Qualified vs Unqualified teachers! My Take

Blimey, two days in a row I’m talking about Nick Clegg, he must be a busy chap…

Anyhow, Nick Clegg wants all free schools and academies to hire teachers with officially approved teaching qualifications, and this should be compulsory, not an option, which is understandble if you want to expect all English children to have access to a high quality education. This of course means that if you’re not qualified then you don’t teach. Nice and simple. But is there enough evidence to support the idea that a qualified teacher is a better teacher?

Well let’s think about it. You would think that someone who has gone through three or four years of educational training and have the qualification (in the form of the letters at the end of your name) will be a better educator than someone who hasn’t had the training. Few dispute that good teachers are crucial for pupil performance, both in the short and in the long run. At the same time, better-educated pupils commit fewer crimes, and contribute more to economic growth, so good educators are clearly also crucial for producing positive spill-over effects that benefit society at large. This means that the public does indeed have an interest in ensuring a good teacher force.

Yet after decades of research we have little understanding of what makes educators effective. Observable characteristics, including teacher qualifications, generally have no or very small effects. This is a remarkably consistent finding in most rigorous studies worldwide. If there’s anything research in the economics of education has disproved, it’s the theory that teachers with specific qualifications perform better than those without. Most people might also find this intuitive since practically everybody has probably experienced good unqualified teachers and bad qualified ones (and vice versa).

But doesn’t this mean that a mandate requiring all educators to undergo officially approved training at the very least wouldn’t do any harm? Well, no it doesn’t. Since such a mandate ensures that many perfectly good educators – perhaps better than those holding teacher qualifications – can’t enter the market, we would instead perpetuate a system that does nothing to improve the overall teacher pool. This is not in the best interest of children.

Should anybody be able to become a teacher then? Not necessarily. There is some evidence that teacher subject knowledge impacts performance positively. But there are many ways to gain subject knowledge, which is probably best determined by diagnostic assessments rather than via crude measures such as degree qualifications. Indeed, an English study from 2012 found no impact at all of degree qualifications on pupil achievement. At the same time, the impact of subject knowledge should not be exaggerated. Most of the variance in teacher effectiveness remains unexplained. For this reason, the diagnostic assessments should only be used to weed out the worst apples.

Overall I would obviously prefer to back the qualified teachers as I will be one after this academic year so I have an element of bias, but I can see why the government would allow unqualified teachers into the classrooms. I do think it undermines the value of the degree though. If people see they can get into teaching without the need of a degree, less people will want to go to uni, meaning unis will close down their education faculties, meaning a disaster for the profession, if we are indeed a profession. Sue Cowley defines the term ‘profession’ as ‘a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.’ With all these unqualified teachers around, can we really call ourselves a profession?

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