QTS isn't everything

28th September 2012 at 01:00

Some saw it as crude, cynical timing. Any objections to the announcement that academy schools can now employ teachers without a teaching qualification were soon drowned out by Paul McCartney and the general "Na na na - na na na na" chorus of national euphoria at the opening of the Olympic Games.

In common with most teachers, my first reaction to this news was fury and indignation. However, given a few weeks to ponder it, I'm no longer sure how I feel. Maybe I should whisper this, but is it possible that Michael Gove is right on this one? And maybe the timing was indeed deliberate, but for a different reason. Just consider again this summer's glorious Olympians. What better way could there have been to demonstrate how natural ability and commitment are more essential to high-quality performance than formal training and qualifications? It plainly helps if you have the whole lot, but it is innate talent and determination that sets the best apart from the rest of us.

Whether it's running fast, writing a song like Hey Jude or knowing how to engage with young people, there are some people who have surely "got it" from a very early age and others of us who have to work at something approaching it for our entire professional lives. Those of us who are less naturally talented simply need to face up to that. Training and experience can help us do a decent job, too, but for some people it all comes so easily.

So anything that makes it easier for that special kind of person to transfer to teaching is surely good for education. If they are good enough, get them teaching. If some are not good enough, a headteacher will not want to appoint them anyway. Market forces in education have, in my view, generally been a dreadful and divisive influence, yet they surely work simply and effectively here. If any candidate (qualified or unqualified) is properly examined on their day of interview - through teaching a sample lesson, meeting pupils and staff, and through suitable scrutiny at interview - then surely the best person will come through, whether a newly qualified teacher or not?

What kind of headteacher would exploit this new law to appoint a clueless, unqualified teacher at the expense of a better and more suitably qualified candidate? Equally, what kind of head would wish to rule out someone unqualified in teaching but who demonstrates great teaching qualities, a willingness to learn and develop, and an awareness of the various challenges involved in the job?

To all this I hear a familiar objection: would I be happy to submit myself to treatment by an unqualified doctor, surgeon or dentist? But let's be honest here, our particular profession is more an intuitive art than a learned science. If an unqualified teacher has the personality and talent for working with children (and the commitment and industry to go with it) then they are quite likely, already, to be some way ahead of many who are more fully trained and experienced.

It has to be good if we make it easier for such people to teach children. It may be annoying for us to have to admit this perhaps depressing fact of life, but that does not mean it is untrue.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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