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Should secondary teachers have to pass a subject knowledge exam before being allowed to teach that subject?

(155 Posts)
noblegiraffe Tue 24-Oct-17 09:53:24

Something I've been wondering lately. The threads about unqualified teachers, teachers teaching outside their specialism, whether requiring teachers to have a degree is meaningful when many teach a subject not relevant to their degree.

I know subject knowledge isn't all, and people can be very knowledgable and still be crap teachers, but can you have a good teacher who doesn't meet a minimum standard of subject knowledge?

cantkeepawayforever Tue 24-Oct-17 10:23:43

I think it depends on year group, subject, and area of the subject.

For example, a Year 7 group will only just have come from primary, where it is considered totally normal for a child to be taught History / Geography / RE by non-specialists. Someone who has a good knowledge of the Y7 curriculum in many of these subjects, and decent pedagogical skills, even if they don't have wider subject knowledge, may well do an OK job.

Higher up the school, and for certain 'skills' subjects, I would say not. I would count 'skills' subjects as being things like Maths, Art, PE, Music - where simply knowing and imparting 'content' is not sufficient because the learner has to 'do something' (over and above fact organisation) to apply the skills to the task in front of them.

Of course deep subject knowledge, teamed with excellent teaching skills, is the best combination. However, the importnce of deep subject knowledge does vary with subject and age group, IMO ... but then, I am a generalist primary teacher, so i would say that!

TeenTimesTwo Tue 24-Oct-17 10:27:51

I can see how that would make sense for maths. But then asking someone who doesn't have at least an A level in maths to teach maths at secondary would, I think, be extremely dangerous to a school given how performance measures are done.

But English Lit? I can imagine a situation where a teacher has to teach a book or a Shakespeare play they haven't previously studied formally. So would you want to examine subject knowledge or skills ability? Similar for a History teacher who maybe studied European 20th Century and then has to teach American West. Is it the subject knowledge or the skills you want to test? (Though maybe this is just a side question).

In general, I don't really see how it benefits a school long term to employ an incompetent teacher (whether through lack of subject knowledge or teaching ability). I can see it would be cheaper and plus a short term hole, but longer term there would be failed exams, failed Ofsteds and falling roles (and therefore falling income), wouldn't there?

At least lower down a school, would it be better to have a good Geography teacher teaching History by staying one page ahead of the class, of a less good person with a degree in History?

Ideally you have good qualified teachers all being paid decent money with fewer teaching hours, with exams fit for purpose for both bright, middle and low achiever kids. And the moon would be made of cheese and pigs will fly

noblegiraffe Tue 24-Oct-17 17:20:21

Is there not some basic subject knowledge that you would want all English teachers to have, regardless of books studied?

What I would want is something that would stop a school putting History on some teacher's timetable, purely because they have a gap in their timetable in the right place. At the moment I don't think there's anything stopping schools from doing this.

Ttbb Tue 24-Oct-17 17:23:14

I once had a teacher who taught history but didn't realise that the nazi party wasn't around during WWI. She didn't last long and was sent back to the PE department.

TeenTimesTwo Tue 24-Oct-17 18:42:36

That's interesting noble
I would want them to be able to write grammatically and spell and punctuate properly (though tbh I want that from all secondary teachers).
I would expect them to be widely read, have knowledge of Shakespeare, Austin, Dickens but also modern authors, poets, a wide variety of genres.
I'd expect them to know all the stuff I don't about analysing texts etc.

I would be shocked shock if an English teacher didn't know R&J, Macbeth, P&P, Oliver Twist, Harry Potter.

prh47bridge Tue 24-Oct-17 20:55:48

At the moment I don't think there's anything stopping schools from doing this.

I don't think there ever has been.

As cantkeepawayforever says, primary school teachers are expected to cover pretty much the entire syllabus regardless of any formal qualifications. They don't need deep knowledge of the subject, just enough to teach at the appropriate level. When I was at primary school (over 50 years ago!) I distinctly remember one teacher telling the class two things that were wrong, one of which I knew at the time was wrong because I'd seen a schools programme on tv about it. Given the range of subjects primary school teachers have to cover it wouldn't surprise me if that still goes on.

Secondary school teachers specialise but I can remember being taught some subjects by teachers for whom it was not their speciality. It didn't happen often but it did happen.

