Degrees are academic in quest for parity

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

Defending the status quo is such a popular activity that one wonders what all this energy, if directed otherwise, might have achieved for progress.

The current debate around whether, when and on what basis to permit qualified further education teachers to teach in schools (page 3) raises many interesting issues.

The arguments deployed by some in the schools sector include the shibboleth that teaching is and should remain a graduate profession. The corollary is that teaching in FE is a non-graduate profession, which in part it is, and that it is likely to remain so.

Looking at it another way, the argument would seem to be that a degree is the preferred or only proper foundation for a career in teaching. And, following the logic, it is presumably the case that, all other things being equal, a graduate is likely to be better at teaching their subject than a non-graduate teaching their specialist area.

Of course, a history graduate is more likely to be suited to teaching history A-level than a Btec in fish management. But who is better placed to deliver a Diploma in engineering or in media? And who is better suited to teach an A-level in accounting or computing?

It is surely about the right person for the right job. As Professor Andy Goodwyn of Reading University suggests, there are many better ways to assess a candidate's suitability for a career in teaching or a job in a school than whether they have a degree.

The idea that a degree is some sort of ante to the teaching game is little short of educational apartheid. Yes, you'd be perfect for the job but I am afraid it is graduate-only.

There are clearly vested interests in preserving graduate entry to teaching. Teacher training is big business for universities, and members with degrees give the teaching unions more bargaining power.

Perish the thought that our schools may one day be full of inspirational teachers who have never paid university tuition fees and who, having spent a lot of time in industry, are strangers to public sector trade union culture.

The post-14 educational landscape is changing fast and old boundaries between academic and vocational are blurring. So too must the old demarcation lines between the professionals who will teach across the new system. To their credit, many in both the FE and schools sectors are looking at ways to achieve professional parity. But time is pressing and our young people deserve an education system that meets their needs rather than those who would defend the status quo.

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