Qualified teachers: the Labour policy that makes Tories unfathomably angry

You wouldn’t think that a policy requiring all teachers to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS) would be particularly controversial.

You wouldn’t think that a policy requiring all teachers to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS) would be particularly controversial.

Almost all other professionals in both the public and private sectors must demonstrate that they have reached a required standard by obtaining an industry-specific qualification, and top-performing education systems globally such as those in South Korea, Singapore and Finland require teachers to obtain a teaching qualification.

But for some reason, Labour’s policy makes Tory MPs very angry indeed.

Background to the debate

State schools have long been able to employ unqualified teachers, however there used to be a requirement that such teachers work towards and attain QTS. On the day of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, the Department for Education quietly removed that requirement in respect of academies and free schools.

Labour would reverse this measure in order to uphold minimum standards in state schools. QTS is a way of ensuring that all teachers have undergone appropriate training and have a set of core skills and knowledge.

This includes, for example, knowledge of different teaching methods; an understanding of how children learn and develop at different ages; knowledge of how to teach children with special educational needs; behaviour management techniques, and knowledge of the legal requirements for keeping children safe.

Routes to gaining QTS range from a PGCE to on-the-job training programmes such as Teach First and School-Centred Initial Teacher Training, where teachers are mentored and trained en route to QTS.

These are the main Tory arguments against requiring QTS:

1. Teachers working without QTS will lose their jobs

“… if the Labour policy is enacted…there are people currently teaching in the state sector in academies and free schools who will lose their jobs”

– Michael Gove

Not true. Labour have said repeatedly that teachers without QTS not already working towards obtaining it would be given every opportunity to do so. There would be no mass sacking of teachers without QTS. As shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan put it, “without giving anyone the sack, we would require all teachers to achieve QTS in a reasonable time, and unlike this government, we would negotiate and consult”.

2. Excellent teachers will leave state education rather than work towards QTS

“Under the Opposition’s policy, if those people do not put themselves through the many hours required to pass QTS, they will be sacked.”

“To maintain their living, these teachers will be sent to the independent sector.”

– Graham Stuart MP, chair of the Education Select Committee

Leaving aside the fact that many teachers have a moral commitment to working within the state sector, this fails to recognise that QTS has significant financial and practical value. QTS allows teachers to work in any state school, giving them far more options when looking to move schools and/or to progress their career (it is also not the case that private schools pay more than state schools – some do, some pay less).

By reinstating the position that all state school teachers must have or attain QTS, Labour’s proposal would further increase the value of QTS.

Further, having QTS is never going to harm a teacher’s chance of success in the job market but not having it could well do, as some head teachers will have a preference for candidates with QTS even if it is not a statutory requirement. Sir Michael Wilshaw, for example, chief inspector for Schools and former head teacher, told the Education Select Committee that “I would expect all the teachers in my school to have qualified teacher status.”

Why would committed teachers turn down the chance to make themselves more employable?

And there’s the final point that working towards QTS will benefit many teachers. There may be a small minority of experienced teachers for whom the training is unnecessary, but there is already an assessment-only route for them. Worst case scenario is that a small number will have to go through a box-ticking exercise. Worst case scenario of the Tories’ current policy? Teachers who do not know the very basics of how to teach.

3. QTS is unnecessary as head teachers are best placed to decide who to appoint

“As far as he [Tristram Hunt] and those on his Front Bench are concerned, the only way in which someone can be a good teacher is if a single piece of paper is conferred on them. We believe that the right person to decide who should teach in a school is the head teacher, not the bureaucrats.”

– Michael Gove

The minimum standards afforded by QTS are required because head teachers sometimes make very bad recruitment decisions. Just look at the Al-Madinah free school disaster, where Ofsted found that “Staff have been appointed to key roles for which they do not have the qualifications and experience. For example, most of the primary school teachers have not taught before…they have not had the training and support they need…”

What’s more, if Gove really believes that QTS isn’t necessary because head teachers are best placed to decide who to appoint, why has he only removed the requirement to obtain QTS from teachers in free schools and academies, and not local authority schools?

4. You don’t need QTS to be a great teacher, you only need to be clever and passionate about teaching

“He [Tristram Hunt] got to Cambridge with the help of men and women who did not have QTS, but who had a great degree and a passion for learning, and now he wants to deny that same opportunity to poor children.”

– Michael Gove

It is nonsense to suggest that being clever and passionate about teaching means that you don’t need to learn up-to-date research on different teaching methods, for example, or about how best to teach children with special educational needs, or how to deliver a class which meets the needs of all pupils.

This argument is also bizarrely inconsistent with the government’s approach to early years education. Education minister Liz Truss announced last year that the government was “improving qualifications” for child care professionals with a “new, more rigorous early years educator qualification.

5. Some unqualified teachers are excellent and some teachers with QTS are poor

“I have seen plenty of excellent teachers without PGCEs and some pretty poor ones with”

– Anne Main MP

This is almost too stupid a point to deal with, but Tristram Hunt’s rebuttal was pithy and enjoyable: “passing a driving test does not mean that all new drivers will avoid accidents, but this is not a reason to remove the requirement to pass a test.”

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