Coffee House

Michael Gove to toughen up teacher training

26 October 2012

8:45 AM

26 October 2012

8:45 AM

Michael Gove is announcing tougher tests for trainee teachers today, with calculators banned from maths assessments, and the pass mark in tests for English and Maths being raised to the equivalent of GCSE grade B (which still doesn’t sound that taxing), along with a new test in verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning. The Education Secretary says the changes ‘will mean that parents can be confident that we have the best teachers coming into our classrooms. Above all, it will help ensure we raise standards in our schools and close the attainment gap between the rich and poor’. It’s part of the government’s drive to demonstrate that it is, in David Cameron’s words, spreading privilege.

Raising the quality of teachers going into schools doesn’t sound like something an opposition could disagree with. Which is why Labour has managed to send out this rather amusing and awkward response to the announcement from Kevin Brennan:

‘Labour supports efforts to raise the quality but also the status of teachers, but other measures are needed. We need more high-flying applicants, and Labour has set out plans through our New Deal for Teachers to expand schemes like Teach First, improve training and on-the-job development and incentivise bright graduates to teach in less well-off communities.

‘However, the Government continues to insult teachers and damage morale with its extreme policies and out-of-touch rhetoric. Michael Gove called teachers ‘whingers’ and 10,000 teachers have left the profession. That is putting school standards at risk.’


So here we have a grudging acknowledgement that making sure teachers are up to scratch in basic maths before they are unleashed on pupils is probably a good plan. It’s followed by a Labour-would-do-better line, which as CoffeeHousers already know, involves Labour doing what the Government is already doing on education, while booing Michael Gove to try to establish some sort of distance. And then comes a big moan, which tries to establish a link between Michael Gove calling teachers names like ‘whingers’ and standards being put at risk. Having worked in a primary school when I was a student, I would have thought teachers weren’t all that bothered by name-calling: after all, it’s part of your job to tell an eight year old that just because he’s been called a ‘cheesehead’ in the playground, it doesn’t mean he actually is a ‘cheesehead’, whatever that is.

If Brennan is worried that teachers might be upset by being called names, he’ll be enraged by today’s Telegraph splash, which features an interview with David Laws in which he attacks teachers for having ‘depressingly low expectations’ of their students. If he’s not already in the NUT’s list of villains, the new Lib Dem education minister will be now.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Manish kumar verma

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.Ormskirk Tutors

  • Joe

    Wow, you are a massive tool who hasn’t got a clue…

  • Amergin Selby

    I lectured on a temporary basis in a well known Teacher Training College..

    I was asked to do a short course on Vectors and the Triangle of Forces for those ‘specialising’ in Mathematics.
    We got so far and I told them we could get our results now by applying the Cosine Rule. Vague faces, blank eyes. Did anyone know the Cosine Rule, I asked. Silence. I wrote the rule on the board. Did they recognise it? No.
    I pointed out that they all had a gcse in maths else they would not have been accepted. Had they such a qualification? Yes. A? No. B? No. C. Yes. I pointed out that the Cosine and Sine Rule was part of the curriculum they had been tested on.
    We never met it. Was the general consensus.
    Incidentally I was not allowed to fail any Asian girl’s since it would effect their marriage chances..
    One girl started crying when we came to fractions. I pointed out it was part of her course and she should settle down and try to understand. She said she only intended to teach in nursery and didn’t need fractions.
    Things do need tightening up.

  • disqus_G0SugRr3JI

    Explain in detail to me how a nursery/music/art/drama/
    teacher needs to use a GCSE equivalent on mental mathematics in their every day
    work? How is a B grade in mental arithmetic going to make them better at doing
    their jobs? I understand if you’re teaching a subject that required it like
    physics, but then as a physics teacher you’d be good at it anyway. More often
    than not the best teachers in the world are not the best graduates, and the
    worst teachers are the ones with masters and PhD’s. Becoming a teacher is
    already hard and takes dedication with cuts in funding and super high cost of
    fees. Does making it harder to become a teacher through stricter entry
    requirements rather than more opportunities for up-skilling make sense?

    • Eddie

      This is true – but then, teachers at crappy comprehensives are sometimes VERY abdly educated indeed. At my old grammar, every teacher was well-educated – but some were crap at teaching. At private schools there are many non-graduates and bad teachers too.
      But as you say, if teachers can teach maths but their English is wobbly – so what?
      And yes, many PhDs and academics are truly dreadful teachers – and Oxbridge dons are often the worst.
      I think the focus should be on primary anyway – some teachers there can;t do maths and they have to teach it! That level needs pupils to have intensive 1-2-1 tutoring by tutors who know their stuff so they don’t get left behind.

