Five-year training could raise professional bar

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Comment: Rhydwyn Ifan

When I started teaching I had completed a three-year initial training course, but soon realised there were practical aspects of the job missing from the training.

On the other hand, in conversations with teachers who'd only completed the one-year PGCE, it became clear that I'd had a far better grounding in psychology, philosophy and theories of learning, for example. We'd also had an input on special education, educational history, comparative education, as well as professional training in language and maths, regardless of our chosen specialisms. My preparation had been more thorough, more rounded.

But this didn't prevent some teachers with a first degree in a single subject falling back on academic snobbery and insisting they were better qualified to teach than I was.

Over the years, I've attended many courses, with some leading to formal qualifications such as a B.Ed in special educational needs (SEN) and an MA in education. On reflection, so much of what I've been taught on various courses should have been included in my initial training. While completing an OCR-accredited course on specific learning difficulties (dyslexia) I agreed with the course facilitator that its content should be taught to teachers earlier.

As far back as the early 1970s, Maurice Chazan and Alice Laing were pointing out how necessary early identification of SEN was to help children more effectively. The fact that so many teachers are so inadequately trained in the first place is a major factor in the failure of schools to identify difficulties early enough and deal with them. Far too often, I've seen children being excluded from schools because neither they nor the schools could cope with the level of difficulty they presented.

The development of B.Ed courses took the initial training of teachers to a higher academic level and gave newly qualified teachers a deeper understanding of the educational process. It can also be seen as as a move towards greater professionalisation.

It saddens and angers me to see B.Ed courses being phased out and replaced by a one-year PGCE for primary teachers in Wales. This is fuelled by the misguided notion that a teacher with a first degree in a subject plus a year's training will be better prepared to teach primary pupils. Every teacher knows there is far more to good, effective teaching than merely knowing the facts the children are introduced to.

Delight in many circles that teaching is attracting more top-quality graduates than ever before misses the point. Good teaching is not about knowing more facts, but about being able to impart the knowledge effectively and adapting to meet the needs of children with a range of abilities and difficulties.

Would we as a society dream of training doctors in this way? Imagine someone with a first degree in biology and completing a one-year postgraduate certificate in medicine and being allowed to work as a doctor. No doubt some candidates would have the natural skills to become excellent doctors one day, but to leave their development almost entirely to practising on actual patients would be irresponsible.

This move to reduce all teacher training to just a one-year course is taking us back to the pupil-teacher syndrome of the 19th century. We're just teaching the pupil more facts and providing trainees a little bit of practice in schools before they can be called a teacher.

On the Training and Development Agency for Schools website, in relation to the new masters in teaching and learning, which is initially aimed at teachers who have recently qualified, it states that the reasons for developing the degree have been "in recognition of . the fact that the demands on teachers' knowledge and skills are increasing as the learning needs of pupils become more challenging, complex and diverse". Isn't this an admission that current teacher training is inadequate?

The initial training programme needs to be thoroughly re-vamped and extended, with a new compulsory five-year course for all teacher trainees containing a new M.Ed qualification introduced. Course content needs to include enough knowledge in one subject equivalent to first degree level. The time needed for this can be easily accommodated by leaving out the subsidiary subjects that form a part of current three-year first degrees. Education course components need to include psychology, philosophy, theories of learning, SEN (to facilitate early identification), professional studies (including literacy), positive behaviour management, classroom organisation, voice modulation, working within a team, and developing appropriate attitudes.

Course developers need to look at examples of good practice worldwide to ensure our initial teacher training programme becomes first class. The education of our children is far too important for anything less and new teachers would be far better prepared for the task that faces them. With full professional training, teachers might also, for the first time, gain full professional respect.

  • Rhydwyn Ifan, a supply teacher with more than 30 years' experience in England and Wales.

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