Unqualified teachers – why?

Only last year, the government made much of its plans to raise the standard of entrants to the teaching profession. It was decreed that there would be no funding for would-be teachers with less than a second class degree. The maths and English tests are also being made tougher and the opportunity for retakes reduced.

This was all part of the drive to make teaching in David Cameron’s words “a high prestige profession” through a “brazenly elitist” approach to teacher recruitment.

Now, out of the blue and safely tucked away in the parliamentary recess comes the announcement that academies will be able to employ anyone they consider to be qualified as teachers. So teaching will become the only major profession that has no entry qualification and as a consequence no kind of national control over who is working with children in schools.

It will also be the only one of the government’s favoured “high performing jurisdictions” where there is no requirement for teachers to undertake a rigorous programme of professional study. In Finland, for example, “All of the teacher-training is run by universities and all students do a five-year master’s degree”. Not to mention an entitlement to 100 hours professional development per year.

So the question has to be asked, why is Gove doing this? The DfE press release makes much of giving schools the opportunity to “hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before”. Much is also made of the practice of independent schools – Tory favourite Brighton College apparently has 39 unqualified teachers including the headteacher himself. A few other examples are then cherry-picked – a couple of teachers from the independent sector recruited to free schools and the odd working artist employed in music or drama.

The conclusion you have to draw – and it is of a piece with Gove’s whole approach to the curriculum – is that in his view all that matters is subject knowledge. If you have that, he believes, you can pick up the rest as you go along. Teachers don’t need high level theoretical understanding of how children develop and learn. Nor do they need to worry their heads by studying the characteristics and needs of different kinds of children. Curriculum planning, pedagogy and assessment aren’t things that require serious and disciplined attention.

That would be bad enough. But there will be many who think that there are other motives that Gove is less willing to discuss. One is the chance to do down another bit of the education establishment he so hates – in this case university education departments who, he believes, are largely run by people who have little time for most of what the government’s doing. So the professors who told him that his primary curriculum is not fit for purpose will be taught a lesson. Initial teacher education will increasingly be moved out of universities and there will be fewer turbulent professors causing trouble for the government. And, of course, if potential teachers don’t need to be trained in universities, there is a big cash saving coming down the road.

The other possible motive is to support the privatisation agenda. It’s clear that Gove believes in opening up education to profit making. The history of privatisation tells us that one of the essentials in making a profit out of public services is to make it easy to employ cheaper labour. You do this by breaking national terms and conditions agreements in terms of both pay and qualifications. Then, of course, the likes of News Corp and Pearson will come along with their packaged materials – just what the untrained, unqualified teacher needs.

If this move is really just about enabling a few particular specialists – working artists, sportspeople or IT experts – to work in schools alongside teachers, it’s taking a very large sledgehammer to crack a very small nut. The result in reality will be to open the door to a radical dumbing down of the teaching profession. No way to keep out people with third class degrees, nor those without maths or English GCSE. Let alone any way of keeping control of what some of the quirkier faith groups might decide to do. Standards and rules are there for a purpose – because if they aren’t there someone sometime will take advantage of the gap.

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2 Comments on “Unqualified teachers – why?”

  1. 3D Eye says:

    Bloody depressing, but an excellent piece of analysis. Heads can already pay specialists in various subjects to work alongside teachers – artists, technicians, scientists, etc – so what is the point of this latest move, if not for the reasons you suggest? Are we really going to see the role of the teacher handed over to those who are not qualified to do curriculum planning and delivery, carry out assessment and differentiation, support special educational needs, teach literacy, work with challenging behaviour, and all the rest? Maybe the government is anticipating fewer young people wanting to train as teachers as the job becomes deprofessionalised and further politicised, and is therefore making it possible to recruit from whoever steps forward and says they’re willing to do the job.

  2. Gabriel Gidi says:

    A very analytical piece. I don’t think Mr Gove believes that teaching is a profession. He thinks that those with first class degrees can just walk into a classroom and wow the students with their superior subject knowledge. Gove ignores the statistics that show that many who train to be teachers leave in the first three years of their first appointment. What will happen to these so-called specialists who are given charge of classes with no previous teaching experience? Will they last? You are right to say that this is an ideological decision that is not supported by educational research or comparative experiences in other countries. Dump down teacher quality in order to improve the quality of learning. Really?