  • Eric

    I have always thought that teachers should spend a year, every seven years, working in an ordinary job, so that they could fully understand the needs and pressures of business first-hand, rather than relying on any historic notions that they might have

    Of course, the good ones might be snapped up by industry, but I expect most of them would return to the classroom.

  • Yoda the Tory

    Gove the force masters and the dark side rattles. By the dark side disliked, even hated, he will be.

  • james102

    Much of the perceived problem probably has more to do with the ‘culture’ of teaching than anything else.

    Teachers move from being students to teachers without necessarily spending time outside academia, but we expect them to understand and prepare children for work mostly in the private sector that has a very different culture.

    What really is needed is more ‘churning’ between the private sector and teaching. Short term teaching contracts and a minimum period spent outside the public sector between university and teacher training might be worth considering.

    • karen2012

      totally agree with this, I have worked in private sector in middle management for the past 12 years and am now re-training by working as a TA and completing my degree part time. Some of the teachers I work with have gone from school to uni to teaching, they have no life or work experience and it shows.

  • Fair welfare

    Hold on, I thought Michael Gove said teachers don’t need any training, and could just come straight from whatever job they were doing before. Or is that just for academies.

    • Eddie

      And private schools – many if not most teachers at those in subjects like PE and sport do not have degrees or teacher training. Usually they’re ex-arm and/or former semi-professional rubgy/cricket players and/or perverts.
      But really, learning on the job is what one does anyway; the PGCE is meant to give a professional sheen to things, and introduce students to the theory (remember, some of those on PGCE courses are thick as curry).
      Did a PGCE improve my teaching one iota? Nope. What taught me how to teach was a year in the deep end overseas – something many school teachers here wouldn’t be able to cope with at all (no ‘support’, not ‘teamroom’, no photcopies etc).
      Sadly, teacher trainers see their task as poselytising their pet theories – political correctness, diversity, multiculturalism, anti-selection pro-mixed ability ethos, multiple intelligences theory, child-centred nonsense – rather than teaching that theory is an unbiased way that encourages new teachers to think for themselves and teach better. Teacher training is intensely political.

      • Chris

        Could you explain to me the reasoning behind espousing being thrown “in the deep end”? I’ve been given support and training in every course and job I’ve done, even crappy minimum-wage jobs. Nobody expects you to be good at something complex with minimal or no training (except you, perhaps), and I don’t see why teaching should be any different.

  • Michael990

    Unfortunately all rather late. We have several generations of dim left wing thinking to get rid of, including, with rare exceptions like Gove, the present government. The latest example of idiocy being the apparent refusal to let the US use our bases against Iran because of foreign office legal opinion. Will no one rid us of these people?

    • Eddie

      Indeed. And I can also relate that the majority of any PGCE teacher training course does NOT teach trainees about teaching at all; most of it is blatant politically correct left wing pro-comprehensive anti-selection diversity-obsessed propaganda – most of it is attempted brainwashing really, to ensure all teachers worship at the altar of misplaced multiculturalism and political correctness.

      As someone who believes in traditional educational values – as seen in grammar schools (ie not schools as factories to provide call centre operatives and corporate clones) – and selective schools (so that the non-academic get a great education too), I – and those who shared my views (and the very few who had the intelligence to think for themselves and the guts to express their opinion) – were made to feel about as welcome as a rabbi at a meeting of the Muslim brotherhood…

      Needless to say, all these academic teacher trainers love anyone with a brown skin and a minority religion (and will turn a blind eye to bigotry and hatred expressed in its name) and hate Jews (or as they say: Zionists or Israel).
      Try reading the campus novel ‘Crump’ to see what I mean (I loved that boom because it is obviously set in the place I recognise from my PGCE course)

  • Eddie

    I absolutely agree than teachers should have good subject knowledge and be highly educated – the thing is, some of the most educated and intelligent people I know have 3rd class degrees (often because of illness or distractions when at university) and lots of real thickies have 2.1 degree and masters and even PhDs! So Gove’s criterion of a 2.1 degree (or is it 2.2) is silly: David Dimbleby, Rory McGrath, Caroil Vorderman have 3rd class degree as have very many novellists from the 20th century!

    What is sad is that people think what one did for 3 years when a teenager is evidence of present levels of intellligence and ability. The teahcing profession (and many others) is full of rather mediocre plodding people who want a safe job from which they are virtually unsackable, and a great pension. Look at academics! Most have never ever had teacher training and never ever have to prove they can teach!

