ideas. All I can say is that my experience is that although highly qualified but dreadful teachers certainly exist and of course some poorly qualified individuals are brilliant teachers, overall quality of qualifications tends to lead to better teaching. I may be shot for saying it but there you go…


  6. OA and I have disagreed on this point before.

    I would accept theres maybe a vague correlation between quality of degree and quality of teacher but there are just too many exceptions to justify a cast iron policy.

    In fact, in my considerable experience, teachers with 1st class honours degrees or doctorates generally (please note I mean generally and not always) make for the weakest teachers.

    They often/sometimes lack charisma, cannot communicate, cannot differentiate, cannot relate to parents and students, cannot manage their time, cannot get on with colleagues, cannot adapt, cannot diffuse with humour, cannot take constructive advice.

    Whereas I have known teachers with poor degrees go on to be exemplary professionals with tremendous class presence, superb discipline, respectful and loyal students and outstanding results.

    I am at pains to point out that i have also known the exact opposite dynamic too- but nonetheless is much rarer in my experience.

    I think the departments of the schools of the nation are best served by having a mix of different types of staff so that the kids get the best of both worlds. Highly qualified and knowledgeable staff can share their expertise with colleagues, and staff with other attributes can share theirs too.


    • Well, we have disagreed about this before, and since then I have worked at an FE college and a grammar school and encountered far more highly qualified teachers than i had been used to, none of whom have caused me to change my mind.

      My considerable experience is the better you know your subject knowledge, the easier you find it to explain, the better you can teach it. There are probably some negative effects too; if somebody turns up to an awful school with a first class degree in a shortage subject or a doctorate, then they are likely to be either very principled/naive or they are generally unemployable. However, even with that selection effect I simply haven’t seen what you describe. I have seen a few highly qualified individuals at the ends of their careers who resorted to teaching when they were too drunk or too mad to do anything else. I have encountered one or two people who were just a bit too geeky to teach when they have applied for jobs alongside me at posher schools. The brilliant mind that is unable to teach though is something that, while fairly common in universities, just doesn’t seem to roll up in ordinary secondary schools.

      You don’t particularly persuade me by coming up with long lists of skills that aren’t actually teaching. Easy to say that a smart person doesn’t work well with their colleagues, but then there’s plenty of teachers (usually SMT) who are uncomfortable working with somebody who is smarter than them. Easy to cite parental complaints, but in my experience they tend to come loudest about teachers who have foreign accents; then about those who push lazy students harder than they expected, and only third on the list are complaints about those who are actually teaching badly.

      Some of the items on your list seem to just mean “awkward to manage” rather than bad at teaching and I’d have to say that all the best teachers I have ever met and ever been taught by were, at the heart of it, “awkward to manage” individuals. I’d take the bright-but-difficult over the dim-but-compliant any day of the week (which has at least some correlation to qualifications) and until I see a flood of Sheldon Cooper types turning up to find work at bog-standard comprehensives I am unlikely to change my mind.


      • Thats ok- I guess our contrasting experiences has led us to different conclusions. Everything you said makes perfect sense, I concede that willingly.

        I myself have seen teachers with better class degrees exploit their knowledge to allow better explanations and to inspire their students- so we agree on that point.

        But I have also seen teachers so intellectual that they just were not able to bring themselves down to the students level. They couldn’t explain simple things like ohms law, or photosynthesis, or solving quadratics or basic algebra.

        As to challenging lower school classes you can forget it…

        So I couldn’t in all honesty say there is a hard and fast rule- I think its down to the individual and don’t be surprised if the best teacher in the dept has a 2.2 or a 3rd- I’ve seen it happen.

        I wouldn’t agree with the selection effect you describe- and the majority of teachers who i have had to support who had these issues were at the start of their careers- it wasn’t a case of an eccentric nut who was drafted in by a desperate school.

        The skills I mentioned are usually possessed by good teachers and are difficult to train ‘into’ someone, but staff can always study to gain more knowledge.

        As to ‘difficult staff’ that depends on definition. Staff that antagonise everyone around them are toxic and waste huge amounts of manager time and can ultimately damage the school ethos. Staff that wont follow policy, wont apply standard sanctions, are inappropriate, miss deadlines, argue over every single policy change can be tiresome for everyone. That doesnt mean to say non difficult teachers are compliant- I’m a team player but no one would accuse me of being a complaint walkover.

