Why We Don’t Need to be Qualified Teachers to Home Educate
Some of the discussion surrounding Home Education today, thanks to the travesty of a programme from Channel 4 last night, is about parents not being qualified to teach their children. Lots of people think that we should be qualified teachers to be allowed to home educate our own children.
Well, I am a qualified teacher and let me tell you – it’s of no help whatsoever. Here’s why:
- Teacher training teaches you how to handle a class of 30 (more or less).
- It attempts to teach you how to facilitate personal learning in large groups.
- It teaches you how not to cry when a class is being really mean (the course itself doesn’t teach you this, but teaching practice certainly does).
- It teaches you what to do if a class decides to walk out, en masse (let’s face it, there’s nothing you could do to stop it.). And actually, I didn’t learn this on my PGCE course either. I read it in a book.
- It teaches you how to write a lesson plan (using the format your university requires which will be nothing like the format your new school will require).
- It teaches you how to set and mark level assessments. (I assume it does. Level assessments were not required in my subject when I trained to be a teacher).
- It definitely teaches you how to go all day without time for a cuppa or a loo break. Well, you train yourself to do these incredibly unhealthy things so you can do all the things you’re supposed to do (like teach a class at one end of the campus before break, do your breaktime supervision shift at the other end of the campus and then teach a class straight after break back at the original end of the campus, all without being late, and preferably turning up before the students do. Hermione Granger was not the first person to use a time turner to be in two places at once!)
Here’s what teacher training doesn’t teach you:
- Subject Knowledge.
You have to have that already, or pick it up as you go along. Anything you studied in your degree will be useless, because it’s far too advanced for the average year 7 group. Or year 11. It might be useful at A Level (but then the A Level I taught was in something I’d never studied ….).
In my last school, the largest secondary school in England, where I was Head of Religion, Philosophy & Ethics, I was also required to teach History and Geography, because it was decided that all Humanities teachers should teach all Humanities subjects at KS3. I never studied either of these subjects past year 9 myself, and can remember almost nothing of either of them (I stopped studying both subjects in 1988!). So I, a well qualified and knowledgeable Religious Studies teacher, struggled through history and geography lessons, with not a clue what half of it meant, whilst in the next classroom, geography teachers were trying to deliver religious studies lessons on topics they’d never heard of. Hardly an efficient use of expertise, but also perfectly demonstrating that school teachers are often not experts in the subjects they are teaching.
When we were asked to cover lessons, we’d be expected to deliver lessons we’d had no prep for, on all kinds of subjects. I was once asked to cover a Russian lesson, for the only Russian speaking teacher in the school. The lesson plan, test and instructions were all in Russian and the students – in their first term of learning Russian – didn’t know enough to work out what it said. Needless to say we didn’t do Russian that lesson. I also covered French, Maths, Food Technology, Woodwork, Art, Science, IT, Music and a host of other things. I mention the ones above because these are the ones where I was left lesson plans I was expected to deliver, not just a worksheet for the students to complete whilst I supervised.
My point is, that even qualified teachers are expected to teach subjects they have no knowledge of. When I did my PGCE, you had to have a degree in your main subject and at least an A Level in any other subject you wanted to be qualified to teach in. Then as soon as you’re qualified, you have to teach things you didn’t even get a GCSE in.
So if teachers in schools are winging it half the time, then what makes parents, who have just their own children to focus on, any less qualified? I have far more time as a home educating parent to research topics than I ever did as a full time teacher.
Oh and by the way, in my first year of teaching, I taught more than 600 different children a week. SIX HUNDRED. I taught 22 classes a week, most with an average of 30 children, and a couple with just 8-10 students.
So, in comparison to that, facilitating the learning of just my own three children is a breeze! I don’t need to write lesson plans that jump through DfE/Ofsted’s latest hoops; I don’t need to control a class of 30. I don’t need to be in three places at once, because I plan our week in something approaching a sensible manner – something schools never seemed to be able to do. I don’t need to sit in endless meetings about “our core values” or engage in blue sky thinking (seriously – I once spent an entire 4 hour session on a teaching training day engaged in blue sky thinking. We were asked to imagine how we’d deliver our subject if money was no object. A pointless exercise, as money was most definitely an object! After an hour of this, we were then asked to work out how to deliver these wonderful ideas within current budget constraints; which was simply not possible. At the end of 4 hours, our workshop leader grumpily agreed that we should just continue as we were). I don’t need to set and grade level assessments, because levels are only really used to show how well a school is performing. I don’t need to write reports for parents.
What I need to home educate my children is enthusiasm and the ability to research anything I don’t know. Two of my children are still primary school aged, and I think most of us are sufficiently knowledgeable to help them learn at this age. My eldest is 13, and is studying two GCSEs. One of those is my subject, so I’m happy to facilitate that myself. The other is Chemistry, and although I have a GCSE in Chemistry, I’ve never used this information since I took my exams in 1990. I don’t feel confident in this area and so we have bought access to a well resourced, popular and successful online Chemistry course which delivers weekly content. It was not expensive, and he’s loving it. And as he decides on other subjects he’d like to take at GCSE, we’ll assess whether we can learn together at home, or need to find alternative provision. But that’s the beauty of HE. There are many options out there. There are academic groups children can go to for most subjects, should this be the route a family wants to take, or everything can be learnt at home. Most families do a bit of both.
But whilst we’re here, let’s dispel the myth that everyone who teaches children in school is a qualified teacher. They’re not. In 2003, I worked in one of the first academies in the country. It wasn’t a statistic they liked people to know, but 25% of their teaching staff were unqualified. That doesn’t mean that they were training whilst they taught, as happens in the Graduate Teacher Training Programme. It means that they are teaching, without having undertaken any training for the job, and as such they were paid the Unqualified Teacher pay rate, which was about 60% of the salary of a Newly Qualified Teacher. They’re very popular in the current academies too – they’re good for the profit margin.
Teaching assistants, many of whom are very skilled at what they do (and what they do can be very specialised and also seems to often require the patience of a saint), are now expected to teach whole classes. Where they used to be able to undertake training to get the top TA pay rate, now many are expected to do all that they did before, AND teach classes if they want to keep that pay rate. And let’s be clear, they are paid a fraction of what a qualified teacher receives.
So, just how qualified is qualified?