A new, faster route into teaching received sign-off last week by teaching watchdog the General Teaching Council for Scotland. The move means that science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) graduates accepted onto the University of Dundee teacher education course – which begins in January – will be paid a salary of more than £22,000 and will become fully fledged teachers within just a year.
The hope is that the new route will make teaching more attractive to Stem graduates, which universities struggle to recruit onto teacher education programmes. But what will it mean for pupils?
On Twitter, teachers have been quick to point out that less time will mean less preparation and that “current PGDEs must be wondering what parts of their two-year training/experience/qualification are unnecessary”; others have expressed concern that cutting teacher preparation would “devalue” the profession.
The EIS teaching union has said it is opposed to any approach that places “breakneck pace” above quality.
Ultimately, the change gets teachers into the classroom six months earlier by combining the postgraduate teaching qualification and induction year. Which begs the question: does that six months matter?
A master's level profession?
The idea that spending less time preparing teachers might be a good thing is somewhat counterintuitive, given that the government has said it wants teaching to be a master’s-level profession – suggesting more time at university, not less.
However, this ignores the key driver behind the policy: in a world of increasingly severe teacher shortages, even a fast-tracked teacher is presumably better than no teacher. It is also conceivable that not every prospective teacher would require the same level of input to be “classroom ready”, given that some might be career changers with a decade or more of work experience under their belts.
We also need to know how good current initial teacher education and induction programmes are before we hold them up as the standard to be aspired to.
Universities have come under fire recently at the Parliament’s education committee over the quality of their programmes. We also know that, while Scotland’s teacher-induction scheme has been hailed as an example of best practice, the ability of teachers to mentor probationers has been affected by teacher shortages and council education-budget cuts.
Teacher education institutions rightly argue that it’s not possible to prepare teachers for every scenario they might encounter in school, but we have to ask whether or not we are doing the best job with the time we have.
A study looking at how we might judge the quality of teacher education is underway, led by the universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde, and that is to be welcomed.
We also need to stop thinking about teacher education as something that happens only at university and in the induction year.
We should be ashamed that Scottish teachers have among the highest levels of class contact time in the Western world, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures – which leads to a drastic shortage of time available for professional development. This leads to a reputation of teaching being one of the most stressful jobs; a recent survey by the EIS teaching union found that just 3 per cent of teachers would be “very likely” to recommend a career in teaching.
The government should ask itself what effect that reputation is having on teacher recruitment – not to mention retention – because it may well find that even with a shiny new fast-track course that offers a £22,000-plus salary, it still struggles to get students to sign up.