        But ultimately its about the teaching and if students are not understudying their teacher sooner or later complaints will roll in- particularly from good kids.
        This is a separate issue to lazy kids or foreign accents.


  7. As a UQT who has been continuously employed in state schools and, latterly, an academy for a few years now, this latest announcement is somewhat confusing.
    Certainly, since my entry in 2009, it has always been possible, and legal, for the state sector across the board to employ UQTs.
    A thin veneer of palatability was served up to placate whoever was concerned, claiming that such appointments were to be on short-term contracts and only until such time as a qualified alternative could be found.
    So, what has changed? Is it now the case that UQT appointments can be made on a permanent basis as opposed to a temporary one?
    I find it fascinating that a few qualified colleagues resent the fact that UQTs are allowed to do the same job, generally claiming that such provision has been made in order to reduce total net salary costs. Yet, these same colleagues are only too happy to email me cover work when off sick.
    Could it actually be the fact that certain schools have difficulty recruiting – be that because of geography, reputation or other – and that appointing a UQT to a post in such circumstances actually solves problems for several groups – students, colleagues and SLT alike?
    I further find it odd that teaching unions which represent UQTs in addition to representing those with QTS are now complaining about this latest move. Either they want to, and do, represent UQTs, or they don’t. It’s strange when a union turns against a subset of its own members.
    I teach maths. I have a maths degree. I have just under a dozen colleagues in my department. One has a relevant degree. The rest trained in, variously, humanities, English and the primary sector.
    While the corridors occasionally echo with mutterings about rumours the UQT is getting paid on the main scale, these same colleagues are the ones who regularly come to ask what completing the square “does”, how the quadratic formula was derived, how conditional probability works, and even how to work with fractional powers.
    I lack QTS but have a professional background in communication. This gets me by.
    My colleagues have QTS but some lack the basic knowledge needed to successfully deliver the KS4 curriculum.
    My school has a, roughly, 40% pass rate for GCSE maths.
    My classes have always topped 90% – generally with D and E grade-predicted students as their bulk.
    Last year, 65 of my 67 passed. This year, I’m hopeful that 71 of my 72 will pass – many did early entry and passed at the start of the year; some with maximum UMS.
    The above is there to add some perspective. I can teach. Ofsted (for what it’s worth) agrees – 2 x grade 1s so far (and a bit of intra-departmental jealousy).
    The training manager at school thinks I’m far too didactic. She despairs at the chalk and talk, and left-field examples from which to bring topics and concepts together.
    Yet, the students, collectively, prefer this approach.
    “I get it this way, sir. You’re strict but you also make us laugh.”
    Isn’t that what it’s about – engaging students and being able to answer any questions they have and be in a position to develop them to their fullest extent?
    Is QTS strictly necessary for this?
    The backers of QTS often say it develops pedagogy, teaches you how to teach, helps you to plan, etc.
    So, in my humble opinion, does a touch of common sense and a wish, or want, to help better lives.
    As a penultimate thought, whose name is on the A level and further A level classes? Ah, the UQT: because the others (with the exception of one) lack the knowledge.
    QTS can be a smokescreen; looks good for parents but, let’s be realistic, doesn’t equip someone with a non-relevant degree to teach maths. It doesn’t appear to do much for behaviour management either – some of the weakest classroom practitioners at my place have QTS. Conversely, most (for there are plenty across the faculties) of the UQTs, armed with a little extra life experience, have strong classroom management skills – and are often designated the recipients for those who have had to be removed from other colleagues’ classrooms.
    If the system was as robust as many hope/wish/pretend it to be, there’d be no place for UQTs.
    But until the QTS system accounts for those who transition into other subjects and lack appropriate subject knowledge, and those with weak classroom skills, poor confidence, and diluted presence, throwing teddies around because someone lacks a bit of paper is a moot point.


    • Teachers are often obliged to set coverwork so I wouldn’t read to much into that.

      As somebody who often despairs at the lack of maths teachers who studied maths I take your point, but you are missing something important. Why are you not seeking to get qualified? It would be a lot easier for you to gain QTS than for your colleagues to gain maths degrees, which makes it hard for me to see abolition of QTS as a solution to the lack of able maths teachers. Raising the bar for becoming a maths teacher seems to more directly address the situation you describe than lowering it. There isn’t a huge pool of good maths graduates out there hoping to become teachers but deterred by their lack of QTS.