Speaking personally, I want a teacher to be enthusiastic about their subject and able to communicate that enthusiasm to their pupils. I want them to teach the curriculum effectively (not like the qualified history teacher I came across a few years ago who taught their class that Hitler's real name was Schicklgruber). I would normally expect them to have some kind of qualification in the subject but I would rather have someone who is keeping one page ahead of the class and meets the above criteria than someone who holds a masters degree in the subject but is unable to communicate any enthusiasm for it.

So I think on balance you can put me down as a definite maybe smile

Katnisnevergreen Thu 26-Oct-17 12:55:13

But Hitlers father was called Schicjlegruber and changed it. Why is that wrong?

prh47bridge Thu 26-Oct-17 14:28:08

Yes, his father was initially called Schicklgruber but he changed it to Hitler (his step-father's name - his step-father is thought to be his other father although that is not certain) over a decade before Adolf was born.

Adolf was christened Adolphus Hitler.

There is no justification for saying Adolf Hitler's real name was Schicklgruber as this teacher did. That implies that he was, or should have been, called Adolf Schicklgruber at birth which is not true. His real name was Adolphus Hitler. That is the name in the baptismal record. If Austria had introduced birth certificates when he was born, that would have been the name on his birth certificate.

TheFifthKey Thu 26-Oct-17 14:32:11

I was going to get indignant until I saw who started this thread - yeah, I know where you’re coming from. I’ve seen absolutely shocking subject knowledge especially from new teachers - English teachers who’ve somehow never read Shakespeare, for example. I observed a trainee confuse adjectives and adverbs in a lesson, and it was clearly because he didn’t know, not observation flusteredness. I’ve known schools give English teachers y7 Spanish to teach on the grounds they lived in Latin America for a couple of months. However, we all know this would lead to basically no teachers left. Also, in my subject (Media) hardly anyone is qualified in the actual subject. We’ve all (willingly!) migrated from other areas and picked it up as we went along. I love it and do have great subject knowledge but that’s more by accident than design.

Farontothemaddingcrowd Thu 26-Oct-17 14:36:00

I would find that insulting tbh. I have a 2.1 in English Literature and language from Oxford.

noblegiraffe Thu 26-Oct-17 14:49:37

Far and because you have a 2:1 in English you'd be happy to go into school to find RE on your timetable? Or maths?

I get the hmm about your own subject, I had to pass the numeracy QTS skills test despite being a maths teacher. I suppose that to get onto a PGCE in a particular subject you need a degree at least related to that subject so that's a basic check (do Schools Direct have the same requirements??). But then once qualified you can be directed by your school to teach other subjects with no sort of subject knowledge check.

Primary school teachers like can't might shrug and say welcome to our world, but they're at least only teaching up to to 11 year olds and not potentially actual qualifications.

Farontothemaddingcrowd Thu 26-Oct-17 14:52:51

No I get that point. Maths I'd be horrified and refuse to do it!

noblegiraffe Thu 26-Oct-17 15:32:13

I don't think that, as things stand, you could refuse to do it.

ourkidmolly Thu 26-Oct-17 15:37:10

Ha! Are you joking? More obstacles to being a teacher? We can’t recruit anyone in my children’s schools in inner London never mind the optimally qualified. It’ll be a breathing body soon.

noblegiraffe Thu 26-Oct-17 15:42:43

Yes, more obstacles to being a teacher because while schools can put anybody with a pulse in front of a class and say that it's staffed, there is no incentive for the DfE to actually sort the problem of the lack of suitably qualified teachers is there?

Who is losing out in the long term? The kids.

Paperdove87 Thu 26-Oct-17 16:04:55

I’m a Maths teacher. One of my previous schools asked me if I could fill a gap in A level geography. I don’t even have a geography GCSE! I was pretty horrified about that. I said no.

On the other hand, this year I’m teaching a few KS3 Science lessons on top of my Maths timetable and I am really enjoying it! I feel like I have enough basic subject knowledge to teach at this level, and the different style of teaching for science is reinvigorating my practice. It’s been great fun and while I was a bit hmm at first I’m really enjoying it. I think that with enough time teachers can adapt to other subjects and someone who has enough teaching practice should be able to pick up another subject, but not above KS3. Of course time is what we don’t have enough of...

cantkeepawayforever Thu 26-Oct-17 16:09:39

I am not shrugging and saying 'welcome to my world' - I am thinking about whether the point between Y6 and Y7 is the only possible 'break point' between being taught all subjects by a generalist and being taught each subject by a specialist.

