Do teaching qualifications contribute to teaching quality?

Staff qualifications deserve greater weighting in the overall assessment of teaching excellence, argues Geoff Stoakes

April 27, 2018
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As part of the subject-level teaching excellence framework, the Department for Education is consulting on whether to introduce a new measure of teaching intensity. One of the six options presented for consideration as part of the current consultation is a “gross teaching quotient” weighted by qualification/seniority of teacher. This would weigh contact time by qualification/seniority of the teacher as well as by class size. The idea of equating the seniority of staff with teaching quality has been ridiculed and criticised as a disservice to early career academic and doctoral students who teach.

However, considering the qualifications of those who teach as a proxy for teaching quality is not so easily dismissed. Drawing on years of research in Dimensions of Quality, Graham Gibbs concluded “that what best predicts education gain is measures of educational process: what institutions do with their resources to make the most of whatever students they have”. One of these is who undertakes the teaching. Teachers with teaching qualifications, he notes, have been found to be rated more highly by their students. Not only this, teaching qualifications (eg, postgraduate certificates in learning and teaching or academic practice) result in “improvements in the sophistication of teachers’ thinking” that predict the quality of student learning.

To meet the requirements of accreditation by the UK Professional Standards Framework, postgraduate courses in higher education (as well as accredited continuing professional development provision) include specific training in appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessment and explorations of how students learn as well as the deployment of appropriate learning technologies.

They also learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching. The result is “reflective practitioners” who are better able to, for example, devise an inclusive curriculum, to engage their students in their learning and to assess the impact and effectiveness of their pedagogy – processes known to promote student learning. Research undertaken, for example by the Higher Education Academy (now Advance HE), showed evidence of a positive relationship between the percentage of teaching staff who have gained HEA professional recognition and student engagement with their learning (as evidenced in the UK Engagement Survey results).

But why then consider teaching qualifications only in relation to “teaching intensity”?

It may be that those more familiar with course design, development and standards set more challenging and stimulating assessment tasks. This may indeed promote the development of greater “independence, knowledge, understanding and skills that reflect their full potential”, which the TEF acknowledges as key evidence of teaching quality under the banner of “rigour and stretch” (TEF year two specification).

As Gibbs concluded: “the number of class contact hours has very little to do with educational quality…What matters is the nature of the class contact.” Better qualified staff are likely to make more effective use of class contact time and independent study time than those without teaching or professional qualifications. But recognising staff qualifications solely in the context of a teaching-intensity measure is to underplay their contribution to the student learning experience as a whole.

Staff qualifications may (or may not) be of value in estimating teaching intensity, but they certainly impact on the student experience and deserve greater weighting in the overall assessment of teaching excellence. Professionally qualified teachers undoubtedly add to the rigour of higher education, and thereby contribute to the enhancement of the student outcomes.

Geoff Stoakes is head of special projects at Advance HE.

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Reader's comments (6)

Many assumptions are required to link completion of a course of training as a teacher and 'rigour' or 'enhancement' of outcomes. Dr Stoakes must surely know from his own experience that the contents of teacher training courses are widely ignored by trainee teachers who see them just as a hurdle to overcome. This is especially so for those that have been colonised by 'social justice ' agendas to the exclusion of more technical reflections on pedagogy
Good teachers deliver good teaching because of what they are, because of who they are, and because of their academic credentials. Teaching qualifications from any source are, from my experiences, totally irrelevant. If anything they should be scrapped and replaced with collegial support mechanisms which are owned by those whose disciplines merit them. Over a relatively short period of time the sector has introduced an ILT which failed because nobody wanted it. The HEA then sought to enslave capable and dignified academics by insisting that they become members of their struggling new body. Membership of the HEA may have expanded under the threat of career stagnation without it. Indeed hoops were jumped through, but the underlying feeling has always been that a formal teaching qualification is a waste of time and resources. Now we have Advance HE, whose purpose seems to be as equivocal as all the others. The fact that this article has been written by the head of something called 'Special Projects' just beggars belief of what else is to emerge from this body. The whole national movement for 'Teacher Training' seems to have to reinvent itself just to survive. Some are passionate about teacher training ... good for them; BUT please just leave the rest of us alone. It's just NOT possible to teach teaching!!
"Good teachers deliver good teaching because of what they are, because of who they are, and because of their academic credentials." "It's just NOT possible to teach teaching!!" Rubbish! Academic credentials are no guarantee of effective teaching, and there are certainly ways to teach good teaching. Lectures, for example, are remarkably ineffective yet remain through force of habit, and the feeling that that is how university teaching is done. Teaching courses can provide a range of alternatives to consider. It's amazing how little time many academics spend thinking about how students learn and tend to concentrate entirely on the content.
I wrote of three ingredients for good teaching, you've responded to one. For the record I agree that academic credentials are no guarantee of effective teaching; a rounded teacher is not only a gifted scholar. Additionally, I have never suggested that all academics make effective teachers ... I've known some shockers. These include those who hold formal teaching qualifications, those who hold membership of illustrious bodies such as the HEA, those who display pedagogic luminescence, and those who are difficult to find during the pedagogic conference season. I've also written that support groups within academic disciplines are a good idea; with the proviso that such groups are independent, left alone and not infiltrated by pedagogic mechanics looking for work and trying to correct 'things'. It also amazes me that you seem never to have detected your colleagues discussing their students, their teaching styles, their assessments, their results and many other facets of their profession ... because I do, constantly
Agree with Descartes. It is also difficult to see how HEA Fellowship is a 'teaching qualification' and even then, there is no evidence that it improves 'teaching quality' - see https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2712412
The HEA also demonstrates what it means by rigour and enhancement of student experience in its own videos, eg of 'research webinars'. This one features Dr Stoakes himself introducing the speaker: http://vimeo/66728099

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