Allow me to qualify...
'Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving'
The folk-image of the teacher?
1963 – Think ‘Whacko’: Moustache, sadist, alcoholic, probably a pervert.
1973 – Think ‘Nuts in May’: Beard, sandals, pot-head, probably a Communist.
1983 – Think ‘Gregory’s Girl’: Perm, highlights, tracksuit, heavy smoker, probably writing songs about his sixth-formers.
The cultural prism through which our folk-image as teachers is projected can be an unflattering refraction. We are viewed with suspicion and disdain by many, poor experiences at a formative age amplifying and rippling out much more strongly through our anecdotes and recollections as the years progress. You may never forget a good teacher, but you always remember a terrible one.
One use of the verb ‘qualify’ is to add reservations, to be tentative and equivocal - I’m going to ‘qualify’ a strong statement with shades of perspective and by perhaps acknowledging other viewpoints. A radical government is reluctant to qualify their bold statements and policy pronouncements because the first cut is the deepest and the boldest sound bite the most memorable. The more mundane business of implementation and delivery demands that ideas are qualified with details, folly and errors addressed through compromise. Similarly, it seems the more radical a department or leader, the more reluctant they can be to do this. The current mess in some Free Schools indicates that the (certainly initial) apparently very lax vetting has returned to haunt the initiative and the children unfortunate enough to be schooled in these institutions.
The debate has shifted in the last week or so towards the question of just how essential qualified teacher status actually is. Labour have seen the opportunity to place clear water between themselves and the Tories on the issue and a debate took place in parliament in which a quite stunning lack of understanding on all sides punctuated the morass of ignorance on display. All sound and fury, signifying nothing except a widespread failure to understand the reality of day to day teaching and learning.
So does it matter? Is the PGCE or securing QTS worth a hill of exercise books? It is of great value and incredibly important that the craft and practice of teaching is taught and nurtured in anyone hoping to become a teacher. Subject knowledge can take you a long way in a classroom of willing and engaged young people with their eyes on the prize and a well-developed sense of respect for knowledge and authority. Certain classroom practices are doubtless intuitive and can be picked up as you go along; after all we were all taught once ourselves and all possess some obvious empathy for learners. You will very probably be nurtured and supported by a wise, experienced colleague who may even let you come into her classroom to observe her at work. You may be fortunate enough to work in a school with a library of books about teaching and pedagogy that you can borrow and imbibe. I know that this is how some careers in the independent sector begin and develop and I’m sure that there are some for whom that is a successful path towards a semblance of CPD.
But that is an anarchic approach; a ‘crumbs from the table’, fingers crossed strategy to growing the highly skilled and respected profession we know we require and would demand for our own children. I’m happy when I see ‘Phd’ on someone’s CV when they are applying for a teaching job but there is very rarely a link or connection between this and the quality of interaction, instruction and intuition I then see in a lesson context. Truthfully, I have found that the ‘A’ level results a teaching candidate has are often a better indication of both their work ethic and fundamental intelligence than Higher education. The best performers are not always the best Drama teachers; the most knowledgeable Chemists do not always secure the best results.
It simply isn’t good enough to sneerily refer back to one’s own mixed experiences at teacher training college and blithely declare PGCE a ‘waste of time’ or, conversely, to claim that school based training is ‘lacking in academic rigour’. There are, I’m sure, too many ITE providers in Universities not giving a practical or relevant enough grounding, just as there are too many school-based schemes which do not provide a deep enough foundation in the principles of pedagogy. But I would argue that these are the exception rather than the rule and that reform is a more powerful approach than a wrecking ball. Whatever the complexion and make-up of teacher training, it should be a high quality experience and not an optional add-on. Seeking accreditation should be mandatory in order to ensure that this is the case. I don’t have any problem with gradual routes to qualified or accredited status; I don’t see any reason why a school shouldn’t have the freedom to appoint someone to teach as they gain accreditation, but gaining a qualification and the validation that should go with that, must be part of the deal.
So the answer Hunt should have given Paxman when pressed on whether he would allow an unqualified teacher to teach his child?
‘Yes. As long as they are training and working towards accreditation and qualified status’.
We want teaching to be viewed as a high status profession. We want parents and the public to have a much better folk-image of the teacher than they have in the past. We want to be recognized and rewarded fairly by those in power when we do a good job and, yes, to be challenged and provoked to do even better because standards can and should be much higher.
We cannot achieve this by allowing the job to become a gentleman’s hobby. A pursuit people can play at freely ‘first’ before going on to do something better or more lucrative.
We should offer qualified support to any politician who presents a plan that nurtures these aims. No such plan currently exists and I am getting fed up of waiting.