      • I’m not seeking to get “qualified” because obtaining QTS is a pointless waste of time – time I prefer to spend on a part-time MSc in maths instead.
        If I decide to move abroad, I’ll do a PGCE.
        If UQTs are banned, in the future, from state schools, I’ll move to one of the many local private schools.


  8. Rob I do wonder what pool of examples you are drawing on to suggest a majority of those with first class degrees turn out to be poor teachers. Sounds like you are just repeating a stereotype and it certainly isn’t my experience, which is of about the same proportion of successful teachers as from the ranks of those with 2.1s. Maybe its a different sort person that is recruited by schools like mine???Anyway calling up the image of the boffin with a first class degree obscures the point.
    Most of the non qualified ‘highly qualified’ teachers recruited by my school got 2.1s from good universities rather than firsts. I have seen countless because of the recruitment policies of schools such as mine and can only repeat that any teacher benefits from really understanding their subject and being intelligent enough to do so and that intelligence aids their ability to reflect critically on their practice. I would say that perhaps I hold this view because I mainly teach A Level but I see the same need in theprimary school teachers of my children.
    Also there would be an even more serious shortage of physics/maths etc teachers if private schools didn’t appoint unqualified teachers. It is so hard to get a physics teacher that it is unusual to appoint one that is qualified. However, our school has recruited some great ones that no longer wanted to work in finance etc. The pool of teachers in these shortage subjects form which all schools ultimately draw is made up of many unqualified teachers recruited by private schools. The fact that these physics teahcers often do have very good degrees and understand their subject is one of the only things that still keeps the subject going at all. Its my husband that is a physics teacher and when he marks A level its enough to make one weep when he reads some of the misunderstandings so many studnets are taught by teachers that simply aren’t specialists and don’t understand the subject.


  9. I have recruited staff and line managed staff in a number of secondary schools. The schools have varied from very academic to pretty rough- I think I have as extensive experience as anyone else.

    I didn’t say all 1st class graduates had issues but its a trend I have seen repeat itself over and over. I haven’t really seen any difference between those with a 2.1, 2.2 or a 3rd.

    Basically, if the school recruits a bunch of NQTs and amongst that bunch were the odd 1st class honours or PhD grad then they tended to be the teachers that got the complaints and the ones that needed my, or others support.

    My pet theory is that the ultra studious type, with lesser social skills gets the 1st but the party animal type, still pretty bright and with good social skills, gets the 2.1 or lower.

    One must remember that schools are not universities and only teach up to A2 level. Even a good A-level student has enough knowledge to teach GCSE.

    For the 5% of really top schools I can see why real scholarship of the teachers has merit- but for the other 95%? for the most part an ok degree is more than sufficient.

    Also, even staff with doctorates can make elementary errors on parts of physics, chemistry and biology- as its so trivial to them.


    • Rob … I do feel a bit irrationally miffed by your comment! I realise it’s irrational because after all, you aren’t speaking about me personally but all the same, it’s a huge generalisation to make. I’ve always been very proud of the fact I have excellent subject knowledge and it’s my main strength as a teacher!


      • Hi Rowan- im sorry- I do accept what I said is a generalisation. For the record I have known and still do know outstanding teachers whos high quality academic background is an intrinsic element of their success.


    • “Even a good A-level student has enough knowledge to teach GCSE”

      Disagree.


      • I’m not saying an 17 yo has the skills or experience to command a class- im saying that for the average GCSE uk class someone who possesses ‘good’ A-level knowledge has enough knowledge to impart to the students.

        Any reasonably good A2 chemistry student would get near to 100% in a GCSE chemistry exam. Average GCSE chemistry students only need GCSE knowledge – they don’t need A-level references of degree level references.

        I understand in terms of enrichment its nice if the teacher can use their expertise to dig a little deeper and extend the students further than GCSE but we needn’t conflate ‘ideal’ with ‘highly competent’.

        A really top flight GCSE class in our best selective schools needs a really good specialist but I’m talking average classes here.


        • Sorry, but I seem to spend half my working life dealing with the consequences of that sort of thinking. Somebody may have the knowledge to cope with an exam without having enough understanding to realise what is most important and what kids need to know fluently, rather than just be able to recall after some thought.


