Coffee House

Training does not make the best teachers

2 August 2012

10:52 AM

2 August 2012

10:52 AM

None of us would accept being treated by a doctor or by a nurse who hadn’t had extensive training, nor would we want legal advice from someone who hadn’t been through law school. Nor would we be comfortable with our company accounts being managed or audited by anyone not trained to a high level in accountancy. So why should we accept teachers coming into our schools who haven’t been properly professionally taught how to teach in a college or university? Schooling is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and poor teachers, as research shows, destroy life chances. How can we play dice with our children’s lives?

Well, as someone who has been head of a school for over 15 years, I can comfortably say I am not remotely troubled by employing someone who doesn’t have a teaching qualification. I was equally happy to have untrained teachers educating my own children. I see no problem whatsoever with the government allowing academies to employ teachers who lack a formal teaching qualification.

At Wellington College, which has just received an ‘outstanding’ rating for all aspects of its teaching and learning, I pay absolutely no heed to whether someone has a teaching qualification or not. What I do look at is whether someone has the human qualities to make a great teacher. They need energy, passion for their subjects and for teaching, a readiness to learn, an altruistic nature, integrity and intelligence. Some eccentricity definitely helps, though is not a necessity.

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Lack these qualities and you will never be a great teacher, regardless of how many years you have spent in training. Those who do have them may be raw and naïve. They may have a difficult first year in the classroom – the best teachers I know often had a difficult start, because they are sensitive and vulnerable, and they had the courage to be themselves in front of the children, as opposed to retreating into a safe and manicured persona. They learn how to retain their own characters and vulnerability, while not letting themselves be squashed, and the children love them for it.

The best training of teachers is done on the job, which is why I applaud the government’s shift of teacher training into schools, with their ambitious Teaching Schools programme – my own school, Wellington College, hopes to become a Teaching School next year. The very worst aspect of teacher training in universities was the notion that learning finished when you went into a school. The very best teachers, in stark contrast, are the ones who are learning all their careers. The greatest teachers are the ones who were as committed to learning, as vulnerable and as absorbed by their students, in their final year of teaching as in their first. A lack of willingness to learn is the enemy of great teaching. A teacher who is not growing and learning, above all from interactions from other students as well as teachers, is a teacher who is dead.

Dispensing with the need for a one year post-graduate training qualification is also encouraging new entrants to join the profession, who have undertaken other careers, and who can bring to students and schools a vast range of experience and enrichment. I am positively biased in favour of such ‘teach second’ candidates, and one of their great qualities is their humility and willingness to learn.

Teaching unions, unsurprisingly, have created a great fuss about ‘untrained’ teachers coming into the classroom in academies. This, sadly, is typical of the worst kind of teaching unions, whose concern is not with the students, but with teaching as a profession. Unions need to revolutionise their ways of thinking, and embracing new modes of teacher training is a good start.

Teaching is different thus to medicine, as well as to law and accountancy. It is more akin to parenting. The good teacher will reflect on their own experience of good and bad teaching, and model themselves on the former while avoiding the latter. A new generation of teachers is about to be born.

Anthony Seldon is Master of Wellington College, which also sponsors the Wellington Academy.


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  • http://www.topbritishessays.com/ essay help uk

    Learning from their students may be effective in making them a better teacher. There are many things that you wanted to know but still training are also helpful and useful.

  • Jane Capers

    So how does everyone feel about a trained dance teacher who doesn’t have QTS teaching in a school. I have been for over 14 years, I generally have a good relationship with my students, results to prove my worth. Is it as cut and dried as some are saying? Yes I have had to learn on the job specific skills attached to teaching in school but doesn’t everyone continue learning and improving? maybe because of the stigmas linked to being unqualified I am more determined to be a good teacher?

  • Anonymous

    I am student from an academy in west London; the image above is of my history class last year. My history teacher was amazing and I think that was because she had been teaching for quite a few years, she really loves her subject and her enthusiasm and passion for it comes across quite obviously. This is what motivates a child to work and to love learning from what I have seen as a child currently.
    My history teacher from this year means that I slightly dread my lessons – for one, there have been so many movements because we have a had a training teacher for some part of the year. Now we have a different teacher who seems to be lacklustre in comparison, slightly overpowering and doesn’t really know where to stop with a joke – he had just come out of teach first.

    There are loads of teach-first teachers at my school and the overwhelming majority of them are brilliant. Although, there are some things that maybe a prospective teacher can learn and benefit the students they may come to teach from an official qualification.

