Kevin Brennan MP, Labour’s shadow schools minister, writes:
Last week, more evidence emerged that having unqualified teachers permanently employed in our schools is damaging school standards. After months of trying to get an answer from the government, ministers revealed that at the start of this school year one third of the teachers at Al Madinah Free School in Derby didn’t have qualified teacher status (QTS).
Although having read the school’s Ofsted report this didn’t surprise me. it is worrying that Michael Gove has yet to make the link between his policy of allowing unqualified teachers in our schools and the poor standard of education at Al-Madinah. Ofsted even spelled this out for him, highlighting in the school’s inspection report that “unqualified staff desperately need better support and training”.
And it’s not just at Al-Madinah where we can see the impact of this policy. Discovery New School, a free school in Crawley, West Sussex, found by Ofsted to be “inadequate”, also employed unqualified teachers including the school’s head teacher. It received a damning report from Ofsted that found its teachers needed systematic training “to fill the gaps in their knowledge so that they feel confident to teach”. At Pimlico Primary Free School, in central London, the unqualified headteacher left after just over a month into the school’s first term.
Yet, Michael Gove stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that his policy of allowing unqualified teachers to be permanently employed has damaged standards in these schools and others. While Labour is committed to reversing this downgrading of teaching standards, Michael Gove chooses instead to leap to defend his policy, saying it will allow schools to hire ‘brilliant people’ who do not have a teaching qualification.
However, he is fast becoming the only one left defending this policy. Polls have shown that around 9 in 10 parents want only qualified teachers for their children.
Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector of schools, stated that in his role as a headteacher, if he had found one of the "brilliant people" without QTS that Michael Gove talks of, he would make sure “they would be accredited as soon as possible”. He also said as more schools are allowed to employ unqualified staff, it could become an issue for Ofsted.
Labour, too, wants to encourage excellent people into the teaching profession. But what Michael Gove fails to realise is that our policy of ensuring that all teachers in all state schools have or are working towards qualified teacher status won’t prevent this. Instead, our policy sets a high minimum standard for excellent scientists, engineers, leaders in business and people at the top of their career, who want to become teachers. It would ensure that, alongside great knowledge of their subject, they were trained in pedagogy, behaviour management and the skills we know are crucial to teaching.
Also last week, the Prince of Wales’ Teaching Institute, on launching the proposals for a "member-led College of Teaching", announced there would be a clear expectation that only properly qualified teachers would be full members of the College.
“The breadth of technical, intellectual, professional and personal capabilities that we expect from teachers” the chairman leading the commission behind the College proposals said “is extraordinary”.
The message from parents and the profession is loud and clear; the teaching profession needs high minimum standards that teachers must be working toward. Without, this minimum expectation Michael Gove is allowing for a damaging free for all over teaching.This is not a race to the top, seeking out the brightest and best, but rather a race to the bottom.
While Michael Gove continues to ignore what parents, teachers and experts know is best for our schools, he is letting down a generation of children who deserve more than “just anyone” as their teacher.