Dumbing Down: The Tory WayJuly 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.
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.