    In private schools, plenty of teachers do not even have degrees! And actually, I see that as fine – because why should your rugby teacher also teach you geography (badly)? Less focus on some sort of benchmark would be better – but no doubt the system is far too shallow for that. I think anyone with A level English could pick it up.

    I would like to see regular tests of doctors, academics, council officials and others too though – a lot of the older higher-paid bureaucrats in those fields are the ones who are most mediocre and damaging to others’ lives.

    Really, to teach GCSE you do NOT need to be a genius. In fact, the more educated and iltellectual peopel tend to tire of it and move on, as I did – I left lecturing/teaching to start a business and write, although I give occasional lectures on various stuff.

    I did my PGCE at a crappy former poly where most people on the course were African. Some foreign trainees were so low in their academic level that my jaw regularly dropped, it’s true.

    But does an art teacher need to be great at maths? Does a maths or science teacher need to be that good at words? (maths/science teachers always tended to be men, but now the education system has become utterly feminised, most have left, leaving those with very littel expertise teaching those subjects esp in the crappy comprehensives which are often man-free zones).

    I do in general support Gove’s reforms though – I always found the sheer ignorance and lack of education of some of my colleagues in colleges startling. But then, so what if they are innumerate and ignorant of science and history? Teaching GCSE English ain’t brain surgery, after all.

    • Eddie

      I’d also make the point that an A grade (or 2.1/1st) degree now is perhaps what a 2.2 or lower was 20 or more years ago – and there is NO WAY a high graded degree from some former poly college is the equivalent of the same from a Russell Group uni either.

      This idea that those with 1st class degrees are ‘high flying’ is a nonsense. All it means is they worked a lot and constantly went back and forth to tutor to improve their work: I know this because I was that tutor! I can say that often the plodders and mediocrities who utterly lacked deep or original thinking got the best grades because it is they who met the plodding criteria!

      Also, so many teachers these days look like spivs in their shiny used-car-salesman suits: these yes-men are not in any way the sort of people who would inspire me, but more like bureaucrats in some awful corporate teaching army. Yuck!

      I remember some teachers from my childhood (and had a lot of aunties who were teachers too) – one of them was a brilliant English and drama teacher in a girls’ grammar school, but she was completely dreamy in that old school bluestocking academic way, and these days she would be forced out of teaching for not being a bureaucrat, a sychophant and member of the exam factory system that churns out GCSE passes from the coporate production line. No – because she would be too intellectual and inspiring!

      She is no longer with is but would be appalled at the fact that the most important thing in the ‘education’ system these days is passing exams – and would be amazed that a child can now get a top grade in English GCSE without ever having read a book all the way through. She believed that education was all about learning and thinking and becoming cultured and knowledgeable, being inspired by books and drama, learning how to ask better questions and drink in the intellectual joys of human history and achievement (not just box-ticking and giving everyone a prize). I agree with her.

      She taught several kids who grew up to be famous actors and household names too – and inspired several to become actors. But these days, she’d probably be working in a library or similar (one of the few that hasn’t become a ‘learning zone’, that is).

      Sadly, that kind of teacher who can inspire in a quiet and non-box-ticky way is an endangered species; instead we live in the age of the spiv sychophant box-ticking grade-obsessed ‘learning facilitator’. Might as well use robots really…

      • Adam Dyson

        The fact you claim to be a lecturer with grammar and spelling such as you have posted, means quite obviously… you’re lying.

        And yes, Art teachers need to be “good at words”, have you completed a GCSE in Art? Do you understand the requirements of the curriculum, its not all painting and stencil work.

        When I as at school, we we’re being taught to spell sulphuric with an f as it didn’t matter, this always astonished me; even at 16.

        Confidence and relationships play a key role in development of young adults. I know that I would never approach my tutor for support as she was a dragon, but had a great relationship with our head of year, a PE teacher. Are you honestly suggesting that any adult in that position should not be able to offer a fundamental level of support to all students?

        Perhaps you are on of these coasters and “whingers” the article talks about.

        • 2trueblue

          Agree with you in your assessment of the above. No wonder we are in trouble.

        • Eddie

          Adam – nothing wrong with my grammar and spelling, you nincompoop. You call me a liar based on no evidence at all. Great debating technique mate – probably got you an A star at your special school. FYI I am a former teacher/lecturer and now a businessman and a professional writer – so people pay me lots of dosh to write. In other words, shut up, boy, and go play with your GCSE certificates – because that is about your level, son.
          Buy a dictionary and look up the word TYPO. Also, as ALL high level users of English know (not you then) the context is what matters when writing – so writing in a formal register on a message board would not be appropriate. Twerp.

          Idiots like you would be incapable to teaching – I know that for sure.

