Michael Gove’s tougher teacher tests are a smokescreen

Secondary school math teacher and assistant head of learning Darren Macey argues that Michael Gove’s recent announcement on tougher teacher training amounts to hypocrisy as at the same time as introducing the new tests he is also creating more opportunities for unqualified teachers. This is from the Guardian’s Comment Is Free…

This week the Department for Education has announced a shakeup of teacher training, applying what future generations will no doubt refer to as the “Gove principle”, whereby any perceived issue can be solved by making the exams more difficult. Not content with belittling the effort of thousands of students by announcing how worthless their GCSEs were just days after the grades were released, it has now been announced that teachers too have not been tested thoroughly enough and a more “robust” system will be brought in to compensate for the low standards of literacy and numeracy displayed by hapless educators.

While there are significant issues with the current selection process for aspiring teachers, it seems there are one or two glaring omissions in the logic that justifies spending limited resources on developing a new testing system. Fifteen years of education resulting in a degree should really imply a certain standard of literacy and numeracy, and if it doesn’t perhaps our university system requires some scrutiny. I’m sure Michael Gove will get round to suggesting tougher degrees at some point in the future, perhaps with lower grade boundaries for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage social mobility.

It is a universal truth that we lose the skills we don’t use regularly, and GCSE maths is no exception. The new tests will take place before an applicant is accepted on to teacher training and are expected to increase in difficulty until they represent a B grade at GCSE. Woe betide any potential PE teacher or dance instructor who has not seen a maths paper in five years, who cannot tell a histogram from a heptagon, or a vector from a vulgar fraction. That’s not to say that the aforementioned PE teachers lack the ability to pass these tests. Currently those training to be teachers are able to get support from fellow students in order to help them pass the English, maths and ICT exams. Trainee teachers in these subjects benefit by developing their professional skills by assisting their peers before they are let loose in a classroom for the first time and the non-specialists get a chance to relearn those skills they have forgotten.

In recent years a very dangerous idea seems to have been accepted by the decision-makers around the education system that the best teachers are the best qualified teachers, leading to a sliding scale of funding that financially disadvantages those without high-class degrees from the classroom. The reality is very different. A good teacher has to be an exceptional communicator, with patience, common sense, focus, more than a little belligerence and vast reserves of tolerance and empathy. Many prospective teachers simply do not possess these qualities and yet are accepted on to teacher training and even passed despite every indication that they do not have what it takes. The most fantastic academic background cannot make up for a lack of these qualities, but a great communicator with a third-class degree has far more than the necessary knowledge to inspire a class of teenagers.

Ultimately these new tests are a smokescreen hiding far more significant issues, as Gove has previously made it clear that qualified teacher status is not a requirement to inhabit the classrooms of the increasing numbers of academies and free schools. How he expects his new tougher teacher tests to enhance our education system while he is responsible for creating more opportunities for unqualified teachers to educate our children is a question I would love to know the answer to.

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Categories: Policy and Teaching.

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