In a jab at Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is said to soon be requiring that all free schools and academies hire teachers with officially approved teacher qualifications. Mr Clegg shouldn’t be blamed for aiming to make sure that all English pupils have access to good educators. And surely, teachers who have undergone officially approved training must be better than those who haven’t? It sounds so right. But it’s not. In fact, it’s utterly and completely wrong.
Few dispute that good teachers are crucial for pupil performance, both in the short and in the long run. At the same time, better-educated pupils commit fewer crimes, and contribute more to economic growth, so good educators are clearly also crucial for producing positive spill-over effects that benefit society at large. This means that the public does indeed have an interest in ensuring a good teacher force.
Yet after decades of research we have little understanding of what makes educators effective. Observable characteristics, including teacher qualifications, generally have no or very small effects. This is a remarkably consistent finding in most rigorous studies worldwide. If there’s anything research in the economics of education has disproved, it’s the theory that teachers with specific qualifications perform better than those without. Most people might also find this intuitive since practically everybody has probably experienced good unqualified teachers and bad qualified ones (and vice versa).
But doesn’t this mean that a mandate requiring all educators to undergo officially approved training at the very least wouldn’t do any harm? Well, no it doesn’t. Since such a mandate ensures that many perfectly good educators – perhaps better than those holding teacher qualifications – can't enter the market, we would instead perpetuate a system that does nothing to improve the overall teacher pool. This is not in the best interest of children.
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This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.