Being an outstanding teacher relies on more than passing harder QTS tests

This blog was originally published by The Guardian on 12th November 2012.

The government recently announced its latest change to the teacher training programme: in order to make entry into teaching more challenging they will make the QTS skills tests more difficult by raising the pass grade over the next three years.

In order to pass, candidates will need to score the equivalent of a B at GCSE to pass. The government is also hoping to attract high achieving computer scientists into teaching by offering £20,000 scholarships. Yes we need high flying graduates if they have the correct skills to teach. However, a degree from a Russell Group university or an outstanding academic record isn’t simply a passport to good teaching.

When I took my GCSEs (nearly 20 years ago) I ‘only’ achieved a C in English and maths. Does this mean someone who achieved an A* or an A would be a better teacher? Of course not. Raising the minimum requirement to pass the QTS skills test to the equivalent of a B will not improve the quality of teaching, but only prevents potentially outstanding teachers from entering the profession.

It seems like another misguided step from Michael Gove, the education secretary, and shows he understands little about what is required to teach. It is also very shortsighted to think that the standard of teaching will improve because these tests are harder to pass.

In all honesty, why do we have a system that includes skills tests in the first place? If the prerequisite for entry onto a PGCE course includes GCSEs in both English and maths (and science if in primary training) then surely that is a better indication of your ability? Why the need for both?

During my career I have worked and trained with people who, on paper, are far more qualified than me, including the academically gifted and experienced industry professionals. Many of these people have entered the profession under the impression that qualifications, and being considered a ‘high flyer’ in their industry, will mean they will be a great teacher. Inevitably it’s a shock when they start training.

I have also seen many people who, according to their qualifications, should be outstanding, but have dropped out during their training year, failed to complete their NQT year or struggled to get teaching jobs. Why? Because it turns out, there is more to teaching than having a list of qualifications as long as your arm or how successful you are in a chosen industry. More should be made of the other qualities teachers require, that dare I say, are more important.

What qualities make an outstanding teacher?

I tweeted the following question to my followers on Twitter: “What are the most important things to look for in those wanting to train as teachers?”
I really wanted to know what other teachers around the country thought. Was I being naive in thinking that Gove was taking the wrong approach, that raising standards is as easy as raising the minimum qualifications required to train?

Below are some of the qualities I took from the Twitter response:

• The ability to build relationships, passion, a desire for learning, flexibility and being able to adapt.

• The need to enjoy working with young people and have an idea of what a career in teaching entails.

• A sense of humour in trainee teachers and the ability to see past labels.

• The ability to inspire, treat learners like equals and see the potential in all students. Teachers need to be positive, optimistic and confident.

One person tweeted that adaptability was more important than qualifications, which I thought was a great point. Not one person mentioned that trainee teachers need to be highly qualified.

The hypocrisy of Gove’s mission to improve the standard of new teachers is that academies can employ people who do not even have a formal teaching qualification to teach. On one hand Gove is saying how important it is that we only allow people to teach who have the best qualifications, and on the other hand that actually, it doesn’t matter, employ who you like.

Raising the standards of teaching is very important and I am all for it. However, we cannot lose sight of the other qualities required to teach, over and above just teachers’ qualifications.