Trigger warning: This post is deliberately provocative. Feel free to challenge it! I want to encourage discussion and hope everyone steps backs from their personal experience to consider this issue in detail.
A while ago I joined in with a debate on Twitter about qualifications required to undertake teacher (yes I know we call it ‘education’ but that’s fit another day) training in Scotland. It became apparent that I wasn’t able to explain my view in a few tweets so I promised to blog about it – so here it is. Currently you need Higher English but not maths, or any science at all, to get on an ITE course in Scotland. There also appears to be a divide between those who argued for language or those who advocated for STEM. Arguments include that because teachers must communicate with parents a Higher English qualification is essential. I think this is a weak argument, and slightly patronising. I suspect someone who has worked in a war-zone in the forces, or in A&E on a regular basis, will have excellent communication skills that would easily transfer to schools. In comparison passing a course judged on writing essays will prepare you to write more essays. And it may even reinforce certain language or linguistic prejudices about what is ‘right’. I could go on here about verbal communication and teaching the ‘correct (middle/upper class?) speech model’.
I would like to raise another point. Education is a social science, closer to humanities and language based subjects. We get students from the natural sciences coming across to education, and entering the essay writing disciplines, and managing very well. But others find the transition understandably challenging. However I am not sure if many people successfully move the other way, from humanities, art or language based UG courses to postgraduate level STEM subjects (although there are conversion courses for medicine, which I applaud). Building on this education, especially at primary level, is dominated by people who have a background, and usually a preference for, language or humanities over STEM subjects. You also get teachers boasting they ‘don’t do’ STEM but rarely anyone saying the same about humanities or English. I am not saying one us better than the other, and in fact both are needed. So I think our teaching and assessment on ITE courses should reflect this too. What really terrifies me is the lack of basic scientific (and research) literacy amongst those in education including those working in ITE. And I think some of the arguments on this topic of language vs STEM simply highlight this issue.
Returning to the issue of qualifications I don’t think we should insist on Higher maths or science, but we shouldn’t require Higher English either. It is there as a hoop to jump through, a way to sort or sift candidates, and from my experience it may even limit the ability of our future teachers to think critically. Often students are far more worried about getting the format of a reference list ‘right’ than understanding why we need to reference at all. This is a product or output focussed approach, and runs through education like a poisonous fungal hyphae (get me, using a science inspired simile!). The same issue is reflected in the obsession with grammar ‘rules’ or spelling, which become a proxy weapon to exert superiority, is damaging education at all levels.
Oh, and I feel I should declare my own qualifications here. I don’t have maths or English at Higher or A-level, so find asking our applicants for it ever so slightly hypocritical. Of course this blog post is just my opinion, and a real scientist would reject my arguments for a lack of a tangible evidence base. But I’m a social scientist now so I can say anything I want. I just have to make sure I write it all out nicely. The end.