Should all teachers be “unqualified”?

David Davis

There is a bit of a to-do in the MSM at present, with the LabourNazis saying that all teachers should embrace Marxism, have QTS, and other saying that it’s counterproductive. It rather depends what you want, as a nation, out of an “education system”, as if that entire term was not already tautological.

My own thoughts, reflecting on a longish life and how I got here, are this.

I don’t think I was every taught by a “qualified teacher”.
***Miss White was a WW1-widow who’d been teaching little boys for 39 years before she began to confiscate my dinky-toys.
***Mr Roberts was an ex-RSM who taught us maths and PT, had fought in Sicily and later was ordained as a CofE priest.
***Mr Woods had run a portion of Kenya the size of Wales. He taught History and Scripture. He explained patiently to us instead of a scripture lesson, why we needn’t be frightened of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After that, none of us was afraid for we then knew what was going on and why. He thought that “knowledge can drive out fear”.
***Mr Warner was a chemistry graduate looking for any job he could get. He fired me off on exploring science, from which I never wavered and to which I returned in old age.
***Mr German Went Over The Top at Serre on 1st July 1916 with a Lancashire battalion, and lived to teach us Latin, Ancient History and Maths (at a turn.) In every first week of July, he’d scrap Latin for a lesson or two and teach us about the geopolitics of WW1. He was very bad-tempered but we forgave him for we thought it was “shell-shock”.
***Robert Roseveare taught A-level pure maths, and broke Enigma at Bletchley Park (we only learned that after he died not long ago.)
***(Dr) Barnes Wallis turned up when he still could (he was old) and taught us Mechanics and Properties of Matter for A-level Physics.
***David Miller was a concert pianist, and became our Head of Chemistry after he badly injured his hands in an accident. It’s also worth adding (I had forgotten) that he covertly taught us 6th former scientists the grand game of BRIDGE, in the Physics Library, at times when we were really supposed to be playing Rugby or uselessly running. He’d “sign off our “sick chits”  for us to give to the “prefects” afterwards, so we’d not get detentions. He was a genuinely nice and kind man and we all loved him, even though he was short-tempered and bitter about his injuries.
***Michael Squibbs was quite mental, and taught us German better then the subsequent native speaker/student who took us over after a year. I therefore only got a “grade 6″: shame really.
*** Dennis “Batty” Barnham turned out to be a “spitfire ace” who defended Malta, shot down 7 enemy aircraft, and lived. From him we learned “the history of western architecture”, and he taught me personally how to _really really draw_ … As he put it, it was: “How To See The Picture Directly Onto Your Paper!” (I can still draw quite well.)

I haven’t mentioned them all, for memories of some others are hazy. There was also another fellow, Mr Collie, who insisted on discussing the latest Sino-Indian trans-Himalayan War with us when we were aged about 1o. We found it quite interesting and illuminating regarding international affairs, and it improved our geography comprehension as a result. And it had nowt to do with the maths lesson he was supposed to be taking.

None of these men – and one grumpy old woman – had a teaching Qualification. In 1960, indeed, Miss White decided it was perhaps time to marry again (she must have been about 62) and married a Mr Ashton, who had lost his wife in 1917 on some torpedoed ship or other.

Whenever I’m teaching, I try to be like one or more of these people.

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7 responses to “Should all teachers be “unqualified”?

  1. I have been a teacher; I have selected interviewed, appointed and managed teachers. I also hold a doctorate in education. I consider the PGCE to be a handicap, not an asset, in teaching. It signifies that the holder has willingly undergone a year of government indoctrination in left-wing thought. The only worthwhile element in it is the classroom experience.