          • But wouldn’t A2 knowledge be just that? A-level is way beyond GCSE, so a student wouldn’t just be ‘recalling after some thought’- particularly if they had prepared for a particular lesson or module (notwithstanding the fact a 17/18 yo doesn’t have the skills to teach- we are just talking knowledge here).

            Surely someone with a 2.2 or 3rd has sufficient knowledge to teach the average uk A-level class?

            If they have prepared for the unit?

            And degree work often doesn’t deal with fundamentals – it delves in intricacies and advanced concepts well beyond the building blocks of GCSE.

            A 1st class honours degree graduate may understand degree level protein synthesis better than a 3rd class graduate but I cannot see that much could separate them in explaining photosynthesis to a school class.

            It seems inconceivable to me that a graduate with a 2.2 somehow cannot cope with an A-level syllabus in their subject- this would suggest that degrees are barely more demanding than A-levels.

            I would agree with Matt about the lack of a specialist degree undermining teaching quality for sure, but as I say, degree class hasn’t been the deciding factor in teaching quality in my experience.

            Whats gets me is dumbing down, under-challenging kids, lowering expectations, excusing laziness, indulgent resits and all the rest of it.


          • I had also meant to say that in good schools they have schemes of work that usually denote what key things the kids need to know, often with suggested activities for different ability kids.

            So provided a little prep has been done the average uk class should be well taught by a properly trained and capable graduate, even those with less than a 2.1.

            And if a school has an unusually able top set in AS/A2 etc then you make sure that the most intellectual/well qualified colleague is timetabled with that class.


  10. To Matt,
    You make some great points- and how on Earth does a dept of 12 cope with only 1 or 2 specialists? Thats a crazy situation- and if its still the case even now, then yes I guess it makes sense to remove the QTS thing, at least for maths and the sciences.


    • Rob,
      Defining it to be a “crazy situation” is possibly fair enough but it’s not, I suspect, by any means a unique one.
      I can think of other local schools with few maths specialists, broadly comparable results, and recruitment problems.
      The fact is that, relatively locally, possession of a maths degree opens up plenty of other doors outside of teaching – the vast majority of which are far more amply financially rewarded.
      We struggle to recruit maths and science teachers. Period.
      The main pay scale is a poor relation compared with other opportunities.
      Let’s not fall into the belief trap that all of those coming to teaching are driven by some need to better lives – that they’re doing this for the good of the community. People usually take the job with the best pay and career progression opportunities – that which will put the best bread on the family table. That’s the reality of life.
      A starting salary of twenty-odd grand and an archaic pay scale progression system with a glass ceiling in teaching compares poorly with a thirty grand starting salary and frequent exam-pass bonuses in, say, the actuarial profession, which is thriving locally for those with a maths background.
      If local schools want to overcome this, they’ll need to start paying more – advancing people up the M scale more quickly.
      If they can’t, or won’t, then they’ll get more of the same old.
      As to how we cope – we’re careful with who gets what class to teach. A bit of timetable rejigging and, hey presto, certain staff can accommodate the bulk of KS4.
      This doesn’t address all problems down to the lower ranks of KS3 but it’s called managing according to what we’ve got.
      I wouldn’t want the stress my HoD has got (the other maths degree holder). In fact, I wasn’t interested in the TLR position created to spread the load. I didn’t bother to apply. If I wanted an extra five grand, I’d do some freelancing to my old profession, or some tutoring work – a lot less hassle for a lot more money.


      • I dont doubt it for a moment- 10 years ago it was common for london schools to have 50% or more of their teachers to be australian/new zealand supply.

        as to career progression and general attraction of a certain calibre of people- we will never compete with industry- country cannot afford it.

        and i wouldnt totally accept the non altruistic view of teachers- some were born to do it and love the job.

        As to TLRs you are quite correct- its an inefficient way to make more cash- blimey!- bar work makes more sense!

        But our schools rely on Heads of years and heads of Dept to take on the responsibility and run our schools- usually for a pittance- and oddles of grief from parents, staff and colleagues. True unheralded warriors in my view….


