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Licence to be a teacher

Unions worry over private teaching certificates

"Wouldn't happen in any other profession"
5:03 min
For US$ 600 a private initiative offer to test teachers on their teaching skills and issue "certificates" if they pass. Photo: Janerik Henriksson

The teachers' trade unions are concerned over the private initiatives to issue certificates for teachers they deem to be good at their jobs. Anna Jändel-Holst, policy advisor at the National Union of Teachers say they are worry that it will create confusion and undermine the new official teachers licence issued by the state education agency.

"It would not happen in any other profession. Like nurses for example, they have their licence and no one would come up with the idea to make some kind of certification outside the official system of licencing," says Anna Jändel-Holst.

The official teachers licence was introduced this summer by the centre-right government in an attempt to raise the status of the country's teaching profession. Soon only teachers with a licence are allowed to give the students grades and get longer term contracts. So far, no licence has been issued, but 55,000 of the country's 183,000 teachers have applied.

And as long as they have a formal teaching degree in the subjects and for the age group they teach and have worked for a year, teachers will get the licence. New teachers will get their licence after 12 months in the job, if their head teacher confirms they are up to the job.

And it is this, that only new teachers will be checked if they can do the job satisfactory, that the foundation Svensk Skola sees as its niche. They say there should be quality control for all teachers and recently they started issuing "certificates" to identify particularly good teachers that can serve as role models for others.

The people behind this idea are not just anybody. Two of the examiners are known from a popular reality TV-show, where they helped turn around schools with serious problems. And the initiator of the project comes from the right-leaning think tank The New Welfare Foundation.

And in contrast to the official teaching licence, this foundation has already managed to issue a handful certificates to teachers around the country. One of them is Sofia Gille, who teaches 13-15 year olds Swedish reading and writing at Olympica-school in Hedemora. When her head teacher asked for volunteers, she did not hesitate to step forward to take the test.

"I was hoping that if I managed it would have a good impact on my carreer and possibility for me to influence the school that I work in, in a good direction," she says.

Twice, the examiners came and took her by surprise, sitting in on her classes. They interviewed her students and her head teacher, as well as herself. Sofia Gille says it was a very good experience and an opportunity to check she is on the right track. After all it is a pretty lonely job, she says, so the feedback afterwards was valuable.

This time, it was Sofia Gille's boss who paid for the examination.The price comes to about 600 US dollars. Is that something she would be prepared to pay out of her own pocket?

"It depends how big this is going to be. If it is going to affect your career, it is obviously worth it. But you don't know that yet. I think I would probably have waited if I had to pay myself, just to see how important it is going to be," says Sofia Gille.

Anna Jändel-Holst at the National Union of Teachers says the timing of these certificates is unfortunate. At the moment, many teachers are still worried about getting their own, official licence, and "certificates" from this and other private actors, they just risk causing confusion, she says.

"Who says that these teachers who are into this new certification system, really knows what is the best teacher?" she asks.

Anna Jändel-Holst also says that the official licence DOES provide a quality control, as it can be revoked if it is proven that the teacher is not doing his or her job. The national union of teachers are also advocating more steps in the official licencing system and linking it to pay. The money a school may choose to pay to a private company for testing whether they should get a certificate or not, should according to the unions instead go to pay higher salaries.

The unions are calling for the Minister of Education to speak out in favour of the emerging official system.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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