    The best teachers I knew and worked alongside in the independent secondary sector were not “qualified”. They would complete a probationary year under mentorship from senior staff and effectively train on the job. It was very readily apparent that this system was efficient at establishing who had what it took to teach and who did not. Unlike the PGCE system there was no automatic trust in competence; there was no fall-back on “I must be able to do this – I’ve got the piece of paper that says so” and there was no hiding-place for those who could master the theory but not the practice. In interview, the candidate was required to teach the interviewing panel a given topic for twenty minutes. This established that they could communicate effectively, that they understood the basics of presentation to a class, and that they would probably not bore you to tears if subjected to them for two hours every Friday. The only thing it could not test directly was disciplinary control, which became a judgement call based largely on demonstrated character and personality. Teaching is 90% character and 10% subject knowledge.

    Teaching is not the same as being a children’s entertainer, and it grieves me to see the two confused as they have been under the government’s current regime. I have always seen the role of the teacher as being to impart knowledge from a position of expertise and to take an active position of advocacy for the success of his or her charges. The pressure to include “activities” and other Ofsted-approved distractions hinders learning and threatens classroom discipline. What is needed is teacher exposition, structured class discussion and clear principles for learning to be set out, tested and reinforced until they are second nature. Teachers must be authority figures. They are there to support and guide, but they are not there to be the friend of their charges; nor are they any true friend by adopting a false familiarity.

    And moreover, teachers can only do their job within a framework of proper discipline and structure. The collusion between school management and parents in undermining the life chances of students is tragic, but it is merely a symptom of society’s wider malaise in which the legal and social framework panders to children instead of showing them by example and by precept clear behavioural boundaries and moral standards of conduct. Teachers are not social workers, nor can they be substitute parents. The opportunities for personal development which I had in attending an outstanding grammar school and which my students later had in attending an outstanding independent college have been, if not destroyed, then so etiolated that they have been comprehensively reduced.

    If I think of the incredible array of characters that taught me – most of whom I still remember quite well – one thing that strikes me is how different they were. It genuinely mattered in those days who you were taught by. Of course, there were some duds in the pack, but there were also some who were acknowledged at the time (and I have no reason to doubt this now) as figures of some brilliance, and indeed some eccentricity. When it came to discipline, I remember well the teacher whose control was so absolute that he could dismiss an assembly of 500 third, fourth and fifth-formers in total silence, row by row, with hand-gestures alone. We shall not see his like again…

  2. A very good post from David Davis and a very good comment from John Kersey.

  3. Edward Spalton

    I was briefly a governor of an infants’ school circa 1990. My own children had attended a few years before and the headmistress was a conscientious, traditional sort. In those days reading scores were a much better kept secret than anything guarded by MI5 but she confided in me that she was worried about their decline, which she put down to late nights and videos. It was pretty obvious to me – although I was not allowed to see the evidence- that the problem was with younger, new teachers who had been indoctrinated in the latest fashionable methods ( phonics-actually sounding letters-was frowned on).
    The children had an art display where they each painted a picture of somebody at work with a caption and short explanation. One lad had done a very dramatic picture which he had titled “A Fireman”. The teacher had crossed that out and replaced it with the PC, gender-neutral “Firefighter” but spelling mistakes in the rest of the caption were uncorrected. When I queried this, I was told that it would be “too discouraging” to do so. When I asked “How is he going to learn, if you won’t tell him?” I was given a professional, ” caring” smile and told it didn’t matter. The headmistress retired, very discouraged and my co-option was not long extended.

  4. Mr. Davis: I envy you your itinerate faculty. All I had for teachers were state-certified manqués, some more intelligent and learned than others, but for the most part a stable of yawners. I really didn’t begin to learn anything until I left high school and studied under my own terms, and not those of the state.

    • One of the things grumpy old Mr Woods told us all was this…”BOYS!!! WHAT ARE YOU HERE FOR…???” (The correct answer was “to learn how to learn, Sir.”)

  5. Until 1972 no teaching qualification was required of graduates if they wished to become schoolteachers. No discernible harm came from this.

  6. Yes it was the early 1970s Mr Henderson.

    Indeed if someone taught before that time, they still can teach without being “qualified” – an old friend of mine is one such person.