  11. My husband can say pretty categorically that physics is simply taught wrongly by people that just don’t understand it – and the kids marks suffer- as well as their understanding. It’s really worrying that you dismiss what is a very real problem in subjects like Maths and Physics. We are talking about fundamentals of the subject being misunderstood by the teacher, not the odd minor errors. It is normal the find these sorts of problems on A level physics papers.
    Perhaps the reason you have more problems with your recruitment among the most highly qualified is because in a school like mine the applicants CV has to be pretty ‘well rounded’ (especially regards sport…) I recognise the stereotype you describe but it just simply isn’t the sort of applicant we get lots of. If someone looks like a poor communicator then dont recruit them – but please don’t deny that your students will benefit from well qualified instruction. In my history department there are 3 Oxford graduates and I would describe them as sharp, perceptive, discriminating, articulate, measured and real experts. Our students at all levels benefit from these qualities. These are qualities that a linked to intelligence and more prevalent among the more highly qualified.
    I do worry that you think a teacher with a third is as likely to do a good job as one with a 2.1. Thats tragic for your students. That person is just not going to have a great understanding unless the class of their degree happened to not reflect their actual ability and I wouldnt recruit on that gamble. It really saddens me that pupils at my school (privileged but not all that bright on average) get the advantage of highly qualified teachers and state schools don’t even want those teachers for their children.
    An A level student could teach a GCSE student. No! Not on my watch they wouldn’t. Their understanding of the subject is simply not good enough. It takes real depth of understanding to communicate clearly, unpick students confusions and discriminate what is important.


    • Im sorry if my observations have upset you but they are my honest experiences. I hope you don’t resent my presenting them here.

      I think you may have slightly misunderstood me. I know of 1st class degree teachers that are excellent. I know of 3rd class degree teachers that struggle. I was simply saying that its MORE OFTEN the other way around in my experience.

      I know of highly qualified teachers that proved unpopular with students and simply could not explain things at a slow enough, fragmented pace to engage them. They were impatient with even the brightest students and simply couldn’t explain concepts. I know of previous SLT that wont go near PhD graduates because they have had too many bad experiences.

      And I simply am unable to agree to your assertion that teachers with a 2.2 or worse would make a bad or lesser teacher- thats not my experience and I have taught and managed in highly academic schools.

      Im not denying departments shouldn’t have at least some access to a well qualified colleague and what Matt describes is very worrying. But lets look at the reality- schools teach up to A2 level- almost any degree holder can cope with that.

      The average level for SATs Science y9 kids is level 5 in this country. Its not exactly rocket science (joke).

      Your husband is one person, as am I- our views are equally valid. It may be that the errors he sees are due to the kids not the teachers. Or maybe my experiences are atypical.

      As to GCSE, almost all the schools i worked at had surgeries for GCSE kids run by A-level kids. they were very popular because the A-level kids were closer to the level of the GCSE kids and broke it down easier.

      Im not denying high quality instruction is desirable – but for the vast majority of uk schools that doesn’t require a 1st class degree from Oxbridge.

      And people can improve their knowledge once they leave uni- even good unis are not always great seats of learning- many students cram and party their way to a scraped 2.1.

      But they get serious when they mature and take up a job.


  12. A few years ago my sister taught at a ‘battlground’ school in Manchester. She told me that the most commonly read newspaper in the staffroom was The Sun. I was totally gob smacked. There is no way my child is going to a school where teachers like reading matter at that level and feel quite safe that a school that tries to recruit well qualified teachers is unlikely to have many teachers that get their information about the world from The Sun.


    • i dont care much for the sun either- but this post makes me think you are having a little jest with us….


  13. Not sure I agree with this post. My reasoning is as follows. Let’s assume that you are right and hiring teachers who are not QTS qualified is a bad idea. What the government is doing is giving some schools freedom to make bad choices. You appear to be arguing that the state should not give this freedom to schools (although in fairness I don’t think you explicitly state that).

    Does this mean that you don’t think that the teaching profession, as a whole, can be trusted to use this new freedom wisely? If not, then to what extent can we trust the profession to manage it’s own affairs?

    And if the QTS process does not produce a teaching profession that can be trusted to manage it’s own affairs then maybe it is a good idea to remove this as a mandatory requirement.

    Sorry if the comment comes over a bit negative but I hope you can see where I’m coming from.


  14. There is so much more to teaching than knowing some facts to pass on.Weak teachers are poor judges of what the students need to know, what to emphasise, working out the best way to explain things. Their explanations are often slightly confused, lacking clarity, which means students find it harder to learn. They are weak at identifying what students misconceptions are. To say that a teacher only needs to know more than the student they teach is extraordinary. A highly qualified graduate has skill and good judgement that the average graduate with a third class degree does not have. Thats why they got a third.


