Myth Five: 'Teachers don’t need qualifications'

Janet Downs's picture
This is the third of five extracts from our book School Myths: And the Evidence That Blows Them Apart.

Francis Gilbert, co-founder of the Local Schools Network, and author of several books on teaching, strongly challenges the idea that teaching is ‘just about subject knowledge’ added to a ‘bit of craft or technique’. For him ‘what goes on in the classroom is really complex and goes way beyond a set of rules or sorting out seating plans. To be a good teacher you have to really consider children as individuals, know how children learn, be in possession of a wide variety of different strategies. For instance, to know about ‘multiple intelligences’ is really useful.’ Teaching, says Gilbert ‘is about so much more than being a trained craftsman. It’s about becoming a professional who must deal with a multitude of complex situations. It’s about intellectual awareness as well as having all the toolkit ... it’s a mode of being.’

Professor Lori Beckett et al argue that teaching is an intellectual activity which needs to be underpinned by high-quality teacher education. She writes: ‘A teacher who cannot or who does not wish to go on learning, will become a hindrance to the progress of education and a danger to the intellectual development of hundreds of children.’ Gilbert takes this argument further with his emphasis on the importance of teachers understanding what really works in the classroom, backed up by the continuous research by experts in ‘evidence-based pedagogy.’ He argues that it is about shifting the focus of teaching as being a means of social control to being an emancipatory activity that enables students and teachers to enjoy a measure of intellectual freedom. It is very different from the ‘top down’ approach one saw with the National Literacy Strategies … we need to get every teacher reflecting deeply and seriously upon their practice, thinking hard about what is motivating children, what is helping children to learn, and what is not.’

Anthony Seldon praises the so-called ‘dynamism’ of unqualified teachers. But he was (until the summer of 2014) a headmaster of a school that charges over £30,000 a year, with small classes of highly motivated and affluent children who are themselves trained in the arts of ‘emotional intelligence’. There may be room for the occasional unqualified ‘dynamic’ individual in such an environment (although most private schools actually employ teachers with QTS) but the challenges of the state system are far greater and more diverse in intake: an argument, surely, for even higher educational and professional standards.

…Unqualified teachers may also have difficulty coping with vulnerable pupils with behavioural issues and special educational needs. How can an untrained individual - however talented - learn about the disabilities, obvious and subtle, faced by so many young learners, without drawing on the serious study of experts?

We’ll be posting two more short extracts over the next few days. The book is available for Kindle from Amazon at £3.

Short extract from Myth One: ‘Comprehensive education has failed’ is here.

Short extract from Myth Three: ‘‘Choice, competition and markets are the route to educational success’ is here.
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Norizan Manaf's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 11:10

A teacher's passion towards teaching and wanting to see positive results from her/his students is another important factor for the teaching profession. Being impartial towards all of his/ her students for each and everyone of them to have the opportunity to gain as much as possible as a learner is crucial.

Dylan Wiliam's picture
Mon, 16/02/2015 - 02:31

The evidence presented here does not support the conclusions being drawn. Francis Gilbert is right that teachers need more than subject knowledge. A number of studies (e.g., Baumert et al., 2009) have shown that abstract subject knowledge is unrelated to student progress, but what Lee Shulman called "pedagogical content knowledge" IS related to student progress. Lori Beckett is right to point out that teaching is an intellectual activity. But the problem is that neither of these points have any relevance to the argument about teacher qualifications. Put bluntly, we have no evidence that one year doing a PGCE results in better teachers, either in the short term or the long term than one year actually doing the job. Some people think we need a qualified teacher in every classrooms. I want a good teacher in every classroom, and that's not the same thing...

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 16/02/2015 - 11:50

Dylan - it is only by undertaking teacher education leading to formal recognition that parents and pupils can be sure teachers have the necessary intellectual grounding. In Finland, trainee teachers have five years of training including subject knowledge and teaching methods.

There may be 'no evidence' that doing PGCE in one year results in better teachers than those trained on the job. But when a trainee teacher is in a school, their prime responsibility is to their pupils not to their own education. Trainee teachers need time in the classroom, yes (it used to be called 'teaching practice'). But they need significant time away from the classroom undertaking the type of teacher education recommended by Lori Beckett. This gives them time to research, reflect, discuss away from the pressures of the classroom.

Parents have a right to know those who teach their children have a formal qualification and aren't just enthusiastic amateurs.

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