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QTS: How meaningful is it anyway?

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In this piece Chris Carpenter analyses QTS through the lens of two opposing views of teaching: Technical Rationalism and Professional Artistry, arguing that we must move towards seeing QTS as much more than simply being ‘a licence to practice.’

Man made of cogsThe debate about whether schools should be allowed to appoint unqualified teachers has been in the news again recently. It is clear that at the present time the move to appoint unqualified teachers has considerable support in influential areas.Anthony Seldon, Head Teacher of Wellington College, has said that ‘Teaching is like parenting: you don’t need to have a qualification’. Similarly, in a statement released through the Department for Education, Richard Cairns, Head Teacher of Brighton College said: ‘I strongly believe that teachers are born not made and I will actively seek out teachers from all walks of life who have the potential to inspire children.’ When Toby Young, an advocate of free schools and a supporter of appointing teachers without QTS, was interviewed on Radio 4 he argued that such staff were ‘qualified’ but did not have ‘qualified teacher status’. By this he meant that many of the teachers his Free School had appointed had degrees, sometimes further degrees and in many cases had experience of work in a variety of contexts. Therefore, in his eyes, these teachers were ‘qualified’ to teach.

Quite naturally the issue of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) has caused a good deal of disquiet among many sections of the profession and the teacher unions in particular and there have been a number of responses to this issue. This debate may also be seen to chime with Brian Simon’s famous 1981 work, ‘Why No Pedagogy in England’ where he asked why pedagogy, as a legitimate field of study, has for the most part been marginalised in England. Simon argued that thinking about pedagogy in England was neither coherent nor systematic as is the case in many other countries in Western Europe. Consequently, he argued that, teachers in England tended to plan and justify their teaching by combining pragmatism with ideology. By ideology I am assuming that Simon was referring to what may often take the form of a ‘folk’ ideology rather than an ideology forged through work in the classroom, engagement with scholarship and engagement in research. Of course in many ways the notion of head teachers being empowered to appoint whoever they deem appropriate to their teaching staff can be seen as being entirely congruent with the notion of the power in education being devolved to the schools. I want to explore the notion of QTS in relation to the technical rationalist theory of professionalism and ask if QTS is merely a kind of ‘licence to practice’ then how worthwhile is it anyway?

It seems axiomatic that if there is a choice between appointing someone to a teaching post who is ‘qualified’ and someone who is not it makes sense to appoint someone who is ‘qualified’.  However, bearing in mind Toby Young’s perspective we may be wise to see the notion of being ‘qualified’ to teach in its broadest sense and this leads into questioning what we mean by being ‘qualified’ in teaching.

In recent times in the UK in order to gain QTS prospective teachers have to demonstrate their capabilities against a set of competences known as the ‘Teachers’ Standards’. It is worth noting that in current times even though there is a proliferation of routes into teaching the same standards apply to all routes. Once potential teachers have demonstrated their competence against each standard, to their examiners satisfaction, they can be formally recommended for QTS.  In the recent past this then allowed them to be appointed to a teaching post. The point that I feel needs exploring is the status of achieving QTS. Is it merely a ‘licence to practice’, a demonstration that certain competences have been evidenced or does it mean something more. It seems to me that if it is the former the argument for non-qualified teachers, that is teachers without QTS, may rest on rather flimsy grounds. On the other hand, if QTS really marks out a new professional in a deeper manner then its status seems to be much more secure.

The nature of a profession is a complex and contested one. Two opposite viewpoints are the theoretical binaries of the profession as a Technical Rationalist activity (TR) and as a matter of Professional Artistry (PA). If a profession is seen in a TR manner the emphasis is on diagnosis, analysis and efficient systems. Such an approach values detailed job descriptions and being able to analyse a professional role to the last detail. The TR model assumes that knowledge is permanent and able to be encompassed totally. I am arguing that the problem with this can be that in effect the TR model only really works in closed systems where events can be predicted and controlled. Given the heterogeneous nature of children, schools, content knowledge and teachers, teaching has to be seen as an activity carried out in an extremely open situation. The PA model by contrast draws on principles of practice, rules of thumb and frameworks. In this there is an assumption that teaching is an open activity that requires bespoke intelligent problem solving. The PA view is that knowledge is temporary, dynamic and problematic and knowing processes is more useful than knowing facts. Of course given all this it is much harder to develop a ‘tight’ system of assessment for the PA professional as it will inevitably end up requiring situated professional wisdom to make the judgements.

