Editorial - B.Ed has had its day: let's bid it farewell

27th February 2009 at 00:00
Opposition from universities shouldn't dissuade ministers from wielding the axe

Universities are nervous. The Government, they suspect, wants to axe one of the mainstays of teacher training - the B.Ed. If it comes to pass, faculties will be devastated, the link between research and teaching severed and a proven route for vocationally inclined school-leavers cut.

It must be alarming news for the thousands of teachers for whom the B.Ed provided a familiar path into the profession. And it must be particularly galling to have it sacrificed for the Masters in Teaching and Learning, a qualification that has no pedigree and dubious prospects.

But none of those reasons is good enough to save it. The B.Ed was originally designed to give teaching more academic heft. Nowadays it is regarded by many as too lightweight to provide much ballast. There are some excellent courses, but the entry bar to most is set very low - B.Ed courses have, on average, the second-lowest requirements after the creative arts. Only a small minority of applicants is turned away. For a profession that wants to raise its status, that isn't ideal.

Does it matter? Teaching is a practical not an intellectual pursuit. An intimate knowledge of Shakespeare's sonnets is of little use if the teacher lacks the crowd-control skills to impart it. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that the B.Ed isn't especially stellar in the classroom, either. Trainees who take the degree are twice as likely to drop out before attaining qualified-teacher status as those who opt for the PGCE. This could be because career choices made too early, like teenage marriages, have a habit of turning sour. Or it could be because, as critics claim, the B.Ed is too theoretical.

It performs particularly poorly in comparison with in-school training. The B.Ed isn't as flexible - because of its length - as the Graduate Teacher Programme or Schools-Centred Initial Teacher Training. It cannot replicate their ability to instil loyalty to a particular institution and team and it cannot match their mentoring skills or local knowledge. Drop-out rates for both are among the lowest of all the training routes.

A qualification that isn't especially respected or overly useful has necessarily slim chances of survival. But perhaps the best reason to dispatch the B.Ed in due course is that the profession itself has decided it can learn to live without it.

The proportion of would-be teachers taking it has inexorably declined over the years as other routes into the profession have grown in popularity. It has long since withered in secondary schools, and in primary schools the numbers choosing the B.Ed have plateaued: little more than a third of trainees now opt to take it. Scrapping it would probably save little money overall, but it could give schools more control over where that resource is spent if alternative, in-service training routes are fully developed.

Reports of the B.Ed's death may be greatly exaggerated. But if it does occur, screams of blue murder from its providers should not obscure the fact that it would be a mercy killing. Unpalatable medicine for universities isn't necessarily bad for schools.

Gerard Kelly, Editor; E: gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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