The current discussion about whether we should require teachers in schools to obtain Qualified Teacher Status seems to boil down to three issues:
- If you have QTS does it mean you are a more effective teacher?
- Is the current Qualified Teacher Status high enough quality?
- Who should be enforcing minimum standards for professionals, schools or a national body (e.g. government)?
There is a fair amount of evidence around the first issue. A research synthesis from the US suggested there is reasonably strong evidence that teacher certification (rather than degree qualification) is important in secondary mathematics, as long as the teacher trained in a subject-specialist course. The same paper suggested a significant lack of convincing evidence either way in other areas: there were some papers cited which suggested that certification is important, but there wasn’t the weight of evidence to make this claim strongly. Another synthesis from the UK concurred that evidence was thin on the ground, that there was little to show that either bachelors or postgraduate routes positively correlated with improved outcomes.
However, there is much stronger evidence that teaching quality (based on what is happening in the classroom rather than qualification) has a significant impact, and that this is disproportionately the case for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is also evidence that (e.g. in science) teachers’ understanding of both subject matter and subject misconceptions is also disproportionately beneficial for previously low attaining students.
Interestingly, the Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching project showed that a single untrained observer is going to be very unreliable at judging teacher/teaching quality through observations.This suggests that any attempt during an interview to judge the quality of a teacher through an observation will be a poor indicator of future quality.
For me, this is the clincher. While the evidence is thin about the effectiveness of qualified teacher status there is strong evidence that headteachers are not well placed to reliably judge the quality of teachers they hire. This is problematic, especially for our most vulnerable children. and suggests to me that the education system should take a role in the quality assurance of teachers.
There may currently be a loose and/or weakly evidenced correlation between certification routes and teaching quality but the weak evidence that is there all points in the same direction. If we want to close the attainment gap for our most disadvantaged learners then it would be better to retain a requirement for QTS and work to improve it rather than scrap it and rely on arbitrary judgements made in schools.
I acknowledge that this is quite a narrow argument and I hope, in future, to add to it with further discussion about the value of a strong career path with national certification which would begin with universal QTS.
This is one of the articles in the TDT December Newsletter.
You can sign up for the free Teacher Development Trust newsletter for more articles like this using the form below: