10 September 2012
The continued debate about the use of unregistered teachers, this time in the Partnership Schools, seems to me miss the point of the real issue.
On one level it is clear that people who work in schools should be subject to a set of criteria that ensure so far as is possible, the safety of young people. The importance of this is constant at all levels but has increased intensity with the younger students. Police checks, established identity and perhaps other tests of character are important and a “registration” process is one way of maintaining a standard across the education sector.
But when the demand that teachers in schools be “registered” is code for a view that teachers in schools should have qualifications from the current set that typifies teachers then the argument breaks down. If the educational outcomes of schools is to change, and I hear no arguments being pursued that this is not the case, then we do need to think through the question of “who should teach in schools?” This is not the same as saying that all teachers in schools be registered.
With younger students there are many schools in the country that would benefit from having a wider set of language skills reflected in their teaching staff. Te Reo Maori, Pacific community languages, the languages of migrant groups are all very special in their contribution to the language development of young members of different communities and to the richness of an education in New Zealand for all young students.
Teachers trained in the Pacific who have fluency in both English and a Pacific community language are available and would add greatly to the effectiveness of education in linguistically diverse settings. But the current registration process seems to get bogged down because of its pre-occupation with course approval. (Health has the same issues.)
At the secondary level, much of the work currently being done indicates that many students when offered the opportunity to engage in what many still persist in calling “vocational education” (so as to mark it out from “academic education”) will make better progress and reach higher levels of attainment across the board. But this requires teachers who have a different career trajectory from the traditional school to university and back to school track that the conventional qualifications imply.
Such people do not sometimes meet the criteria for “registration” because of the courses they have undertaken. But they are needed as teachers and given a “clean” background ought to be able to work in schools without financial penalty
At all levels there are roles for people to work in different ways to contribute to effective education outcomes. Short bursts of input in specialist areas, the instruction in specialised settings that broaden the education experience, and specialised contributions from people whose lives are spent predominantly outside of the school and such other people all have contributions to make. They are, if their backgrounds are appropriate, “fit to teach”.
This all adds up to saying that teaching requires a set of people with wide skills to bring out the best in a set a young people with wide needs, interests, aptitudes and capacity to make progress.
I promised some more snippets from my recent reading about Finland.
There are in Finland five kinds of teachers who work with students in the K-12 part of the education system:
- kindergarten teachers working in the one year kindergarten programme (age 6) prior to starting school (age 7);
- primary school teachers responsible for years 1-6 (age 7-13) in the 9 year comprehensive schools (they usually teach at one grade level and only teach several subjects);
- subject teachers working in the upper levels of the basic school (ages 14 – 16) in the subject disciplines such as maths, physics, chemistry etc;
- special education teachers working with individuals and groups throughout the comprehensive schools;
- vocational education teachers working in the upper secondary vocational schools.
So perhaps Finland has built into its system greater diversity. But there are some tough requirements too. All Finnish teachers must hold a Masters degree, introduced in the belief that teaching was a scholarly activity that should be based on research. Interestingly, there is only one teachers’ organisation in Finland to which 95% of all teachers at all levels from kindergarten through to university teaching belong. This implies a parity of esteem that we have yet to achieve.
Believing that we need a wider group of people in teaching does not lead to an inevitable loss of standards but rather could lead to a general increase in both standards and quality both in terms of input through teaching and outcomes through learning. With what we know about the importance of teacher quality, this bears thinking about.