David Russell, CEO, The Education and Training Foundation

The recent announcement by Justine Greening about creating an apprenticeship route to QTS has opened up a fascinating and important debate about teaching qualifications and professional formation.

While some have welcomed a new route – especially one that might provide a proper ladder of progression from Teaching Assistant to teacher – others have voiced concerns about the prospect of any teacher being a “non-graduate”. While I agree with the argument that high standards must be maintained, this alarm seems to stem mainly from a lack of affinity with and understanding of the apprenticeship as a mode of training and development. Other commentators have been less charitable about what they see as a reactionary kick-back from some quarters (the word ‘snobbery’ has been flying around on Twitter).

So far, the debate has been all about school teaching. But there are apprenticeship standards at an advanced stage of preparation for various coaching, mentoring and teaching roles in post-16 education already, and I hope that Further Education (FE) Colleges and large providers will see them approved very soon so that their levy payments can be unlocked for this purpose.

It has also thrown into sharp relief the role of Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS), which already exists as an FE-based professional formation process, the achievement of which accords legal parity with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Many schools have still not caught up with this piece of legislation from 2012, which states explicitly that anyone who has a valid QTLS certificate also holds QTS by virtue of that fact.

Although QTLS has legal parity with QTS, it is a rather different process to suit the range of teaching and curriculum found in FE. Teachers or trainers must choose to apply as individuals – and rather than being a formal gateway into the profession, it is a process of professional formation to be taken on completion of the initial qualification of the DET.

There are other differences too, most obviously that most of the process is done remotely, before being reviewed and moderated, and that it costs £485, while QTS is free to the trainee.

I am often asked about QTLS by interested FE teachers, and also by policy-makers and commentators who have watched this area for a while, and can often be quite critical of the concept of QTLS. Here are a few of the most common questions I get, and my answers.

“Isn’t QTLS too easy? I have a colleague who got it in a weekend.”

No, it isn’t. Not anymore. But the honest answer is, sometimes it used to be. A look back through our files inherited from Institute for Learners (IfL) shows that the vast majority of applicants always took the formation process very seriously, and completed it in a diligent and reflective manner which was worthy of success. But in truth it was too easy to do the bare minimum and get through if one rushed at it in a determined fashion. We have made many adjustments and improvements to the QTLS process, and I am now very confident it is a highly robust and valid process. QTLS holders should be proud of their achievement.

“Isn’t QTLS too risky? I’m not paying £485 if I might fail!”

That depends on what you think about professional standards. It is my firm view that a high standard should be maintained in QTLS awarding. Without that, the currency is devalued. But this does mean that – yes – some people who have paid will not pass. That’s life.

“Isn’t this QTS by the back door? All teachers should go through the same process”

This argument is a non-starter for anyone who knows anything about the vast diversity of post-16 education settings, modes, entry routes and qualifications. But it might appeal to those who are focusing on school teaching and QTS equivalence. In truth, there is already a considerable diversity of back-stories of those who hold QTS. The current standards and awarding regime for schools are relatively recent, and there are very many older teachers who went through all sorts of processes to be awarded QTS, many of which were far less rigorous and demanding than QTLS.

To take just one example, I am the proud holder of a certificate signed by Estelle Morris informing the world that I hold QTS. I received this by dint of having completed my PGCE and then registering (automatically) with the GTCE (Scotland). Now, granted entry onto my PGCE course was tough; and some aspects of the course itself were tough, too (think Edinburgh the year after Irvine Welsh published Trainspotting). But exit criteria were all but non-existent. Only one colleague from my entire PGCE cohort failed that year, and that was purely political, as he insisted on writing his dissertation in Scots, not English. He is now a published poet and author in Scots, so he had the last laugh. All the rest of us are automatic QTS holders in England, assuming we filled in the right form at the right time.

"Why should I pay £485 for my formation in FE when school teachers get it free?"

This is the most common question I get from sceptical teachers. I have a great deal of sympathy with it. After all, it’s not fair. But this is rather like going to the dentist and demanding to know why she charges you for treatment when you can see your GP for free. The disparity is real – and it rankles. But it’s not a sign of avarice on the part of your dentist, any more than it is of virtue on the part of your doctor. Only the government can decide where public subsidy gets directed. Neither the dentist nor the ETF make the rules on what attracts government funding. But we do believe that all teachers deserve access to a high quality professional formation route. And that is what QTLS is.  

If you don’t hold it, and you haven’t looked at it for some time, and you are interested in investing in your own professional development, then look again and consider applying

Successful candidates give us very positive feedback about the professional benefit they have derived from it. And senior managers who are focused on the quality of their teachers and trainers are waking up to the vital importance of demanding and supporting high professional standards from staff. Many are part-funding QTLS for interested staff now. I suggest you go ahead and explore the option, and give yourself a new professional edge. To borrow an over-used phrase: you really are worth it.

David Russell, CEO, The Education and Training Foundation

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