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Lib Dems cry foul at lack of specialist staff

Computer studies and religion are woefully short of experts to teach them, reports Karen Thornton

HALF of computer lessons and one in three religious education lessons are being taught by teachers with no relevant qualifications, according to a new survey.

In English, maths and science, as many as one in seven secondary lessons is being taken by teachers not qualified in those areas.

The figures, based on returns from 54 schools covering 1,612 teachers, were produced by the Liberal Democrats to spur the Government to carry out its own curriculum and staffing survey. The last one was nearly six years ago. Ministers have blamed bureaucracy for delays in a follow-up.

Phil Willis, the Lib Dem education spokesman, said: "Accurate information about teachers' qualifications and staff deployment in schools is essential for effective education policy.

"It is appalling that essential subjects like ICT are being taught by unqualified teachers, particularly in Britain where the Government claims it aspires to an online and computer-literate society."

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said parents should be told if their children are being taught by non-specialists, "because the results for children who have qualified, experienced teachers are probably going to be a lot better".

The two headteacher organisations, which sponsored the Lib-Dem survey, say telling parents about teacher-subject mismatches would cause them to panic. But they want government surveys every other year.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "Unless we know how many teachers are teaching subjects for which they are not properly qualified, we simply can't plan national recruitment. When the Government issues training targets, it is taking a stab in the dark. There is a suspicion that it is afraid to undertake a survey because it won't like the answers it gets."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, agreed, adding: "The problems in ICT and RE are the tip of the iceberg. It demonstrates the way in which heads have had to deal with teacher shortages by recruiting square pegs to round holes."

Recruitment expert John Howson said that, at current rates, it will take 10 years to ensure every secondary has an ICT specialist, although applications for such courses are buoyant (see page 8).

The ICT strand of the key stage 3 strategy will add to the problem because it says the subject should be taught separately for an hour a week. In RE, applications to postgraduate teacher-training courses are down. The Religious Education Council of England and Wales has already called for it to be designated a shortage subject - making students eligible for pound;4,000 "golden hellos".

A DFES spokesman said the Government had no plans for parents to be given "biographical information," such as subject qualifications, about teachers.

He declined to comment on the survey's findings, but added: "The last secondary schools curriculum and staffing survey showed that a large majority of teachers held post-A-level qualifications in the subjects they were teaching - for example, 80 per cent in maths and more than 90 per cent in science.

"The Government has informed Parliament that the next survey will be carried out shortly."

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