The latest education controversy concocted by the Department for Education concerns a possible new apprenticeship route to becoming a teacher. At its worst it is a quick way to get more cheap teachers into the profession, deskill it and ease out expensive staff in order to take on more trainees. I would love to say that schools themselves would not be party to this but sadly I know of at least one headteacher who would do all three in pursuit of saving money. As for the DfE, it doesn’t seem to be the most ethical organisation on the planet by a long way. However, if this is a genuine attempt to get those experienced middle-aged teaching assistants that we all know are fantastic into teaching through on-the-job training, then we must not dismiss the idea out of hand. We all know some of these TA’s and we all know they would be a great asset to the profession. And most of us sympathize that they haven’t got a degree because life got in the way and they simply don’t have the time or finances to take three years out of paid work to qualify as a teacher. A work apprenticeship is exactly what is needed here.
Nonetheless, I think it does matter what qualifications you have, dependent on what subject and phase you are teaching. If you teach A-Level you should definitely have a degree prior to teaching the course. Additionally, I would expect it to be a degree in the subject you are teaching, which sadly is not the case in many schools today. I would relax a bit more on this criteria for GCSE and Key Stage 3. For Early Years, Key Stage 1 and 2, I really don’t think a subject specific degree is that essential as these are more generalist. I don’t want to hammer traditional degrees but I do think we should be more enthusiastic about vocational qualifications. The apprenticeship model actually suits teaching well – the best training I ever had was when I work-shadowed two excellent Music teachers on their travels when I was working peripatetically. I had completed a four year degree and a PGCE, yet I felt very unprepared for teaching. If I’d had that sort of on-the-job mentoring for four years instead of sitting in the university library, I would be a much better teacher and wouldn’t have got into as much debt. Yes, there would have been many experiences that I would have lost from not going to university including the societies I was involved in, the friends that I made and the new places that I was discovering. But it is easy to say “I was privileged to go to uni so I should not deny others the opportunity” without thinking of the alternatives. I know an accountant my age who obtained his profession through an apprenticeship. He is not having to complain about not getting on the housing ladder and about huge debts like many traditional university graduates. He may feel a reverse kind of privilege – perhaps we are the underprivileged who have been sold a lie that a traditional degree was worth the cost.
I think we get overly worried about the process to become trained as a teacher. There are always arguments over this provider and that, the GTP v PGCE v Teach First etc. There does seem to be some snobbery over the means of becoming a teacher and an odious attitude that other professions should have vocational training, but not our own. One commenter on Twitter says it was like an educational nimbyism, and I understand how he feels it is hypocritical. However, it is not hypocritical to defend teaching being an academic career and as long as we are not confusing the means to become a teacher with the ends of the qualification, I think we can allow more variety in establishing new entry routes. With the shortage of teachers it is essential that we try.
My main caveat is that we must not advise people to go down this route if it leads to an inferior qualification. For example, if you want to work as a teacher or teaching assistant in China, you must have a degree. I also know someone who has completed the International PGCE and the school she applied for would not accept it because they would only accept those with a BEd or a traditional PGCE. This new vocational apprenticeship route must be as rigorous and prestigious as any other.
Finally, would I want my daughter schooled by an apprentice trainee teacher? I think we all feel the same way about trainee dentists. Let’s just acknowledge that everyone has to start somewhere, teaching is a wonderful career and support all our new teachers, regardless of how they got there.