You may or may not agree that unqualified teachers should be allowed to teach in schools but I’m happy that that would not occur in Scotland. As far as I am aware, every teacher must have a Postgraduate Certificate in Education and be registered with the GTCS to even get a look in. I may be wrong there but I do not think so. However, it is not as simple as that. Merely having the qualification does not guarantee competence to teach. It should do though, right? What it does do is ensure that before entering the classroom a teacher will have a base line of skills, knowledge and, dare I say it, commitment.
But is that enough? Are our Initial Teacher Training courses in Scotland strong enough to ensure we are producing quality teachers into the profession? Well, I think they are now but it certainly was not always the case. Fifteen years ago I entered the classroom without a clue about some of things I would have to experience. Classroom and behaviour management; managing workload; dealing with parents. Not a clue.
With this in mind, I rushed to watch the recent BBC3 documentary series on Teach First with predictable prejudice, having already made up my mind that these ‘Toffs’ would be destined for a fall. What I witnessed was something entirely predictable in a different way. Of course they failed – probably on a daily basis- in exactly the same way as I did every day of my teaching placements and beyond. I empathised with their tears, their sleepless nights, their maddening frustrations; their lack of preparedness. How could I not? What I noticed, more alarmingly for me, was that they experienced the same difficulties after six weeks training as I had after nine months. They were no better or worse.
In my time, it became de rigeur to say that teaching college was a waste of time and everything we learned we learned in the classroom. My nine months did not prepare me. There was little academic reading, as far as I can recall, little discussion of classroom practice. That may be just my poor memory though. My involvement with Strathclyde Uni now, however, informs me that things have change greatly. Primary students are immersed in theory and practice, and secondary students – with whom I have much contact – are better prepared than ever before. I would even go so far as to say I envy them.
A teaching qualification is, of course, essential. There. I said it. Absolutely essential. To argue against that is absurd. But what is more absurd is not ensuring that a teaching qualification is worth something: is difficult to achieve: is steeped in academic rigour as well as supported classroom practice. In Teaching Scotland’s Future Graham Donaldson made some ambitious suggestions about the future of Teacher Training in Scotland. He sees the value in ‘Teach First’: ‘routes of this nature could complement more established routes into the profession.’ (P.26) He suggests that Masters study should be embedded into the Initial Teacher Education qualification and added to to as each year passed. His vision is one I share completely.
It is ludicrous to allow unqualified teachers into a classroom. They may turn out to be effective teachers but we not only insult the profession by allowing that to happen, we miss a trick in not taking that individual’s strengths and adding to them through formal training early on. If someone will be a great teacher in a year then they should be expected to commit to that by undertaking the training. But we must make the training worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s just treading water and wasting time and talent.