If You're Going to Demand Excellence, Do It Properly
By Policy Development Partner - Laura McInerney
In the recent Department for Education discussion paper ‘Training our next generation of Outstanding Teachers’ the call was made for more rigorous testing of trainee teachers. Currently student teachers must pass the ‘QTS’ tests in English, Maths & ICT. The tests can be sat as many times as desired within the 12 months of training and must be passed only once.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of sitting a QTS test you can try practice QTS test here – or you can trust me when I say they really are not too difficult.
The DfE’s paper correctly points out that the countries who have most dramatically increased the quality of education – including Finland, Singapore and Korea – require trainees to sit such tests before they begin training, and those tests are rigorous and highly competitive.
This high bar does two things. Firstly, it makes getting onto a teacher-training course a prestigious honour. People desire ‘exclusive’ opportunities and being competitive stimulated demand for teacher training places in countries that introduced it. Secondly, it sifts for those with low motivation. Test preparation is an arduous process. Many entrants will not have strong literacy skills – especially if coming from a science or maths background - and so they must practice. If their reasoning skills have not been exercised for a while, applicants in these countries may spend up to a year revising and practicing. In doing so the teacher is reminded of what it means to be a learner and revises the types of skills they so wish to impart to others in their future profession.
Opposition to competitive tests on application tends to invoke the following dictum: “I would have failed these tests and I am a great teacher. Bringing in difficult tests will starve students of great teachers like me”
Undoubtedly some great teachers would not have passed such tests without revision. Yet, if truly motivated to be great teachers they would not let these tests sit in their way. Being a great teacher means you believe any student can eventually pass an exam if they put in the time, effort and are supported towards that end goal. Inspiring that belief in others means you must practice what you preach – you must be able to dig deep and revise yourself to success. After all, if you cannot do it then you cannot demand such efforts from your students.
Successful nations have, of course, done other things to ensure the quality of teaching. In Korea, Japan and Singapore teachers only spend 35% of their time in classrooms; a UK teacher’s load is more than double this. Teachers in these countries have dedicated office space, an entitlement to 90-200 hours of professional development per year and either high average salaries, or higher salaries for teachers working in the most challenging schools with encouraged career breaks for research.
The Government is absolutely correct to drive for better teaching. The tests come first and should be welcomed, but they cannot ignore everything else that courageous systems have implemented to drive up teacher quality.