    • They got a 3rd because they were either lazy or of average ‘university’ ability (or both) and got an average of 45% on their annual tests and finals. ie 25% or so less than a guy with a scraped 1st.

      Degrees cover material in significantly more depth than that of GCSE and whats more, they tend to specialise in a specific areas- particularly in the final year.

      Apart from the fact that key ideas to be passed on are indicated in lesson plans and schemes of work I think its unlikely a 2.2/3 graduate isn’t able to make the judgements you allude to.

      And the ability to explain things, that are relatively straightforward concepts for a graduate, is a ‘knack’- not necessarily related to high intellect.

      As i have mentioned before this knack often eludes highly intellectual staff in my experience.

      There is nothing to suggest that a graduate with 1/2.1 has more ‘judgement’ than a graduate with 2.2/3.

      (or ones who read ‘The Sun’ from time to time)


  15. You can’t disassociate teachers’ ability to judge what to say to children from their intelligence. When I teach my classes history my brightest and most successful students are not just those that know most. Any teacher knows its the bright kids that not only have a great grasp of the facts but can see to the heart of the issue, realise what’s important and in history anyway, make strong judgements using what they know. So the Oxbridge graduates in my dept are quite likely to have great judgement, which they do, benefiting their students. Some highly qualified people are poor communicators, as in the population at large, so don’t employ them, but don’t deny the value to students of intelligent teaching.
    Subject knowledge is also important as I said with physics. BTW as my husband has done revision courses for some years he is well able to say that many state school pupils are taught by teachers that do not understand physics and they often teach students definitions for the exam which are plain wrong and score no marks. The state school classroom he did a course in at Easter had wall displays that were just wrong- and the concern is about the fundamentals, not some obscure facts. If you have a biology graduate mugging up A level physics it’s not their fault, but it’s not a surprise either.


    • Well apart from instances where the teacher was virtually a moron, I would dispute your opening sentence- if you are able to get a degree (with the exception of Media Studies etc) then you have sufficient intelligence to make operational judgements and contrast factors and argue and rebut etc etc.

      Any ‘extra’ intelligence would be helpful to teacher of a bright A2-level class perhaps but even then after a few years experience and prep there should be no issue.

      Now a Biology graduate teaching A2 Physics or even a bright GCSE Triple Award Physics class is a different matter.

      Perhaps if a Biology graduate got an A-grade at A2 Physics themselves and prepared really well they might scrape by but I agree thats got to effect teaching quality somehow. Perhaps thats what your husband is observing.

      As to scientific definitions the kids have to take some responsibility- they are printed in English in textbooks and specifications- so even a graduate teacher somehow got them wrong (which Im not excusing)- the kids should realise- its their exams after all.

      I think perhaps you might have a caricature of the intellectual but weak teacher I have come across and am alluding to. It wasn’t 60yo insipid nerds in tweed who only spoke in nasal tones. The issues were more subtle than that. These were men and women who got onto PGCEs or similar and had furthermore, done well enough to get their PCGE or QTS.

      But they couldn’t cope with the rigours of real full time job in the uk comp. Chief problem was communication but it was also about pitch and delivery which they often really struggled with and not just KS3 classes either. Sorry but thats what have found in several schools. We are only talking general trends here of course- I saw plenty of exceptions too.


  16. My husband worked for most of the 1980s at Birmingham University. The SCR had copies of all the dailies, and it was noticeable, apparently, that the only one people were queuing up to read was the Sun… (I was assured that this was simply because the Sun had the best sports reporting. Yeah, right.)

    On the basic argument of this thread, perhaps two distinctions could be made:

    (a) In-depth subject knowledge is a necessary but not a sufficient criterion for high-quality teaching at secondary and tertiary level.

    (b) It is possible for an individual to possess the former even without a degree in that subject, but it is less likely.

    With any luck, these distinctions go some way to reconcile the two sides of the argument in theory – though not, alas, addressing the practical question of appointments in schools.


    • Thats rather neatly summarised- Thank you Sue

      Kofi Anan would be pleased with that I think :)


  17. [...] to this (a few examples in no particular order: Tom Bennett, Geoff Barton, glosswatch.com, @oldandrew ), some more measured than [...]


