Paxman, Hunt and the QTS issue

Last night, Newsnight had an item on whether qualified teacher status should be a requirement in state funded schools. Nothing surprising about that. It’s been part of the debate about the problems in some free schools. And there was a debate in the House of Commons on the issue also yesterday.

You might think that the news out of that debate was that the Lib Dems to a person refused to support government policy and abstained. It included a speech by David Laws winding up against the Labour motion but reiterating Lib Dem policy which is exactly the same as the Labour policy. He got round this intriguing dilemma by resorting to anti-Labour abuse on unrelated subjects.

You might have thought that this deserved some coverage. But no – Newsnight confined itself to a sneering rubbishing of the concept of qualified teacher status. In as far as it had any content it was to argue that there are some good teachers without QTS – especially in public schools – so why should we be bothered.

Paxman interviewing Tristram Hunt was then at his sneering and aggressive worst. There was no attempt to ask any questions that might help viewers understand the issue. Instead we had “were you taught by any unqualified teachers?” and “would you send your children to a school where there were unqualified teachers?” – a trivialisation of the debate that really should have no place in a serious news programme. Serious points such as the fact that the most successful systems insist on high levels of qualifications for teachers were dismissed with a world-weary “yeah, you said that before”.

What was surprising was the genuine venom displayed. It seemed to be something that Paxman cared about. One clue could perhaps be in the amount of time the programme spent on the private sector where unqualified teachers apparently are common. Maybe there was a need for one of its products to defend the public school view of the world? Or maybe the threats of Grant Shapps are having their effect? Or, perhaps more likely, we were seeing the journalistic consensus that teaching is not a serious profession and all you really need is a bit of subject knowledge.

Some commentary has taken the view that this was another Paxman triumph. This requires us to believe that shouting over the interviewee and displaying blatant prejudice is a positive feature of interviewing. It also asks us to believe that asking a stupid question five times somehow turns it into a sensible question.

Other commentators have also tried to turn it into a union issue. To them, apparently QTS is a form of closed shop practiced by the teacher unions. Ignoring the fact that teachers without QTS also are members of unions. Ignoring the fact that QTS is something developed by successive governments not unions because they knew that there is a great deal more than subject knowledge to teaching. What of course unions do know is that deregulation of teaching will mean not the recruitment of great minds who are too clever to be bothered to get trained but a race to the bottom. Unqualified teachers will be cheaper and more disposable.

The point is that there is a need to establish a base line to protect the profession – and children – against attempts to cut corners and teachers who haven’t understood the basics of the job. In Tristram’s words in the debate “A great mind might produce a great teacher, but a common standard of training is far more likely to ensure that that is the case most of the time” and “people need more qualifications to get a job in a burger bar than to teach in some English schools.”


4 Comments on “Paxman, Hunt and the QTS issue”

  1. David Pavett says:

    I just watched the Paxman-Hunt interview. It is indeed Paxman at his supercilious and sneering worst. He shows no desire to help the viewing public to understand different sides of the argument, only a desire to score cheap points.

    Given that, I did not feel that Tristram Hunt dealt effectively with the rubbish that Paxman directed it at him. To begin with he (Hunt) made a perfectly reasonable basic case that teacher qualification was a matter of establishing a base line. But that did not suffice for the ensuing hectoring from Paxman.

    It is good to point out the need for a qualification baseline but if the defence of teacher qualification is limited to that then it becomes a very weak defence.

    A stronger case would point out many other issues: (1) the contrast between private and state schools is an absurd one given the different social strata they draw on, the fact that private schools do not deal with children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; (2) teaching is not only a matter of knowing one’s subject but also of being aware of the psychological barriers to learning it that many will have; (3) education does not only take place in the classroom but in the school as a whole and in particular in teams of teachers; (4) teaching is also about being able to understand what is going on in education which requires some knowledge of its history and politics and the different views these involve. One could least other key factors but this is enough to show that Paxman’s view of what makes a good teacher is an extremely narrow one. The problem is that Tristram Hunt did not respond with a fuller view but tried to respond on the grounds set by Paxman.

    Paxman’s repeated question “Would you send your children to a school which had qualified teachers” was a piece of pure nonsense to which Tristram Hunt seemed unable to give a sufficiently forceful response. His response was that he sends his children to state schools (good) where the teachers are well qualified (also good). Still this was obviously not an answer to the question which Paxman put again and again and to which Tristram Hunt gave the same answer again and again. Paxman’s question could have been better dealt with by explaining that the requirement for entry standards is a social policy and carries no implications about what one might be best advised to do in an individual case in the absence of those standards being made universal. I may believe that it is reasonable that doctors should have some retraining every five years (say) but that does not mean that I would not register with a practice, well known to me, where there is no guarantee that every doctor had undergone such retraining.

    Paxman’s question was essentially idiotic. It was a bit like saying to an opponent of capitalism (not that I am suggesting that any one on the Labour front bench comes into that class) should not work for a private company i.e. “If you don’t like capitalism then why don’t you starve until socialism arrives”. This line of questioning is monumentally stupid and I am sorry that Tritstram Hunt seemed at a loss to know how to deal with it.

    Another piece of Paxman nonsense which Tristram Hunt failed to respond to was the situation of people who had been teaching for a long time without a teaching qualification. Paxman suggested that they would be sacked under Labour’s proposals. In fact this is not the case. Labour is has merely proposed that new entrants should have teaching qualifications and that current teachers without them should work towards them. It would probably make good sense to moderate this a little so that someone who has been teaching for a long time and who can produce evidence of a general interest in teaching matters (e.g. interest in debates followed, publications read) should be deemed to be qualified. Be that as it may the fact is that Tristram Hunt ignored the question instead of putting Paxman in his place (as someone who knows very little about the educational arguments).

    Finally, I would like to have had some response from Tristram Hunt about the sheer arrogance of assuming that where as to learn a subject requires years of training the complex business of putting over what one has learned in an engaging way, and participating in the wider responsibilities of the teacher requires none.

    Is the weakness of Tristram Hunt’s responses to Paxman’s onslaught due to inexperience, limited knowledge, narrowness of political concepts or maybe just a bad hair day? Time will tell.

    P.S. As usual there is always someone who can be found on Labour’s right-wing to take the same line as the Tories. In this instance it is former Labour Education Secretary Alan Johnson who has unhelpfully said

    “My worry is that many children won’t have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. If you find someone who is a great musician but they can’t spend three years getting the proper teaching qualifications, I think you should use them.”

    It is alarming that Johnson, as a past Education Secretary, does not know that a qualified musician would not need three years to get a teaching qualification. Or is he suggesting that not being qualified in the subject AS WELL AS not having a teaching qualification is okay with him. Strange stuff.

    With friends like that …

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  3. trevor fisher says:

    dear john

    The next EP is due in December and I am looking for copy, this I think deserves to go in. Paxman has for long showed massive contempt for education and teachers and I would like to run this as part of a BBC issue which is becoming really seriuos. I hope to have Michael Pyke on the grammar school issue, but this is doubtful as he has family problems

    so i would like to use this if yoiu can send word version please. trevor