‘Limited evidence’ holding degree in subject improves pupil outcomes

The TES is reporting that, according to a new study, there is “limited evidence” that teachers holding a degree in the subject they teach improves pupils outcomes.

Research by the Department for Education has found that while there is evidence “specialist” teachers have a “small” positive impact on pupil outcomes at GCSE in maths, English and humanities, there is “no discernible effect” of “non-specialist” teaching at GCSE for modern foreign languages and science.

The DfE’s analysis – published in a research paper – categorises teachers as “specialist” or “non-specialist” on the basis of whether they hold a degree or other post A-level qualification in the subject they teach.

The DfE’s research reveals “mixed or limited findings” which “do not imply a causal link” between specialist teaching and pupils outcomes.

“In line with most previous research, there remains limited evidence of an impact of teachers’ academic qualifications in the subjects they teach on pupil outcomes,” the paper states.

A DfE spokeswoman told TES: “We trust headteachers to run their schools and make the right decisions for their pupils, and the importance they place on ensuring pupils are taught by highly qualified teachers is clear.”

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More at: DfE research: ‘Limited evidence’ holding degree in subject improves pupil outcomes

What do you think about this study? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. ~ Sophie

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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Every recent educationgovuk policy has clung rather lamely to this assumption; this rather highlights their ignorance

  2. CherylSalmon

    I guarantee that most heads would say the ability to teach is far more important that the subject knowledge. There is no point in being a genius if you can’t put it across to the learners…anybody known someone with, say, a Ph.D who was a poor teacher…? (I have – more than one).
    If you need to be able to answer complex, detailed questions about a subject at A level it might be different…

  3. gbgray

    This is not a clear cut issue. While I agree that ‘some’ of the best ‘qualified teachers’ have sometimes been poor teachers as they fundamentally do not understand that all but the very brightest( like themselves) so can struggle to explain to all some difficult scientific concepts, equally some very well qualified staff are excellent teachers.
    I have observed and graded some of the best lessons carried out by science teachers with ‘lower classification’ degrees who seem to inspire all they teach and obtain exceptional outcomes. However I also observed the opposite end of the spectrum where a non specialist teacher has taught wrong science as they clearly did not understand what they were teaching( although teaching it wrongly in a very plausible way so no child picked up on it at the time). And I ensured that the lesson was retaught correctly and the teacher coached.

    However when the non specialist teacher clearly has no indepth knowledge of the subject they are teaching this is blatantly apparent to the interested child who fails to have their valid questions answered as the teacher doesn’t know or dismisses the comment with the,” that’s for you to find out for homework” comment or alike. Therefore are we surprised when that child fails to be inspired to take the subject beyond GCSE, we shouldn’t be as their teacher clearly didn’t!
    Fundamentally the problem with this survey is that a teacher is deemed a specialist when they have either a
    1. Post primary qualification in the subject
    2. Post primary initial teacher training in the subject.

    That the later makes a teacher a specialist according to this survey concerns me greatly.
    For example the teacher with the sports science degree who completes ITT in science and then teaches GCSE Physics is classed as a specialist Physics teacher by this methodology( as all the sciences are covered in science ITT).

    DfE and all teacher and leaders in school know the reality, that few post primary schools are lucky enough to have a single specialist teacher of Physics at all. By this I mean a teacher who has a degree or specific post graduate qualifications in Physics or a closely related subject not ITT which may include at best half a dozen lectures on a few ‘main’ GCSE Physics concepts in the ‘current’ specification, so is poor substitute.

    To claim that over 80% of GCSE Physics lessons as part of Combined science or Physics are taught by specialist teachers is at best a serious error and at worst a cynical lie constructed to ignore the serious problem of lack of specialist Physics, Chemistry and MFL teachers in schools and to take substantive actions to solve this crisis in English Schools which has harmed and is continuing to harm students in these disciplines and our economic future.

    This survey is as impartial as those funded by tobacco companies 1960’s, 1970,s and 1980’s which found no link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer. I look forward to the day when the Secretary of state for Education and the minister will authorise the DfE secretariat to stop repeating the same rhetoric and start to approach this critical issue with the honesty that teachers, parents and learners in British schools deserve.

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