  18. Re physics and incorrect teaching. I have asked more…There are many problems and one of these is non specialist teachers teaching incorrect, or incomplete definitions.Often the text book the students have at A Level does not contain the sort of definitions the students need to get marks. You can blame the exam boards for having very specific definitions but also often non specialist teachers are out of their depth and alone and just dont know that what they are doing isnt adequate. Often definitions taught are correct but far too simple or courseworks have inappropriate tasks or are too lightwight. The textbooks the students have often are no help remedying poor teaching Some of these problems are because the teacher is not a specialist and some are (as OA would agree, I guess) because these teachers did not qualify in Physics teaching, have not taught in depts with experienced physics teachers that would help them. My husband has marked A level for 2 boards for 12 years, moderated A level coursework or 6 years and perhaps most insight has come from doing revision courses for 12 years. He estimates that a third of the A level students whose papers he marks have clearly been badly taught for the reasons given above.
    A physics graduate with a third will have some fundamental weaknesses that will cause them problems, especially at A2 level. Recruiting highly qualified but ‘unqualified teachers’ would help with this but there are also real problems for smaller schools whose teachers often lack experience of successful physics teaching as well as being non specialists.


    • Oh I quite agree that ‘non specialists’ must compromise teaching quality in the vast majority of cases and what Matt describes in Maths in his school is untenable.

      Its not too much of a leap to suspect this happens with Physics teachers too and might lead to the problems your husband has identified.

      I have heard too that different boards have slight variations on definitions and if a student doesn’t match the boards marking scheme then ‘tough chips’ as it were.

      I have also always believed that every dept needs at least one real expert so as to aid training and knowledgeable support for colleagues.

      I wouldn’t necessarily go along with your argument about 3rd class graduates, as its still a specialist degree indicating 3 years of specialist study well beyond A2 level and subsequently passing, (one assumes) several exams.

      So sufficient competence has been demonstrated in my view. In addition I have co-recruited and subsequently co-trained some 3rd class graduates- they were often pretty humble and eager to work hard and have some gone on to be superb A2 teachers with outstanding OFSTED inspections and great residuals (value added results) so Im relaxed about the issue in general.

      I suppose if Im entirely honest if Im looking at 2 identical CV’s and one has a 2.1 and the other a 3rd I will gravitate towards the former. But its not a deciding a factor and CVs are never identical. And I always pause and hold a bit of trepidation before ‘long listing’ 1sts or doctorates simply due to past experiences- but then I remind myself of those who have actually been great successes.


  19. I should resist the temptation of another post but… I have been reflecting and wonder if part of the clash here is because of different subject specialisms.
    In maths I can picture someone that is highly qualified may well not have great communication (rampant stereotyping going on here…) Also the sort if intelligence that has made you good at Maths is not really related to the sort of applied intelligence that will help you teach well.
    However, in my main subject, History, and in many other subjects like English there is a much stronger correlation between the good judgement which allows you work out what kids need to know and the good judgements that means you write a good essay and are academically successful.
    For Maths knowing your stuff is important but not related to your ability to teach. In history teaching you often don’t know anything about what you are going to have to teach next Sept. You are successful if you can quickly assimilate new knowledge, weigh it up, discriminate what is important, see what is at the heart of the issue, work out how to parcel it up etc etc. Also you are a good teacher if you can quickly untease a student’s arguments, identify their misapprehensions or weaknesses in their arguments and explain the problem. My point is that I could be describing what makes a history student successful academically as much as the skills of a teacher.


    • I think thats likely closer to my position- I do think there are a variety of different types of intelligence- dare I utter the phrase ‘emotional intelligence?’. (I’ll pause whilst OA loads his shotgun)

      And maybe degree class has a different amount of impact in different subjects along the lines you suggest.


  20. How many times have you heard a teacher complain that they are not being treated as a professional? This seems to be one of our primary complaints. If we were allowed to get on and do our jobs instead of forced to conform to ever-changing fads and bureaucracy / if educational reform was well-researched in consultation with us and planned over a sensible tie-frame / if our schools were no longer used as political pawns then perhaps we’d be able to deliver a better education.

    If we really want to be treated as professionals, surely we need to embrace the need for a professional qualification, which in this case is QTS. I agree that it is far from perfect, but to remove the need for it entirely is to diminish the profession.



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