Those in the UK will have seen recent news1 that the Education Secretary Michael Grove is planning to remove remove funding for teacher training from those who do not achieve a 2:2 or better. A report on the proposals suggests this will reduce numbers of trainee science teachers by 25% and language teachers by a third.
An Independent article on this lists various high profile figures who got third class degrees (albeit all from prestigious universities), who would therefore not be eligible – including Carol Vorderman, who is the Conservative Party’s ‘maths guru’2.
The proposed policy and the reporting of it raise three questions for me.
First is the perennial problem that the reporting only tells half the story. Who are these one third of language trainees and one quarter of science trainees who currently do not have 2:2 degrees? Are they recent graduates who have simply not done well in their courses and treating teaching as an easy option? Are they those that maybe made poor choices in their selected courses, but nonetheless have broader talents after careful assessment by the teaching course admissions teams? Or are they mature students who did not do well in university, or maybe never went, but have been admitted based on their experience and achievements since (as we would do for any advanced degree, such as an MSc)? If it were the first of these, then I think most parents and educators would agree with the government line, but I very much doubt this is the case. However, with only part of the story how are we to know? I guess I could read the full report, or maybe the THES has a more complete story, but how many parents reading about this are likely to do so?
Second is the implicit assumption that degree level study in a particular subject is likely to make you a good teacher in that subject. Certainly in my own first subject, mathematics, many of the brightest mathematicians are unlikely to be good school teachers. In general in the sciences, I would far prefer a teacher who has a really deep understanding of GCSE and A level Physics to one who has a hazy (albeit sufficient to get 2:2 or even 2:1 degree) knowledge at degree-level. I certainly want teachers who have the interest and excitement in their topic to keep up-to-date beyond the minimum needed for their courses, but a broad ‘James Gleik’ style popular science, is probably more useful than third year courses in a Physics degree.
Finally the focus on degree classification, suggests that Michael Gove has a belief in a cross-discipline, cross-department, and cross-institutional absolute grading that appears risible to anyone working in Higher Education. Does he really believe that a 2:2 from Oxford is the same as a 2:2 at every UK institution? If so then I seriously doubt his ability to be hold the education portfolio in government.
To be fair this is a real problem in the Higher Education system as it is hard for those not ‘in the know’ to judge the meaning of grades, especially as it is not simply a matter of institution, often particular parts of an institution (notably music, arts and design schools) have a different profile to the institution as a whole. Indeed we have the same problem within the university system when judging grades from other countries. This has not been helped by gradual ‘grade inflation’ across the education sector from GCSE to degrees, driven in no small part by government targets and independent ‘league tables’ that use crude measures largely unrelated to real educational success. Institutions feel under constant pressure to create rules that meet various metrics to the detriment of real academic judgement3.
If the government is seriously worried about the standard of teachers entering the profession, then shift funding of courses towards measures of real success and motivation – perhaps percentage of students who subsequently obtain public-sector teaching jobs. If the funding moves the selection will follow suit!
… and maybe at the same time this should apply across the sector. A few weeks ago I was at the graduation at LIPA, which is still managing near 100% graduate employment despite the recession and severe cuts across the arts. Not that employment is the only measure of success, but if metrics are to be used, then at least make them real ones. Or better still drop the metrics, targets and league tables and let students both at school and university simply learn.
- Hit headlines about a week ago in the UK, just catching up after holiday![back]
- “Reforms of teacher training will bring mass shortages, report finds“, Richard Garner, The Independent, Thursday, 11 August 2011, p14-15.[back]
- In fact, I came very close to resigning earlier in the summer over this issue.[back]