So how can we understand the status of a new teacher who has successfully acquired QTS? I am not suggesting for a moment that every student teacher and every teacher educator will adopt one of these two approaches at the exclusion of the other. However, I do feel that this kind of theoretical binary is helpful as it enables the issues to be located within a theoretical frame. It seems to me that as things stand the nature of gaining QTS can be seen to be more to the TR end of the spectrum and so it follows that the value of QTS can be seen, for the most part, in a TR manner. As things stand, despite bringing all manner of different qualities to the course and carrying out a teaching placement in a variety of schools the student teachers are all assessed against the same set of competencies. Of course these will be interpreted by an array of professionals. That is not to say that what is enshrined in the competencies is necessarily ‘bad’ but the very fact of establishing the competencies, I am arguing here, is necessarily reductive and atomistic. There is also the idea that such assessment privileges personal competence over professional competence.

So does it matter that we have teachers without QTS? It seems to me that it is wise to move to a point where QTS means something more than a ‘licence to practice’ and if that is the case I am calling for a move to a more PA type of model. One where we can accept the mystery in human behaviour and that it is accepted that there is more to professional practice than the surface features which can be ‘evidenced’. A professional model where ‘efficiency’ is not necessarily the ‘thing’ but there is room for creativity. Errors are not minimised but accepted as a welcome part of the process on the basis that for the learner to be able to recognise a ‘correct’ response they need to be able to locate that in a context of ‘incorrect’ responses. What Popper refers to as ‘the elimination of error’.

Finally, I recommend that the process of qualification should move to a point where creativity and doing what is deemed as ‘right’ is privileged over being ‘consistent’.  I am calling for a move to develop teaching, and by implication processes for teacher education that goes way beyond pragmatism and ‘folk’ ideology to one that is rooted in scholarship. In the end there is a difference between looking good and being good.

3 Responses to QTS: How meaningful is it anyway?

  1. Rachel Thursday, 11 September 2014 at 11:55 #

    A good contribution to the debate. I will always argue for teachers with QTS – with that QTS meaning they have been through a University ITE course (even if School Direct style).
    I ‘taught’ unqualified (i.e. untrained) in various sectors for 10years before doing a PGCE to work in mainstream schools.
    I wasn’t a bad teacher before, but the PGCE certainly made me reealise I could have been doing it so much better. It educated me, taught me how to teach and possibly most importantly how to reflect and develop my teaching which has then continued through my career.
    The ‘training’ was so much more than the TR model.

  2. Chris Carpenter
    Chris Carpenter Friday, 12 September 2014 at 12:51 #

    As someone involved in teacher education I am very heartened to hear that. It would be interesting to know if there were any aspects in particular that you feel were especially congruent with notions of professional artistry.

  3. A.Connelly Wednesday, 11 January 2017 at 00:39 #

    This debate is an on-going question in not only England, but all over the world! Do we need a QTS to be able to teach? My answer to this question is no, I do not believe that one should need a QTS, if they have a degree in a subject that is taught in a school. I believe that if you have the knowledge and the ability to teach, why then are you still required to do a PGCE or under go any teaching programme. It is understandable that not everyone is able to handle a classroom of twenty five to thirty students, however that does not mean that one should have to endure another year of university, which means a work placement, more money and work surrounding a subject that most students would have spent three to five years studying on. In my opinion completing a teaching course or PGCE in your particular subject is mainly designed to look into how to teach and how to work with young people. There is no manual or no teachings on how to be the perfect teacher but there’s a million ways how to be a good one.
    However many people may argue against my view and say they want to be taught by somebody who has taken all the correct procedures and is qualified to teach with proof that they can meet the national minimum standards. Pupils and parents may not want to be taught by unqualified teachers, which may cause them to not be happy and may complain.
    Some students who finish their degree with outstanding results such as first and even in masters still may find it difficult to go into a school and deal with a group of children who may have learning difficulties or behavioural problems, purely based on the fact that they have not had the correct training. Never the less, I still do not think that you need a QTS to teach, I do agree that there needs to be some training to make sure teachers know and understand how to manage a class but I do not think it is necessary for a teacher to complete an extra year by doing a PGCE or primary education in itself to achieve a QTS. Anyone can teach if they have the knowledge and the correct understanding and training to maintain a class, for example a six month training scheme would be good for newly graduates/educated people to go into if they want to teach.