The qualification debate: How do providers support schools with teacher training that counts?

Joanne Coles, Director for International Programmes, Tes Institute

Since I started in role with Tes Institute in 2019, I have had many conversations about what qualifications teachers need to be able to work in the international school market and, potentially, to migrate – or return – to teach in the UK. Most of the individuals I encounter are working in the international school system, or are in state education in their country but hoping to move into the international sector. This is such a difficult question to answer because it is so dependent on the individual circumstances of each person, their career aspirations, where they want to work and what the schools in those areas might be looking for. There also seems to be variation within areas.


There is no one easy solution to offer up to aspirant international teachers. I suppose, then, an early question to the reader is should there be?


My context is that I trained as a secondary English teacher in England, then taught in state education for 16 years before moving into ITT (Initial Teacher Training). I now work for a UK-based accredited provider of teacher training, Tes Institute, part of Tes Global. We also run courses suitable for teachers to train or upskill overseas, including an Assessment Only route to QTS (Qualified Teacher Status in England and Wales) and an iPGCE. In my role, I meet a lot of people in education from around the globe and often discuss what qualifications and training teachers need to enter the market and develop their careers.


There seems to be a tendency amongst British International Schools to want teachers who already hold QTS; on the surface, this makes sense in that school leaders are looking for staff who have trained against the UK Teachers’ Standards and should be able to deliver effective teaching to their pupils.It is also perceived to be a desirable factor when choosing a school for fee-paying parents. In many instances, school leaders appear to go with what they know: many have migrated from both the state and private sectors in the UK and have experienced the training route first-hand, therefore acknowledge its reliability in growing good teachers.


However, there is an increasing teacher shortage in the UK. Recruitment for teacher training is down again for the next academic year (Tes, 2021). This once again reflects the stagnation of the profession domestically. The reality is that there will be fewer expat, QTS-holding teachers. In fact, QTS can be attained in British Curriculum and IB schools overseas, so it is entirely possible to support someone to pursue this outside the UK and they do not have to be British to hold it.


Elsewhere, the iPGCE (International Postgraduate Certificate in Education), is favoured as a teaching qualification. This is largely an academic route into teaching and, depending on the provider, the actual in-school development can be negligible. Some institutions, like Tes, will devise a supported and mentored training programme inherent to their iPGCE as they know that many people use this as a training route and, therefore, need that actual practical training. There is much variability in the offers out there and what an iPGCE actually brings in terms of teaching quality and capability.


An increasingly popular and practical option is to grow your own teachers, by drawing on support staff who have demonstrated particular aptitude for the classroom. This really is an equitable approach to teacher education, given that it creates a pathway of opportunity for people who need to be in employment. This, however, relies on schools being able to support teacher training and development. Essentially, trainee teachers need to teach and teach often, so classes have to be given over to this, which can be a risk for the school if there is parental scrutiny. We’ve seen this on the iPGCE: some learners have been limited to team teaching for the entire duration of the course or only permitted to work with large groups as the school is reluctant to give them whole class responsibility. Conversely, the Department for Education in the UK advises that trainee teachers have enough regular teaching to meet the Teachers’ Standards, which means in practice that many providers ask trainees to deliver up to a 50% timetable of teaching over their training period, which usually comprises of around 24 weeks of school placements (DfE, 2022).


We all have to start somewhere. In state education in the UK, working towards both my PGCE and QTS, I was given a timetable of classes across a range of ages and abilities. If we want teachers with qualifications, we have to give them a chance to train. It really comes down to support: if a new teacher is supervised by a mentor, or another host teacher, it should ensure that quality teaching takes place. There needs to be some reassurance that it is safe to allow trainees to take classes because they are still under the watchful supervision of the class teacher, in a controlled and supportive environment. This supervision is also valuable in that the trainee teacher should feel invested in and nurtured. The role of the mentor continues to evolve as the landscape of teacher education shifts to meet the changing needs of the profession. That said, the mentoring is firmly centred within the ‘complex ecology (not just continuum) of professional development’ (Lofthouse, 2018), an essential aspect of fostering professional growth.


Actively training teachers on the job, rather than seeking out qualified staff, could be such a useful solution to schools who are struggling to recruit and/or retain. Creating training opportunities for support staff who have shown their aptitude for teaching can build incredibly resilient and loyal staff. This happens in the UK; in my last role, I was in a challenging state school that found recruitment a challenge, yet we had incredibly talented support staff who were willing to teach and more than capable of doing so. Thankfully, there are plenty of training routes that can be undertaken around work and we could provide the opportunity to teacher train to any who wanted it. I even know principals who started as support staff and trained in school, now leading in the very schools they began as teaching assistants.


Schools that are supporting teacher training – and most are – are to be applauded. By actively seeking to engage in the process, to grow better teachers and to add to the workforce, they are safeguarding the future of the profession. It really is of fundamental importance that we celebrate the work of schools that facilitate training and the staff within these institutions who give time and funding to support this. By enabling teachers to contribute to the development of others, to coach and mentor, it is also developing them for future leadership. There is even a call for revision of the value of mentorship and how we can transform professional practice in education by making better use of this (Lofthouse, 2018).


The need for teachers is growing, UNESCO predict that we need 69 million more teachers to meet education goals for 2030 (UNESCO, 2016). There are people who want to teach and who are willing to relocate to do it. What can schools offer to support the development of teachers? How can schools help to fund accredited qualifications – in whatever form these take? How can schools enthuse parents to embrace teacher training and the possibilities that it creates? Finally, what do schools need from training providers in order to support them to offer training programmes that really do have impact?


The reflections and questions in this article are based on my experience; I really hope to spark questions in return and debate. You may have a very different perception of the situation or have another approach to recruitment for your school. In recent discussion at the ECIS conference in St Albans, I was heartened to hear many leaders favouring personality and willingness to learn over actual qualifications when recruiting to teaching roles: they expressed a desire to foster a culture of training in-school rather than expecting applicants to be fully qualified before starting.


I want to know more about the scenarios school leaders face because that clarity means that we can create better provision to enable teachers to train in a way that works for everyone. I think there has to be a conversation here, urgently, so we can make sure teachers and schools get what they need. I would welcome connection and reply; training providers and schools need this dialogue so that we can work together to build a strong, impactful teaching workforce who feel well-qualified and capable in their roles and who inspire and enthuse those pupils in their classes.



Department for Education (2022) Initial teacher training (ITT): criteria and supporting advice. Available at:

Department for Education (2021) Teachers’ Standards: Guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies. Available at:

Lofthouse, RM (2018) Re-imagining mentoring as a dynamic hub in the transformation of initial teacher education: The role of mentors and teacher educators. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 7 (3). pp. 248-260.

Tes (2021) Teacher training applications drop to pre-Covid levels. Available at:
UNESCO (2016) Global Education Monitoring Report. Available at:




Joanne Coles is the Director for International Programmes at Tes Institute. She runs the successful iPGCE programme which is available globally and available at a discounted price for ECIS members. Jo worked as a secondary English teacher until she joined Tes in 2017. She is a Fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching.

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