Teaching quality is not linked to qualification

February 19, 2009

Your report "Lib Dems want better teaching and no fees" (12 February) implies that there is a link between possessing a teaching qualification and providing high-quality teaching. No such link has been demonstrated.

The best that educationists have come up with, in relation to teaching qualifications for higher education, is that new-to-teaching academics who take their courses while teaching a few hundred hours for their departments over two or three years, feel that they are better and more confident at the end. There is no evidence at all that the teacher training has contributed to this, as I and others have pointed out in these pages passim.

I have undertaken a longitudinal ethnographic study of teaching quality, in two separate phases (school and university), covering 17 years in all. Let me summarise the findings. All my school teachers had teaching qualifications. At my first primary school my teacher taught me nothing: after a year, I couldn't read a word (she was following the latest nostrums of the educationists at the time).

At my next primary school the infants' teacher, shocked at my backwardness, taught me to read in no time, and I left there aged 11 with a reading age of 15. However, the part-time maths teacher at that school was dreadful.

During the rest of my schooldays, many teachers were poor, some beyond belief dire - two maths teachers, a chemistry teacher, a physics teacher, two history teachers, a French teacher, two music teachers, and all my craft (except cookery) and PE teachers spring to mind.

At university, I am confident that none of my teachers held a teaching qualification but all were at least competent, most pretty good, and some gifted and inspirational.

There is no link between holding a teaching credential and being a good teacher. I would urge the Lib Dems to bear that in mind and establish their policies on an evidential basis; but they will never be in Government, so I urge the other parties to stay away from this ridiculous money-wasting idea.

Richard Austen-Baker, Lancaster University Law School.

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