Over the past few years, there has been a grassroots professional rejection of bogus ideas within education, coupled with a wellspring of enthusiasm for more credible alternatives. New ideas — such as direct instruction, spaced and massed practice, curriculum sequencing, and mastery learning — are gaining popularity amongst certain teachers and schools. However, the 65 universities that provide English teacher training are slow to catch on.
I suspect this is because so many of the university-based tutors are detached from the classroom and in the twilight of their teaching careers. I fear they will continue ad infinitum to promote daft and dated ideas about “teaching and learning” until new legislation allows their hold on teacher training to be broken.
Through their exclusive ability to award PGCEs, universities currently enjoy an intellectual monopoly over teaching practices. However, new centres of pedagogical authority have recently been formed, such as academy chains and organisations such as Teach First. These institutions should be encouraged to take the next step in their development, and become awarding bodies in their own right.
In doing so, teaching would become more like other professions. Any non-law graduate who wishes to become a solicitor or barrister has to take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which is offered by both universities and private institutions such as the City Law School or BPP Law School.
Similarly, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) examinations can be taken at both universities and organisations such as the Architectural Association.
Another feature of high-status professions is that they regulate the quality of their members with ongoing examinations and qualifications. So, as secretary of state, I would encourage teachers to develop new, more challenging professional development examinations to help to increase the prestige of their profession.
To become a chartered accountant, you have to take up to 14 professional examinations over the course of three years, set by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. I have friends currently struggling through fiendish examinations set by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants; and the Chartered Institute of Bankers. The only exam I had to take to become a history teacher was the QTS skills test.
So, to supplement the PGCE, I would encourage optional career development exams, administered by professional bodies, that teachers can take throughout their working lives. These qualifications could demonstrate expertise in areas such as advanced subject knowledge; school management; cognitive psychology; and education research.
Such examinations, coupled with non-universities offering PGCEs, would enable fresh streams of new ideas to feed into the currently rather slow moving river of teacher training.
Robert Peal is author of Progressively Worse: The Burden of Bad Ideas in British Schools (Civitas, 2014) @goodbyemrhunter