I agree that for GCSE - perhaps even for Y9+ - every subject should be taught by a specialist, who is either qualified in that subject or qualified to teach that subject (taking the point about e.g. Media, or about Politics, which is predominantly taught by historians IME).

I agree that for some subjects which are skills-based - Maths, Music, PE, Art, probably MFL - then from y7 it is sensible to be taught by a subject specialist, because it is one thing to 'impart knowledge', and quite another thing to teach skills and coach people to apply them to a problem or task in front of them.

However, there is a grey area between Y7 and Y9 for some subjects, where I think it can be argued that a good Humanities teacher teaching RE or History or even Geography, or perhaps a DT teacher qualified in one of the areas teaching across any of the subjects that fall under the 'Tech' umbrella is not actively harmful, and may be better than a poor teacher who does have a qualification in the subject. Equally, i don't think it is actively harmful for a Y7 / Y8 to be taught the biology components of 'Science' by a chemist.

LancashireTea Thu 26-Oct-17 16:14:12

I'm trained as an English and Drama teacher, but have taught art (never done past ks3 myself, but only taught to year 7 so no real harm), geography (I have A level), ICT (ha!) In the past. This year I'll be teaching year 9 history (due to budget cuts and a mat leave) and am running a small media department (for no pay) in addition to English.

It's a shame that some of us end up placed elsewhere, but with budget cuts then it is bound to happen. I'm comfortable teaching history, art and drama as English has a background in these subjects contextually, but many others struggle. We have PE teaching maths and science at my place and I honestly wouldn't trust their lessons to be amazing. Ofsted are due and it is going to be bad....

noblegiraffe Thu 26-Oct-17 17:40:34

Which subjects would it be ok to bodge teaching in Y7? PE probably, but they have specialists coming out of their ears. Art? Drama?

MFL not. Maths? SLT would probably say it's fine for bottom sets. I'd obviously disagree.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 26-Oct-17 17:56:39

I think it depends on the origin of the teacher, and their quality, rather than the subject being covered.

So given a stable of good teachers I would say that History, Geography, RE could probably be taught, in Y7, by a teacher of any of the others.

Pretty much any DT subject by a teacher of any of the others. Art / Textiles also probably interchangeable.

English teacher teaching Drama - probably OK.

Any Science teacher could teach Science, whatever their subject specialism.

Maths teachers could also possibly teach the Physics element of science, and a strong Physics graduate could probably also teach Maths.

A PE teacher with an A-level in Biology could also probably teach Biology, especially the human aspects.

An MFL teacher with a specialism in 1 language but an A-level or higher in another could teach their alternate language.

However, even though I feel that one Humanity could be covered by another humanity's teachers, it doesn't follow that e.g. a PE teacher could teach history, or an Art teacher RE. It matters what the background of the teacher is, as well as the subject they are required to teach.

noblegiraffe Thu 26-Oct-17 18:22:13

Why would a maths teacher be able to teach physics? A Physics teacher would probably have done a lot of maths in their degree, but a maths teacher won't have necessarily done any physics.

I'd hate to have to teach science, even though I quite like science, because I would be exceptionally uncomfortable at running practicals. I'd want proper training before attempting that, and I don't expect that any would be available for a teacher with a gap on their timetable.

Paperdove87 Thu 26-Oct-17 18:49:22

Yes the science classes I teach are shared with a ‘real’ science teacher who does all the practicals.

And there is some overlap between maths and physics with the mechanics in A level but not loads.

cantkeepawayforever Thu 26-Oct-17 18:49:50

As far as I remember, the fairly small amount of Physics in Y7 Science doesn't have particularly challenging practicals.

I know that a Maths teacher isn't likely to be available to teach Physics, but they would have the subject knowledge (in general) to teach Y7 Physics, if they did A-level - and tbh if a Y6 teacher can run Y6 Science practicals, a secondary teacher running Y7 practicals isn't hugely different. It isn't an exam year - I wouldn't expect it higher up in the school, as I say.

helpfulperson Thu 26-Oct-17 18:50:21

In scotland you do. You are registered as a history teacher or a geography teacher or maths etc and that is all you can teach unless you apply for a second specialisation. to be registered in a subject you have to display that your degree contained enough of the subject or otherwise demonstrate subject knowledge.

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