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If You’re Going to Demand Excellence, Do It Properly

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.


  1. Colin says:

    “If truly motivated to be great teachers they would not let these tests sit in their way.”

    If you’re after assessing motivation, why not have trainee teachers tested on their juggling, dancing or whistling as well? After all, the more hurdles, and the higher those hurdles are, the greater the passion inside the teacher that successfully accomplishes these feats.

    The argument is clearly wrong. Besides, there’s no shortage of challenge and need for perseverance on a trainee teacher course as it is.

    What matters is if these tests asses teaching ability. They don’t. I’ve met many good teachers who graduated with weak degree results; I’ve met many bad teachers that have doctorates in their subject.

    Trainee teachers should be held accountable on their merit as a teacher–in the classroom. Anything else is bureaucratic and will do nothing to raise standards.

  2. laura_admin says:

    These tests are not being done to test motivation, what they do is increase the number and quality of applicants due to the prestige that comes with being a competitive placement. That so many other countries found this was the consequence of introducing a ‘high bar’ initial test compels me to believe it would happen here. The reason I mention motivation is because people seem to suggest that some otherwise good teachers wouldn’t meet the bar. I disagree, if you’re motivated to do it, you would make sure you meet the challenge.

    Obviously, once on a course, one’s teaching ability should be heavily assessed. In fact, I would even argue that as per the Finnish model this should also form part of a day-long assessment before the start of the course, and then be ongoing.

    I agree wholeheartedly that being academically able will not guarantee you are a good teacher. That said, I also believe a quote I once heard from Dylan William: “Being smart won’t make you a great teacher, but it helps”. Teaching is a cognitively complex job and having a strong foundation of ‘basic intelligence’ will hold you in good stead as you try to convey that basic knowledge at the same time as Tyler is throwing himself at your third floor window and Chantelle is singing at the top of her voice.

    I’m not advocating that teachers be held ‘accountable’ for their test results – just that they should be used for selection. If we use it for doctors or lawyers, why not for teachers too?

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