    Also, what the education system tends to forget is that students get really attached to great teachers – even at the age of 15. However, teach first means that a teacher must do 2 years at the school then disappear to do workshops on leadership. At times, this can be devastating for a child and in a scenario like this, a student may be better off with someone who set out to teach from the beginning not from the summer after graduating from university.

  • catcam

    Having worked in an inner city school for 10 years I know that the best teachers were ones who had experience of life and industry before going into teaching. I’m afraid I disagree with Mr Seldon’s view as it is not realistic of the actual working environment which is dealing with behaviour management. If I had unqualified educators standing in front of my classes I’m afraid they would have been eaten alive. University teaches you how to teach and manage learning.

  • http://twitter.com/MRaquel107 MariaRaquel

    Teaching these days seems to be more about classroom management than actually inspiring and enthusing pupils. Bad behaviour, poverty of expectations on the part of pupils and jaded teachers makes teaching a sad joke, and they have the qualifications which the government insist they must have in order to teach, what they lack is charisma and the power to communicate.

  • TonyB58

    Sadly it appears that the requirement for teachers to have some kind of teaching qualification is closely correlated with the collapse in academic standards. I actually took a Cert Ed in the late eighties after I had been teaching for four years. I would grudgingly say some of it would have been useful to totally inexperienced teachers but too much of what I sat through was the latest, trendy, Right-On PC nonsense. Indeed the phrase “get into small groups” became a running joke with like-minded colleagues. The only good thing about the course was in those days you didn’t have to pay for it and you got a mandatory grant!

  • Tony Fisher

    Seldon wrote: ‘The very worst aspect of teacher training in universities was the notion
    that learning finished when you went into a school. The very best
    teachers, in stark contrast, are the ones who are learning all their
    careers.’
    What is his evidence for the first of those two sentences? I am a teacher educator in a university and can assure you that Seldon’s assertion is complete nonsense. Nobody thinks that, and nobody in my experience ever has. It seems all Seldon wishes to do is set up a straw man with whom ‘the very best teachers’ (who in the world according to Seldon presumably did not go through university-based ‘training’) can then stand in ‘stark contrast’. Are we supposed to take him seriously?

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.g.whitlock Adam Grant Whitlock

    Of course Anthony Seldon advocates this – he is in the independent sector where it does not matter if a Teacher is qualified or not as long as their undergrad or postgrad degree is from a Russell Group University. The fusion of academic understanding of child development and psychology with classroom experience and practice is lost in an industry professional who can bring a great deal of outside experience to the classroom but not necessarily accommodate the 30 different learning styles in front of them and differentiate accordingly. Not all ITT providers are outstanding, some are, but the training that the unqualified teacher will need to provide an outstanding service to their students regardless of their background career and experience will be down to whether or not the school is a good training ground and the mentors have the time to invest in something which 9 months doesn’t often do justice to anyway! The skill of Teaching is better ‘caught than taught’ however if trained well the qualification is not just another piece of paper.

  • loveToTeach

    Was my comment too eccentric? Why has it been removed?

  • 2trueblue

    Mr Seldon has been Master of Wellington College for 15yrs. How much improvement in the league tables has been attained during his reign? How much has his method of choosing teachers improved the education at Wellington?
    I would feel more reassured to know that those to whom I entrusted my children’s education were the most highly qualified, interested, and the best communicators in the field. It goes without saying that the more wide ranging their knowledge the better and that is paramount. Teaching is not about parenting, that is the job of parents and it is arrogant to think thus. We work together.
    All of us are better in life for having an unending interest in what is going on around us and expanding our knowledge base. We send our children to schools to get the basics right and enable them to build on that base so that they will have interesting, fulfilled, and successful lives. Good foundations are what enables us to do this.

  • http://twitter.com/emmabishton Emma Bishton

    Surely, if one of the problems Mr Seldon seeks to address is that not enough teachers currently demonstrate an enthusiasm for ongoing learning once they have qualified, it doesn’t follow that the solution is to get rid of their teacher training programme. If indeed this is a problem (for which we should see evidence), why not strengthen measures to ensure that ongoing learning is expected and, crucially, supported. Baby and bathwater comes to mind (as so often in current education policy).

