White Paper: QTS shake up masks recruitment struggles

On June 27, 2012, the world sat down to enjoy a spectacular Olympic opening ceremony. Everyone was watching. Well, everyone except the Department for Education (DfE), who had picked their moment to drop a bombshell: teachers would no longer be required to work towards qualified teacher status (QTS).

Nearly four years on and the winds must have changed: today’s Education White Paper “Education Excellence Everywhere” announced that what we really need is not no accreditation, but “stronger, more challenging accreditation”.

According to the White Paper, great schools will now be responsible for accrediting teachers’ based on their work in the classroom. So, while practical coursework marked by schools has been roundly rejected as insufficiently “rigorous” for assessing pupils, it has been chosen as the best way to evaluate teachers.

The flip-side of this is that the government has pledged more support for school centred ITT in areas of the country where recruitment is toughest, as well as for high quality universities that can be “centres for excellence” in teacher training. This more strategic approach, which will prioritise quality training in areas where great teachers are needed most, is thankfully set to replace the haphazard, “first come first serve” approach used this year.

Very few concrete steps are being introduced to boost recruitment overall

On the other hand, very few concrete steps are being introduced to boost recruitment overall: after patting itself on the back for initiatives like internships for maths undergraduates, the White Paper announces a new website and tells us that part time work is good. Tinkering like this won’t be enough to end the recruitment crisis.

More encouraging is a series of commitments around workload, by far the biggest driver of teachers leaving the profession according to our “Why Teach?” report, published with Pearson last year.

To this end, the government is promising a go-slow on accountability and curriculum changes. Unfortunately the promise is a bit late now and the pledges have a whiff of “Sorry guys”, coming as they do in the midst of widespread turmoil that is set to continue for several years to come. And universal academisation is hardly going to ease the pace of change.

Given that only a small proportion of teachers are new entrants, any commitment to raising teacher quality needs to take into account existing teachers. To that end Educational Excellence Everywhere focuses in on continuing professional development, promising a new Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development to drive up quality. It also announces support for a new College of Teaching, more teaching schools and an expanded remit for the Education Endowment Foundation, all of which should be welcomed.

In contrast, the promise of a new peer reviewed journal is a bit of a wildcard; it will need to prove its worth in readership figures and I would be surprised if it could compete with the best blogs – given that they make research evidence accessible in bite-sized chunks which are far better suited to busy teachers. Either way, if the DfE wants to increase access to academic articles, it should put its money where its mouth is and provide the necessary funding to make existing journals accessible to teachers – a move it says it “welcomes” but which its stops short of pledging funding for.

Nonetheless, it is starting to look like the rhetoric around an “evidence informed profession” is beginning to be fleshed out and reforms to QTS could help to make this a reality.

However, this would require a step-by-step progression route that takes teachers from “licence to teach” all the way through to Masters or specialist status and none of this will work unless the DfE can keep teachers on side and in the classroom.

They might finally be recognising that the pace of change has driven teachers to despair, but Morgan et al. are still a long way from casting aside the “urgency tablets” that have forced teachers into a hopeless sprint to keep up with reform.

Loic Menzies is Director of the education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco

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