Becoming a teacher is ‘too easy’, says think-tank

Demos report argues that the one-year PGCE is too short and has unacceptably low entry criteria. Melanie Newman reports

September 22, 2009

Initial teacher training should take a minimum of three years, the think-tank Demos has said.

In a report published today, researchers in Demos’ “Progressive Conservatism Project” say becoming a teacher is currently too easy. In the paper, Leading from the Front, they say the one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is “too focused on practical, classroom skills”.

All teachers should be educated in “pedagogic techniques, special educational needs training and age-specific learning”, the report says.

“Initial teacher training must, therefore, be increased to at least three years to ensure that there is time and scope to acquire a full set of skills.”

As well as making the course longer, there should be more effective barriers to entry to teacher training, say the authors, Max Wind-Cowie and Jonty Olliff-Cooper. “A written exam, alongside extensive psychometric testing and interview, should be a criterion of entry.”

Entry requirements should also be higher, they argue. “It is unacceptable that, to become a teacher, all that is required is a degree pass and two GCSEs at C Grade. At the very least potential teachers need to be have attained a 2:1 or above in their undergraduate degree,” they say.

In 2007-8, 59 per cent of PGCE students had a 2:1 degree and 92 per cent had a 2:2 or above. “Countries where the standards of qualification necessary to teach are higher, such as Finland, have a higher perceived status for teaching professionals and higher-quality educational practitioners,” argue the authors.

Mr Olliff-Cooper, who has also worked as a policy adviser to the Conservative Party, taught history at Eton College for two years after his graduation from the University of Oxford, despite not having studied for a PGCE.

A Demos press spokesman said: “Jonty didn’t do a PGCE but while I think he’d defend his teaching record, he’d also stand by the recommendations in the report. They have a solid founding in the evidence around good teaching practice… of course, other things go into being a good teacher too, but on the whole, better and longer pedagogical training would benefit teachers and pupils.”

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, defended the quality of teacher training in universities. “Ofsted has rated nearly 90 per cent of courses as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and the rest ‘satisfactory’,” he said. “PGCEs increasingly contain masters-level elements and an increasing proportion of PGCE students have good degrees (2:2 and above).”

However, he acknowledged that the PGCE was “very short” and “can only do so much”. Newly qualified teachers should have access to structured early professional development that builds on their initial training, he said. “The new masters in teaching and learning should help with this, as can the many existing postgraduate professional development programmes run by universities.”

Mr Wind-Cowie also told Times Higher Education that his report’s directive to “upskill” front-line workers across public services could be applied to university teaching staff. “You can’t just take PhD students and ask them to deliver seminars – people need to be trained to deliver training.”

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