    To me, this article avoids the undesirable but obvious truth which is that not every teacher is going to be ‘great’ anymore than every surgeon is going to be ‘the best’ (or for that matter every school is going to be top of the league table). A system in which people must be qualified ensures that everyone who qualifies has achieved a basic minimum in terms of knowledge and its application. Mr Seldon’s description of what makes a great teacher, in terms of personal characteristics and attitude to the job, may well be spot on, but it does nothing to raise the bar for all teachers and therefore for the teaching our children receive.

  • 2trueblue

    Wy over the 15yrs that Mr Seldon has been master at Wellington and professes to have an edge in choosing good teachers has Wellington failed to significantly improve its place e in the league tables?

    No matter what we chose to do in life we enrich our own lives and those we are connected with by developing throughout our lives and keeping interested in what we do. To pass on skills and knowledge we first have to acquire that knowledge and demonstrate that we are qualified and have the ability to do so. Mr Seldon is indulging himself at others expense.

  • Simon Davies

    Back to QTS.

    Like Dr Seldon I do employ UQTs (Unqualified Teachers). When I do so I put them on a lower timetable and give them very close support from the same team who help NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers). When they have had two years to understand the meaning of real education Eastbourne style – all that happens in our boarding school life (for day and boarding girls and boys who are at school 12 hours a day in the week and in school at weekends so they can do their lessons, a vast array of creative arts and sporting activity and all their homework at school), UQTs take the GTP (Graduate Teaching Programme) and are trained further in teaching and learning. Every one of the 15 GTPs have scored outstanding in their qualification and, like the NQTs, have brought much that is new to my school – new ideas, new techniques, freshness to their departments and pastorally.

    For a man who prides himself on interacting with the maintained sector, it amazes me that Dr Seldon is so dismissive of teache training. It makes me question how much he knows about it? How he can be so sure that his sure eye for the ‘born teacher’ can deliver a reacher that can be so much better than that ‘born teacher’ might be if s/he were trained and allowed to see a range of other schools…

  • Simon Davies

    I find this breathtaking from a fellow HMC Head.

    As a late convert to teaching myself I know for certain that however much I may have exuded the qualities Anthony Seldon rightly looks for in his teachers, I learned a very great deal from my PGCE in 1993/4. I was a much better teacher as a result of it (but still green) and one of the things my course stressed was the same need to be a lifelong learner that Dr Seldon himself promotes. What I didn’t benefit from was an induction year and when I see what an NQT gets at Eastbourne College, where I am head I know I missed out and so, too, did the school I joined in 1994.

    I am hugely impressed by the NQTs I employ each year: able, motivated, human, mature, willing to take direction and give things a try, big engined, passionate about education in its broadest sense (so much more than merely learning and teaching; helping young people to become remarkable contributing people of the future who know how to work hard, join in and help others join in, have integrity, show courtesy and kindness and treat every other human with respect and as an equal). They are reflective and self-critical and they have worked, as I did on my PGCE in a variety of schools. This last presents them with a wider understanding of the realities of the classroom: deprivation of love and care is common in every school; deprivation of opportunity remains the greates crime committed against generations of children by successive governments obsessed by the measurable and with no clue about what is valuable in education (see above) – children need challenge (from high realistic expectation) and support (from encouragement, reassurance and merited praise), high quality, well-trained staff who can deliver this, facilities, supportive involved parenting and lots and lots of time exposed to opportunity and all these other factors. It’s not magic, it’s real investment in children…

  • Mr L

    I fear Telemachus knows nothing of what teacher trainers actually do. They are, in fact, responsible for a lot of the nonsense that masquerades as education in trhis country. Several of the best teachers I ever had were ‘untrained’ – they learned on the job, with the help of senior colleagues.
    Remember the old Shaw remark – ‘he who can does, he who cannot, teaches’ and its extension: ‘he who cannot teach teaches teachers to teach’.

    • tele_machus

      Shaw and your goodself commit the ultimate patronisation.
      We rely on good trained teachers to mould our young minds

  • Sue K

    Well said indeed. I am an advocat of this. I started a teaching degree and I couldn’t understand any of it with respect to how it was going to equip me in the classroom. I quit. But now I am a teacher and tutor and I teach Dyslexic children (I am dyslexic and have visual stress) I am really good at my job and I have learnt it all through private training, self training and on the job training. I teaching in an amazing school for dyslexic children http://www.chilterntutorialschool.co.uk one day a week and tutor and run a website for teachers and parents to help them help dyslexic children http://www.letmelearn.co.uk.

