Having vs. Getting: Don’t Believe The Falsities in the QTS Debate

4th August 2012

By confusing ‘having’ and ‘getting’ in their QTS announcement last week, the DfE have caused journalists, the public and (sadly) several teaching groups to mistakenly believe schools can now employ unqualified teachers. They are incorrect. All schools have always been able to employ unqualified teachers, and very many do so. I was first employed as an unqualified; in September, a thousand TeachFirsters will start as unqualifieds; in fact, every September people from all manner of backgrounds start teaching without having qualified teacher status, so anyone uninformedly jumping on the announcement and petitioning that children ‘must only be taught by qualified people’ are about two decades too late. 

What the announcement actually did was something else, something much bigger.  While previously a primary or secondary teacher did not need to have qualified teacher status in order to be employed, they were required to get it within a fixed time period.  What the DfE’s announcement actually did last week was scrap the requirement to get qualified teacher status. EVER.   

From September anyone who turns up to teach in an academy or free school – regardless of their background – never needs to have any further training or pass any nationally agreed mark of quality. And remember, a majority of secondary schools are now academies: this is no longer a ‘minor change’ policy as the government likes to play it.

Before the announcement, at the very least, people had to get Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Journalists take note: QTS is not a ‘qualification’ and it is not ‘training’. You can be very qualified and even well-trained, but not have QTS. QTS is a status. To get it a teacher must produce a portfolio of evidence proving they know certain things and have met certain standards. QTS does two key things: Firstly, beyond the the act of ‘just teaching’ being a teacher also involves legal responsibilities (e.g. running trips, handling finance), and there are types of technical knowledge – e.g. how key stages fit together, or of assessment frameworks – which are crucial in making decisions about what and how you teach, but which don’t just come with ‘natural teaching ability’.  QT status shows you have this knowledge and you have demonstrated it in your practice. There is often a world of difference between what someone knows academically, what they have been trained to do and what they can actually do in a classroom setting. QTS checks to make sure that this bridge is overcome. 

Secondly, and most importantly, QTS provides a level-playing field for people coming into the profession at primary or secondary level. It can be gained in many different ways – through placements, on-the-job, in collaboration with a university, or independently – but each route culminates in evidencing the QTS standard. While entrants to the profession might have different qualifications (for example, I don’t have a PGCE, but I do have several Masters), or different past experiences, every single person was checked against the same nationally agreed standards so that once they had QTS they were considered equally qualified to any other teacher. Knowing that regardless of background everyone has demonstrated a minimal level of competence meant that teachers from non-traditional backgrounds were equally treated in the profession and it provided a guarantee of at least minimal competence in the legal and technical requirements of the job.

Every unqualified teacher in the mainstream primary and secondary system is able to get qualified assuming they meet the standards. For teachers in FE or those who outside of the mainstream – e.g. pupil referral units – getting QT status is more tricky. Because of this many FE/PRU teachers are feeling rightly slighted in a debate that sometimes misses the nuances above. Remember, not having QTS does not mean you are not qualified, or not trained. That these teachers have not been supported to get QTS, and now must unfairly defend themselves against the charge of being a bad teacher show that not only must QTS be retained in schools, it should also be expanded into FE/PRUs.  Without a QTS requirement teachers are at risk of being divided between the ‘qualifieds’ and ‘unqualifieds’ based on how generous a school feels in supporting their road to QTS. This must not be a choice for schools to make, it should be an absolute expectation that any teacher working in a school will get it, just like we would expect every child to be supported to get their English and Maths GCSE.

Why do we need QTS as a requirement?

 Beyond the fact that it provides professional accreditation and a check on minimal competence, certification also demonstrably relates to reductions in teacher turnover, increases in teacher professionalism, improved test scores and higher rates of participation in future CPD.   Given also that high-performing school systems across the world are continually raising the bar for entry to the profession – a fact alluded to when the government raised the entry requirements for PGCEs  – there also appears to be a relationship between higher requirements for teachers and improvement in the overall school system. 

Some Arguments Against Requiring QTS

On the other hand, here are some of the challenges I have heard (and my answers):

1.    If someone is an excellent teacher, why should they be required to do QTS? In the 1950s, Dr Joseph Cyr performed life-saving operations throughout the Korean War, often in extremely pressured circumstances. He did not lose one patient. After the war it transpired he had no qualifications; he was memorising procedures from a surgical book on the fly. Should he have been allowed to continue? Unless your answer is yes – and you can explain to me just why that is – this is a non-question.

2.    It won’t make any difference, schools will still require QTS anyway because it is best practice.In which case, why make the announcement at all?  If it’s best practice, why would you – as the DfE – want anything less?  What is the possible reason for legislating for ‘less-than-best-practice’?  [And remember, it can’t be recruitment because schools could already recruit anyone they wanted]

3.    QTS isn’t very rigorous anyway.So make it more rigorous! I note that the Coalition don’t believe GCSEs are rigorous, but they didn’t abolish them. Making something optional is rarely the route to making it better.

4.    Having to get QTS puts off excellent teachers.Why would an excellent teacher – someone who is likely to spend their time motivating others to do well in an examination – be put off by having to put together a portfolio of evidence in order that they can continue in a professional line of work?  You have to do this if you want to be a sergeant in the police, if you want to be a nursery nurse, if you want to dye people’s hair. It is not a big ask, but it is an important one.

I will repeat one last time for anyone who hasn’t understood thus far: This announcement does not ‘allow’ the employment of teachers without QTS. What it says is that primary and secondary teachers who were previously employed without QTS, but required and perfectly able to get it are no longer required to do so. EVER. It is unfair and untenable that people in other parts of the sector are not given the right to get their qualified status. It is downright daft to abolish it across all schools.


Postscript: While writing this blog several teachers have discussed how the QTS system could be improved rather than scrapped, and how it could encompass sectors such as FE and PRUs. I am currently thinking through these ideas and will blog again shortly. If you have any thoughts on this please comment below or send me an email [email protected]