Despite deregulation, QTLS is still setting the standard
Qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) is no longer compulsory, but, in a deregulated sector, it is more important than ever. QTLS remains a strong way for teachers to show that their work is grounded in the FE professional standards, as well as demonstrating their commitment to ongoing professional development (bit.ly/ProfTeachStandards).
QTLS was launched in 2008 by the former Institute for Learning and was funded by the government. At the time, newly qualified practitioners were expected to work towards QTLS. In 2012, QTLS was given legal status in schools equal to qualified teacher status (QTS).
FE-trained teachers were recognised as equivalent in status and skills to school teachers; if they moved to schools, they gained parity in pay and conditions. However, QTLS ceased to be legally required in FE, and, from 2013, practitioners had to pay for QTLS themselves.
Commitment to development
The Education and Training Foundation and its individual membership organisation, the Society for Education and Training (Set), inherited the authority to grant a voluntary status that not all employers looked for. QTLS could simply have withered and died, if it had not been seen to have value to practitioners. However, confounding pessimists, deregulation provided an opportunity for teachers to take back ownership of their professional development. QTLS offers an opportunity to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to professionalism, standards, and quality of teaching and learning. An average of 1,800 teachers and trainers achieve QTLS each year; Set expects there to be 20,000 QTLS holders by March 2018.
Employers have started to show increased interest in staff who have QTLS, not least as a means of driving organisation-wide improvement in teaching, as well as showing commitment to staff development.
Since February 2015, Set has embarked on a comprehensive review of QTLS, so that it can be strengthened and developed as a highstatus, high-value professional designation. It’s worth remembering that about half of QTLS applicants are newly qualified, but many of the remainder are experienced practitioners. QTLS must have value for both.
Our research showed that applicants who have recently achieved the award see two key strengths: QTLS provides professional status and recognition; and it has legal parity with QTS. Some 80 per cent considered that the process of achieving QTLS improved their practice and 84 per cent said the process increased their confidence in their teaching practice. Key recommendations from stakeholders were:
strengthen QTLS to ensure parity with QTS;
encourage peer support and mentoring throughout the process;
increase employers’ understanding of the benefits of QTLS;
make more explicit references to the professional standards; and
introduce a greater alignment between initial teacher education programmes and QTLS.
Set has already implemented a number of these recommendations. For example, the professional formation process is clearly referenced to the 2014 professional standards.
This has helped applicants demonstrate in their applications how they are continuing to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding in relation to the standards – which has led to a marked improvement in the quality of applications.
The eligibility criteria have also been clarified and strengthened, so that entry requirements are clearer for potential applicants. An online forum has been launched for members who are undertaking professional formation to support one another throughout the process.
Finally, it remains the case that those who are unsuccessful are given detailed feedback, helping them work towards future success.
The future for QTLS
The final phase of changes will be introduced for those applicants who register for QTLS from 1 September. Evidence of teaching expertise is still required to be demonstrated. However, the QTLS process of professional formation will become more about showing improvements in teaching practice over a period of time, rather than a retrospective snapshot of competence.
Set has developed this new process by working closely with initial teacher education providers and other stakeholders. It provides a natural progression route for those teachers who have recently qualified, as well as more experienced teachers who wish to further develop their practice.
Applicants will have a minimum of six months to focus on specific areas of their teaching practice that they have chosen to develop. It will be mandatory to carry out the professional standards online self-assessment and this will inform the professional development plan. At the end of the process, applicants will be expected to reflect critically on the impact on their practice; outcomes for their learners; and how the process has changed their attitude towards teaching, learning and assessment.
Set will strongly recommend that applicants nominate their supporter (or mentor) at the beginning of the professional formation process, in order that the supporter can provide guidance and feedback throughout. To help supporters develop their mentoring skills, an online programme for QTLS supporters will be piloted in the autumn.
Tricia Odell is programme manager for the Society for Education and Training, the Education and Training Foundation’s membership body
A new Advanced QTLS?
At the moment, to become a Set fellow, an applicant needs a master’s degree in education. Recent research carried out with stakeholders and QTLS holders strongly suggests that Set should consider developing a progression route from QTLS that would offer an alternative route to fellow status. This advanced status would enable experienced teachers and trainers to demonstrate how they share advanced skills and knowledge with others, or to show through their practice how they achieve high-quality outcomes with learners.
An initial phase of consultation will take place in the summer and will explore the potential demand. It will be followed by a deeper consultation in the autumn. Whether we proceed, and how, will depend on the result of those consultations.