  • Ron Todd

    When I was a t school some time ago to be fair, the best teachers were those that had significant experience outside the classroom. Two teachers are though too small a sample to make too many generalisations from. As it was a Scottish school they would have had teaching qualifications as that was (and I think still is) compulsary for all Scottish teachers.

    • Daniel Maris

      My worst ever teacher was a guy from the armed forces who hadn’t been through teacher training. He was useless – even got the sums wrong on the board and couldn’t communicate knowledge.

  • FF42

    Finland, which is reckoned to have one of the best education systems in the World, puts a huge investment and emphasis into training. They used not to and they also used not to be as good as they are now.

    I know you can pick out examples that back up whatever prejudice you hold, but I wouldn’t accept your assertions without some kind of backing either. In any case why should teachers be different from doctors and accountants in this respect? Maybe they don’t need training either?

  • Richard McCarthy

    ” They need energy, passion for their subjects and for teaching, a readiness to learn, an altruistic nature, integrity and intelligence.”
    That’s it, is it, that’s all you need? The man’s a joke. Probably quaffed a glass too many before writing this hogwash.

  • Richard McCarthy

    “The best training of teachers is done on the job, which is why I applaud the government’s shift of teacher training into schools”
    Seldon must live in such a rarefied world that he is unaware that teacher trainng has been taking place in schools for generations, be it on-going training for qualified teachers, the GTP programme full-time school-based training, the PGCE programme of which two-thirds takes place in school, the QTS year which takes place full-time in school. It beggarss belief that this man is even invited to write an article on teaching, such is the paucity of his knowledge.

  • coventrian

    ‘Those who do have them may be raw and naïve. They may have a difficult first year in the classroom – the best teachers I know often had a difficult start, because they are sensitive and vulnerable, and they had the courage to be themselves in front of the children, as opposed to retreating into a safe and manicured persona. They learn how to retain their own characters and vulnerability, while not letting themselves be squashed, and the children love them for it.’

    Which goes to show what a soft option it is to be a teacher at a Public School. Anyone who tried this approach would have been eaten alive in minutes at some of the schools where I had to work.

    It’s clear that Seldon is completely ignorant of how the vast majority of schools operate – but believes that untrained and unprepared amateurs can walk in off the street and teach in them. Not surprising when you find out he is a biographer and admirer (and apologist for) Tony Blair.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hilton-Holloway/708772773 Hilton Holloway

      My friend is about to become deputy head at a big public school. He told me years ago that the majority of teachers in his previous schools were taken straight from RussellBridge and then did a PGCE later, on the job. He could only think of one colleague who had come from teacher training and she was an art teacher. Makes you think: the best schools in the UK and the world simply recruit from top-end Universities.

      Still, at the moment teachers have the lowest average A-level grades of any profession. Whereas public school teachers probably have among the best..

      • coventrian

        ‘My friend is about to become deputy head at a big public school.’

        I’m sorry for your misfortune – can’t you find better friends?

        RussellBridge?

        Don’t you mean Russell Group?

        ‘…the best schools in the UK and the world simply recruit from top-end Universities.’

        I think you’re confusing ‘best’ with ‘most expensive’.

  • Mirtha Tidville

    You would think someone like Seldon would have a little more perspective let alone intelligence but then he does have a penchant for headline grabbing. Not that this notion has anything to do with cost cutting, perish the thought…..Anyway I will inform my daughter in law that her 4 years at uni were wasted.

  • Daniel Maris

    Dear Mr Seldon,
    Very few of your teachers would last ten minutes in a challenging inner city school environment.
    And your school came only 57th out of the independent schools who published their A level results. Hardly anything to crow about really, given you are one of the “big names”.
    You are only going to attract pretty able candidates (and very able students) as it is, so your experience is irrelevant to the mass of schools.

  • Rich

    I think it’s a question of balance. As a recent graduate, my best option is to commence a PGCE course, at a top University, in order to embark on a career that I hope to take very seriously, as both an educator and researcher. This, followed by a second year conversion to a Master’s (accomplished through on-the-job research) will mean I hit the ground running in terms of knowing a lot about young people’s psychology, development and potential. Yes, it’s extremely important to realise that what makes a great teacher cannot be taught — you’ve either got it or you haven’t — and I agree that a healthy dose of eccentricity and outside experience is invaluable. (In fact teachers should be encouraged to pursue outside, subject-linked interests to raise their stature in the classroom). But let’s not rule out the important role our more University’s have in creating ‘master teachers’ who take their jobs as seriously, and so should be as equally valued, as doctors, lawyers and academics.

