March 2013

The know zone

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  • Degrees of separation
    Do you welcome the government’s proposal requiring new teachers to have at least a 2.2 degree, or do you think it could restrict who enters the profession and that it could have an adverse effect on future teacher numbers? Here, leaders share their views. More
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Do you welcome the government’s proposal requiring new teachers to have at least a 2.2 degree, or do you think it could restrict who enters the profession and that it could have an adverse effect on future teacher numbers? Here, leaders share their views.

Degrees of separation

Qualifications only play a small part

Teachers need a wide range of skills and many of these skills are academic ones.

However, some of the very worst (and very best) teachers and trainee teachers that we see in the profession have PhDs. Teachers who are successful at raising the attainment and aspirations of students come in all shapes, sizes and ages and their academic qualifications are only a very small part of the picture. How many of us really tap into our degree when explaining how a mountain forms to a Year 7 student?

Empathy, interpersonal skills, psychological awareness, energy, respect, patience, firmness, organisational skills, a sense of humour and a genuine sense of enjoyment from being in the classroom with young people all outrank whether someone has at least a 2:2 or not.

Jim Fuller
Deputy Headteacher – Teaching and Learning, St Birinus School, Oxfordshire

Set minimum standard for new graduates only

Of course, teachers should have ‘good’ qualifications and know their subject. But there is a massive difference between someone fresh out of university who has ‘scraped’ a 2:2 and a mature student with a third class degree who may well have developed post-graduation skills that are far more sophisticated than a mere 2:2.

Over the years I can recall interviewing graduates from the armed forces who were told not to worry about their degree result, as all the forces wanted was a pass. Suddenly they  nd themselves redundant with a third class degree but with skills and fascinating insights that captivate students and can get great results. It would be a tragedy to lose potential teachers like this.

So by all means have a minimum standard for new graduates but when it comes to career-change applicants for teaching then it needs to be more sophisticated than just a number.

Name and details supplied

Beware of regional distortions

Many of the best teachers I have seen had degrees lower than a 2:2. In subjects like maths and science they may well have struggled themselves at school and thus can empathise with the di culties experienced with their own pupils. Unfortunately, I have seen many teachers with  rst class degrees who have struggled to  nd the right level with their pupils. One implication of the Teaching Agency’s policy is that the costs will be huge for those with lower degree classi cations training in non-shortage subjects. A school employing a PE trainee on the School Direct (salaried) route may have to  nd close to £25,000 to put their trainee through a full PGCE. This may lead to regional distortions in the supply of teachers in some subjects.

Keith Saunders
Senior lecturer, Canterbury Christ Church University, and consultant specialising in ITT and continuing professional development (CPD)

2:2 should be preferable, not essential

In principle it is a good idea to raise the academic entrance requirements to the teaching profession. However, this should be preferable rather than essential.

An effective teacher does need excellent subject knowledge but it is essential that knowledge can be communicated to students in a constructive learning environment; being able to empathise with students and understanding why they find some concepts difficult are equally valid entry criteria. These characteristics are not in direct proportion to the quality of your degree.

Anyone who has the ability to teach or has the skills that can be developed should at least be in a position where they can be considered.

Nick Hutchinson
Senior Assistant Headteacher, John Hampden Grammar School, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Important to look beyond the surface

I became a teacher through the licenced teacher route, didn’t have a degree and never ‘attended’ university. I did an apprenticeship and entered teaching with an HNC and 14 years’ industrial experience. At my  first school, I did on-the-job training as a teacher, with minimal support, training or supervision and two years later I became a qualified teacher. Since then I’ve done an MA, completed the NPQH, and been a
classroom teacher, a form tutor, an assistant head of sixth form, a head of department, a housemaster in an independent school, a deputy head and a headteacher in a fantastic state boarding school.

We recently had our second successful Ofsted with me as head, and I’m soon starting my second headship in a large, co-educational, comprehensive school.

Today, I just wouldn’t be considered good enough. Would I? I’ve seen Oxford and Cambridge firsts who couldn’t teach for toffee and others who’ve been stunning. I’ve also seen teaching assistants and support staff with no formal qualifications who could knock spots off well-qualified and experienced graduates. The presumption that only those with ‘good’ degrees can be great, inspirational teachers is both laughable and sad. What talents lay beyond the surface?

Raymond McGovern
Headteacher, Sexey’s School, Somerset

Should insist on a 2:2

I agree that in order to drive up standards we do need to insist on at least a 2:2 degree as for too long bright students have had to suffer mediocre teachers without depth of knowledge of subject content.

Mary Doherty
Assistant Headteacher-Inclusion, Cardinal Newman Catholic School, Coventry