Are teachers academically clever?

In recent years it has become an absolute (global) necessity to attract good quality and well-qualified people into teaching in order to raise educational standards. In Finland and Singapore, teachers are recruited from the most-qualified graduates, all with a second degree. Indeed, you need more than a bachelor’s degree and teaching qualification to teach in Finland – you must have a master’s degree. Competition is fierce between ‘the best of the best’ to do this highly respected job. This is not the case in countries a little closer to home.

In European countries, between 10 and 25% of people tend to think that pupils respect teachers – compared to 75% in China. Fewer than 20% of Germans would encourage their child to become a teacher compared to nearly 50% of Chinese people. Out of all the countries (surveyed), only Chinese people tended to compare teachers with doctors. Here, cultural issues seem to be at work. Teaching is treated with reverence in Asian societies – especially in China.

Peter Dolton, author of the Global Teacher Status Index

In stark contrast to many Scandinavian and Far Eastern countries, it has been possible to be accepted onto a PGCE course in England with a 2:2 degree in a subject for many years now – and funding has been available for this; though now funding is only available for candidates with a 2:1 or above. In addition to this, in 2014, more than a quarter of UK teachers in over 50% of taught subjects in secondary schools level did not have any qualification beyond an A-level in the course they were teaching! This is largely due to the fact that there has been a severe teacher shortage in this country for a long time now and we simply need more teachers every year (Teaching – the ticking timebomb). It is a simple fact that in the state sector, for decades and decades, we have been recruiting teachers who are far from being any form of expert in their respective fields; the teachers are arguably very good teachers once trained, but lack detailed subject knowledge of significant depth and breadth. In stark contrast, the independent sector has always (by that I mean hundreds of years) recruited subject experts. Every single teacher who taught me at secondary school had either written books on their subject, had a master’s degree in it or was a doctorate, and marked for a relevant examination board. They may not have been the best teachers in the world (although the majority were) but they have excellent subject knowledge that they kept continually up-to-date. They were revered and respected. They didn’t just assess their subject, but they actually taught it! This, for me, remains the biggest difference between teachers in state and private education (independent school, tutors).

‘The lack of qualifications held by teachers is alarming and will have consequences. It is little wonder that in comparison with the rest of the developed world, our standards are slipping. It takes more than a good degree to make a good teacher. But sound subject knowledge, gained from a degree, is absolutely key. How can teachers passionately communicate their subject if they do not have a good level of understanding about it?

Professor Alan Smithers, Buckingham University.

The government is still endeavoring to attract more graduates with first-class honours degrees  into teaching to raise the status of the profession, but it is seemingly an ongoing struggle (Teaching – the ticking timebomb). Teaching, whether rightly or wrongly, is still seen as the ‘poor cousin’ when it comes to professions such as medicine and law. This is largely due to the fact that there has been a lack of academic rigor when selecting teachers, itself brought about by a teacher shortage. This vicious circle has been the ‘unbreakable curse’ of the state teaching profession for many, many years. I remember gaining my first-class honours degree in biology in 2003 and a family member turning to me and saying “Well done…… You don’t have to go into teaching now!”, because the general view was that there were better career paths to pursue based on my qualification. The cleverest graduates, in demand from the best employers, will not want to join a profession that is publicly denigrated or seen as a second-best option for graduates. Governments that are serious about attracting the best people into teaching must look seriously at the status of teachers – alongside other factors such as their salaries.

It’s clear to me that the leading education systems are built on teachers with expert, specialist subject knowledge. As life long learners, teachers need to be allocated sufficient time to pursue continued professional development so that they can keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date. More emphasis needs to be put (back) onto teachers delivering engaging content based on a wealth of personal experience and study to a very high level, as opposed to them merely facilitating lessons and assessing pupils’ progress. I am not saying that the later is not important. Far from it! But, just as there is a clear difference between a babysitter and an early year’s practitioner, there is a clear difference between a teacher who teaches a subject they love as their hobby and one who assess a subject that they teach. I know which teacher I’d respect more.








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