The Cost, and the Value, of Professionalism

So the ETF, or rather the SET have recently announced an extension to QTLS to be called “Advanced Teacher Status.” 

Cracking, I thought, that would look terrific on the CV, and the content also looked, well, positive if not overwhelmingly exciting. And I like the idea of some sort of formal accepted status to show that not only are you a teacher in the post-16 sector, which is awesome in itself, but also an Exceptionally Awesome Teacher in the post-16 sector.

Except, and this is the clincher, it’s a lot of money.

What follows now involves some maths, which is not a great specialism of mine, so do bear with me. It’s mostly adding up, so we should be ok.

Becoming a teacher is not, by anyone’s measure, a cheap business. We’re going to leave aside things like vocational qualifications and achievements like first degrees which are outside the sphere of education. Of course you need them to help become a teacher, but ultimately they are fairly generic, so let’s concentrate instead on those things you need to do the job.

For a start, you might go and take a Level 3 Award in Education & Training, what was once called PTLLS, and which gets your foot in the door. The going rate for that course is in the region of £450, perhaps a little less if you do an online version (although really, I’m deeply sceptical about doing a teaching qual, which is all about human interaction, online).

So that’s £450, then, just to get started. From there, the usual option is some sort of two-year Level 5 Diploma course, or a Cert. Ed / PGCE. Suddenly the numbers start to get bigger. These full teaching qualifications can cost anything from £1500 to £3000 per academic year, possibly even more, depending on the institution. If you teach a subject specialism which isn’t catered for by qualifications outside of education (for example, ESOL, literacy and numeracy) then you might want to add another £1000-£2000 to that.

Before indignant teacher trainers go off on one about knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, this is no way meant to belittle the qualifications and the learning those qualifications represent. I am not suggesting that these qualifications are over-priced or valueless. And I am most certainly not suggesting that payment deserves achievement. I value each and every one of the qualifications that have formed me as a teacher, and regret neither the effort nor the money spent on them. Without the qualifications I have earned I would not be here today blogging about how important it is to be a qualified teacher, and I despise the notion that since deregulation, colleges and training providers can legally pull in a random off the street and give them a job with no qualifications at all. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a substantial outlay for anyone, and this does have an impact.

So now, having paid anything between £2500 and (potentially) £7000 for all this, you think hooray, I can relax and get on with my job.

But no, wait. There’s more. Perhaps you need to maintain your professional status in your vocational area, which may mean a yearly membership subscription and professional training costs to ensure your practice is up to date. Based on a (rough, conservative) guess of £60 a year and a teaching career of 30 years, that’s £1,800.

So against this backdrop, then, comes the costs of membership of the Society for Education & Training. This costs £69.90 a year, which isn’t too onerous, as costs go. You can (finally) pay by direct debit monthly which makes the cost barely noticeable, in fact (although this apparent loveliness is let down by an arcane payment system which seems to suggest that if you join in, say, February, you have to pay for the full year up to the following April, even though you have only been a member for a couple of months of that year. So, join in March, or don’t bother). So, anyway, that’s £2,097, again based on. 30 year career.

You can then apply for QTLS, a useful status if you ever want to make the sidestep to teaching in schools – all for £485. This is an astonishing cost for what I remember as being a fairly insipid process of writing a whole bunch of stuff about myself  (which I can do for free as much as I want), getting a pdf certificate and the opportunity to head off to London for lunch and a handshake (I didn’t bother with the London bit, because, well, it’s in London, which is somewhere I only visit if I absolutely have to).

After, and only after, you’ve done this comes the option to apply for Advanced Teacher Status. This, the website says, is ” a deserved and highly sought after badge of recognition” (although I’m not sure how sought after it could actually be, given that nobody really knows what it is yet). The blurb also says that achievement of ATS “allows you to:

  • demonstrate to employers and colleagues your mastery in teaching or training
  • advance your career in terms of progressing to more senior roles
  • use ATS as a designation in your signature and profiles.”

I’m unconvinced. “demonstrate to employers and colleagues..” really? How? My employer knows all about my mastery (or lack thereof) because they talk to me, as do my colleagues. And career advancement? I’m not sure that that will be a thing because again, the status doesn’t yet exist, and I’d be willing to bet that someone with the the right experience and the right answers at the interview will get the job over someone with the ability to write ATS at the end of their name.

But whatever you think about recognition at this level, is it really worth £750? I have a long list of things I would rather spend £750 on than just recognition. It would be a chunk of the fees for an MA, for example, or the mid range mountain bike I’d quite like to get, both of which would get priority, based on the highly unlikely premise that I actually have the money handy. I might be making the wrong decision, and the status might be brilliant – it might well help me become a better teacher, although I am sceptical about this after my QTLS experiences, but it  might. However, I probably won’t find out because that’s a lot of money for “might”.

I’m sorry, I really am. I like the notion of recognition and reward and I like the essential concepts behind the professionalism. I am genuinely considering (next March) rejoining the SET because I think that will be useful, in terms of ongoing support, and, I think, my old IfL QTLS status will get reactivated. It helps, as well, that it’s not a massive personal layout on a monthly basis. But will I go for ATS? No. I simply don’t have the available cash.

And this is what worries me most about the creation of all these statuses and memberships – the cost becomes prohibitive, rendering them accessible only to those who can afford it, not necessarily those who deserve or want it. I have a full time, permanent contract, and would certainly not describe myself as scraping along. Indeed, I probably could, if I really wanted it, pay for it through a loan or some other means. But that’s not the same for so many of my colleagues who are on term-time only, or casual part time contracts. A badge of recognition like ATS might well be a useful edge for those rare occasions when the powers that deign to offer half a permanent contract, but the chances are that young teachers on barely-there contracts simply can’t afford to pay for it. Thus this “mastery of teaching” becomes nothing more than a divisive badge; gaining ATS becomes a symbol not of effort, or skill, or merit, nor of recognition, but simply of individual wealth.




  1. I laughed so much and agree with every word you say. Particularly … ” a deserved and highly sought after badge of recognition”. The IFL folded in the end because people saw it for what it was and voted with their feet. I suspect this will go the same way.

  2. During my pgce in 11/12 the tutors went on and on about getting our QTLS thriugh the IfL. Then I come to my college and no one had it. This is exactly the same.. ..a manager would read my CV and say ‘you have what?!’ What a joke. I most definitely would rather spend my £750 on a well deserved break to get thriugh another academic year of getting on with actual work rather than tryinh to obtain nonsense quals.

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