Delaying the award of qualified teacher status – a risk too far?

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09 March 2018 by Alison Ryan
The consultation on strengthening QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) finishes today and while strengthening the profession is indeed vital against the current backdrop of teacher shortage, the devil has certainly been in the detail.

The attention-grabbing headline of this strengthening regime regards the proposed delay, by two years, of awarding new teachers with QTS.  Rather than achieve the award at the end of initial teacher education (ITE), as happens now, teachers can only achieve it at the end of two years teaching practice which follows ITE.  So, will this be the professional muscle-building makeover that will reinvigorate teaching and make it more attractive to potential and existing teachers?

Well, we asked our members and a strong theme in their responses was that this delayed QTS would have an overall negative impact on the profession. 

Delaying QTS is a risky approach at a time when getting people onto ITE routes and then into the profession is proving increasingly difficult.  And it isn’t just the moving on of the finishing line that members feel would prove a barrier to recruitment and retention.  Being under that higher level of scrutiny and judgement for additional time, without the confidence boost of having achieved their professional status, would not only affect recruitment by presenting potential teachers with a far longer journey to qualification than previously, but could also result in lower retention rates due to the impact of prolonged pressure and anxiety.

But let’s not throw the CPD baby out with the delayed-QTS bathwater.  Because there are proposals regarding early and later professional development that, if resourced sufficiently, would make a marked difference to teachers, and enhance the profession; a makeover sorely needed and long overdue as evident in the current recruitment and retention figures. 

I believe (and our members agree) that a framework of CPD, which links particular content and entitlement to particular career phases is core to strengthening teaching.  The DfE’s proposal to develop a framework of core and optional CPD content during the first two years of teachers’ careers is a good place to start.  Having core content which reflects key professional areas of learning which all need, and optional content which reflects a teacher’s individual career development ambitions is a positive development.  Furthermore, it reinforces the shared understandings and knowledge which should be the foundation of excellent practice whilst acknowledging that teachers will have individual career ambitions and need to have the CPD to match.

However, we have to remember that retention is not just an issue for new teachers; teacher longevity in England is close to the bottom in international league table rankings, and this loss of experienced teachers every year is a shocking waste, which we can ill afford.

So, this framework has to go long beyond teachers’ first two years, but it’s a start towards a goal of a career-long framework, encapsulating career pathways and related professional development.  That the DfE is perhaps an open door around this vision is shown through their proposals around new forms of leadership, beyond the current organisational leadership model; although it all seems rather familiar, Advanced Skills Teacher, anyone?

Delayed QTS is the risky idea within the consultation, for which the time is just not right.  But, with enough funding to free up teacher time, and to provide schools with the access to evidence-rich and relevant provision, the proposals around better and more CPD, training for mentors and new pathways are not only timely but indeed long overdue.

But let’s also be realistic.  While vital, these proposals are not a magic pill to the recruitment and retention crisis.

When I ask members why they’ve joined teaching, they tell me that they’ve done so to make a difference to the lives of children and young people.  Will these proposals help this happen?  Unless we make space in schools for evidence-informed teaching and teachers having a real voice in the teaching needed to engage and reach all their pupils, then more likely not.

  • Do we have a performance management system which encourages teachers to talk about their learning needs, including areas where they feel they can improve their practice?  In some schools, yes but in many others, no. 
  • Do teachers have salaries that reflect the graduate and expert nature of the profession, particularly in line with other graduate professions?  Again, no.
  • Do teachers have workloads that focus on the activities that will make the difference so needed by pupils and students, or that allow teachers to have a half-way decent work-life balance?  Again, and resoundingly, no.

The CPD proposals show good intentions and if properly funded are an excellent and vital first-step to a more attractive teaching profession, but the journey must not, cannot, stop there, if we are truly to make this the strong, robust and recognised profession it should be.

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