    • Publius

      “But let’s not rule out the important role our more University’s [sic] have…” etc.

      …And let’s not rule out the important role our schools have in teaching spelling.

  • james102

    The point is we need to differentiate between absolute knowledge
    based skills, such as engineers or some professions get, and subjects such as
    teaching and social work where it is merely the current fashionable consensus
    theories that are taught.

    In the 1930s teachers believed corporal punishment was necessary
    as was teaching reading by phonetics. In the 1970s both these theories had been
    reversed. In 2030 no doubt another group of theories will be fashionable.

    The core issue is to identify what the primary purpose of
    education is, as agreed by the consumers, which are the parents on behalf of
    their children and industry, which employs and partly pays for the education of
    these children.

    Like health care we must not allow the producers to
    determine policy.

    • Richard McCarthy

      And the core issue shows that 80% of parents want their children to be taught by professionally qualified teachers.

      • james102

        Like the examples we see at the annual union conference?

        What is your source for that statistic?

  • Richard McCarthy

    Sadly these are the people who, from their own, very narrow experience, influence policy, get their voices heard and screw up the lives of too many children.

    • Dogsnob

      Well at the moment Richard, things are exactly how you would want them, and yet the lives of many thousands of children are being very screwed-up due to their not being given a thorough grounding in education.

  • TomTom

    Auditing is a really high quality training – only British accountants were willing to accept REPO105s at Lehman – good old E&Y. And Bank Audits are a complete work of fiction.

  • nolan walker

    I agree, although the best surgeons can operate anywhere, the super trained sub specialist maybe very qualified but not so good.
    When I was a Wellington, It was the teaching of sport that was truly dreadful. Unless of course you were good at it. Then you got the permi-tracksuited teacher coaching you. However for malco’s like me you got the French exchange teaching you cricket. We all played the same fees though. Sport is where teacher training should be obligatory not academia.

  • alexsandr

    Nice one Mr Seldon. For too long we have been chasing useless paper qualifications in place if suitability and aptitude.
    Yes a degree and other paperwork can be an indication of ability but no employer should reject a candidate for lack of paper.
    Yes I have got a degree. but it is nothing to do with my subsequent career in IT.

    (Lets also kill the idea you need maths to be able to program. Utter rubbish)

  • tele_machus

    OK MR plutocratic Wellington Seldon.
    So your silver spoon little darlings do not need trained teachers.
    No surprises there.
    Please go down to the sink comprehensives where real children go
    Real children who need motivation to keep their desks and chairs on the floor during the teaching day
    Your highly energetic teaches would soon wish the skills that formal training would give them

    • SimonToo

      Of course they need training, but how long does it take to learn to use a taser?

  • joep

    I’m all for learning on the job as part of a continuous process, but who says someone with a teaching qualification doesn’t do that? I think PGCEs and the like are a great way of sifting out those unsuitable for the profession before they can do any damage and I certainly don’t see how post-grad qualifications can harm the development of potential teachers.

  • Graham

    My wife, who actually trains primary school teachers in a fairly poor London borough, remarked to me yesterday that people who think teachers don’t require any training invariably are either the products of public schools or teach in one. The more arrogant probationary teachers, she tells me, soon come down to earth and realize that, for the vast majority, winging it without any training in an ordinary school (as opposed to a highly selective school with bright, committed pupils and bright, committed parents) is the sure route to catastrophe. Of course teachers should continue to learn on the job. But why on earth would you not equip them with the basic tools and techniques they will need to survive their first years in the classroom?

    • telemachus

      OK MR plutocratic Wellington Seldon.
      So your silver spoon little darlings do not need trained teachers.
      No surprises there.
      Please go down to the sink comprehensives where real children go
      Real children who need motivation to keep their desks and chairs on the floor during the teaching day
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      • Fergus Pickering

        I think you’ve gone mad, telemachus. Why are roughneck children more real than those of a pleasant disposition? Are criminals more real than those who do not break the law? Are prostitutes more real than nuns? Why do you say these idiotic things?

        • tele_machus

          The above is Disqus
          I have no idea how it happened
          The comments about Seldon are pertinent though

          • Noa

            GIGO Wubbles!

        • tele_machus

          I have no idea how it happened-Disqus
          The comments on Seldon are pertinent

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