          Probably for a pupil of your mediocre level, some sort of grouphuggy PE teacher style lessons were appropriate. At my grammar school, all teachers incl science teachers were highly educated and could spell – but these days, most can’t, esp as there is such a shortage of science teachers that they have barely qualified teachers in that.

          Good luck with you A-levels by the way. My advice: don’t write about things you know nothing about – your own experience and anecdote is interesting to you (no-one else though) but anecdote proves nothing.

          • Chris

            That should be “Idiots like you would be incapable OF teaching”.

  • Fair welfare

    Raising the quality of teachers is a great idea, but cutting their pay and conditions is not a recognised way of attracting and motivating high quality applicants.
    Tougher tests sound good, but you still need to attract the applicants, and I would want my teacher to be able to use a calculator :-/

    • razzysmum

      Fair weather
      Any idiot can use a calculator, you press buttons and it tells you the answer.
      Having to THINK and add or subtract etc takes a brain… are you saying you want our teachers to be brain-dead?

  • davetheginge

    Teachers knowing maths and English to a good standard will help them embed learning of these essentials in the context of their own lesson, which helps pupils see the point and use in maths / high English standards; the problem is his blinkered and old fashioned idea of how this would be done. TAKE THE CALCULATORS OFF THEM! Great idea Gove, make children all use quills while you’re at it. Maths is bigger and far more interesting and important than arithmetic, do we aspire to being a nation of shopkeepers?

    • Eddie

      ‘Embed’ is a much-used smelly word, together with differentiation, assessment for learning, learning styles etc.
      But really, why should a biology teacher be ’embedding’ maths and English in his lesson at all? We should have maths and English teachers for that! What concerns me most is that biology teachers these days worship misplaced multiculturalism so much (and are fearful of the repercussions of challenging it) that half of them teach the nonsense of faith-based creationism as an alternative to the fact of evolution: now THAT is a disgrace.
      Now, in my schools days (80s) at a top grammar, all teachers were very educated (though some were crap at teaching and lazy too) and so could spell and count; these days that will not be the case, esp at comprehensives, because a lot of younger teachers have got GCSEs and A level and degrees from a dumbed down system in which they lost very few (if any) marks for appalling spelling. That’s the way it is these days.
      I agree generally with Gove’s attempt to return the standards I grew up with at a grammar school to the education system – I wish him the best of luck! But it is parents who will do for him: if the standards of the 80s were returned to, most pupils would fail GCSEs and A-levels, for a start. And mummy and daddy so want little Johnny or Mohammed to get 11 A* grades eh (even if these are the equivalent of a C at O level, if that!)

  • TomTom

    Gove is doing a long-overdue cleaning of the Augean Stables. He is a bright spark in an otherwise dull array of nebulous activity. The simple fact is that some pupils are simply not academic and some are disruptive. they need removing from a learning environment and teachers need to be accountable for working for their incomes instead as many appear to do offloading responsibility onto home tutors top compensate for their mediocre lesson plans, failure to adhere to the exam curriculum and reliance on handouts and lousy textbooks in place of engaging pupils in the subject and taxing their knowledge.

    • Eddie

      Teachers are assessed way more than academics and doctors – who never get assessed: they are amongst the most assessed and tested employees in state employ.
      Moreover, it is a fallacy that the best teachers work in the schools that have the highest results: a teacher can only work with what they are given – as carpenter can only make a fine piece of furniture from decent wood, though he could knock some crap together with chipboard…
      Many well-educated people had some truly terrible teachers at school (state and private) – and in fact, a really engaging teacher only adds value of about 10% according to research.
      Most teachers may well be mediocre – but then so are most doctors, surgeons, politicians, council workers, academics and those in business. Teaching is really not an easy option, much as I despise the politically correct socalled ‘progressive’ orthodoxy in schools these days. Easy to bash of course – but really, the way many kids are brought up these dayts makes them spoilt disruptive brats – so it is PARENTS and not teachers who are to blame for most crap in schools.
      Solution? Have selective schools where the bright can learn with the bright (as at the grammar school I went to) and the non-academic can leave academic sclassrooms behind aged 13/14: this is the system in central and Eastern Europe and Germany. It works. We are not equal – and it is the silly leftwingery of egalitarianism, which the uber-loonie-leftie teaching unions (who are in fact deeply conservative and anti-change) promote, that is a huge barrier here.

      • james102

        Just another example of the fallacy of proportionate outcomes that dominates the thinking of our political class. As it is entrenched in many aspects of law it will be an uphill struggle.

  • Heartless etc.,

    Wonderful – desperately needed and long overdue!