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Rein in unqualified teachers

Liberal Democrats pledge they would put an end to the 'horror stories' if they were elected. Jon Slater reports

No child should be taught by someone who is not qualified in the subject, the Liberal Democrats said this week.

Phil Willis, the party's education spokesman, told the annual conference in Brighton that the Lib Dems would end the "horror stories" of children being taught by teachers who are "only one step ahead of their pupils".

Addressing a party buoyed by the victory of teacher Sarah Teather in last week's Brent East by-election, Mr Willis accused the Government of "duplicity and spin" over school funding and student top-up fees. "It is a failure that can no longer be covered up or spun away," he said, promising to make fees "Labour's poll tax".

Perhaps the most withering assessment was reserved for his Conservative counterpart, Damian Green.

"Lord Lucan had more publicity over the summer than the Tory education spokesman," he said.

Official figures, published yesterday, were expected to show that tens of thousands of secondary pupils are receiving lessons from staff not trained in the subject they are teaching.

Maths, science and modern foreign languages are the subjects most affected but many children are also taught English by inappropriately-qualified staff.

Mr Willis said the Government's efforts to raise standards for 11 to 14-year-olds, in particular, were hampered by the lack of appropriate staff and promised that the Liberal Democrats would go into the next general election committed to solve the problem.

Under their proposals, all classes would ideally be taught by an appropriately qualified teacher. Where this was not possible an instructor or higher-level teaching assistant would be preferred to a teacher of another subject.

Mr Willis said any instructor would be trained in teaching techniques. "The fact that David Beckham is a good footballer is not enough. He would need to show he can teach," he said.

He also unveiled plans to boost adult education by allowing employers to claim back the cost of training staff from the Inland Revenue. At a fringe meeting at the conference, Mr Willis expressed concern about the implementation of the workload agreement which will allow teaching assistants to take classes. He said some schools had been treated abysmally by this year's funding settlement and that many have no money to implement the agreement.

Mr Willis said some teachers would have to wait longer than others to reap the benefits of the deal, which came into effect this month.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, told a fringe meeting he opposed the underlying message of the deal which was that schools did not stand a chance of recruiting more teachers.

He reiterated his threat that the union may pull out of the workload deal unless Chancellor Gordon Brown finds more money for schools in his November pre-budget statement.

"In many ways this is the worst funding settlement we have had in a generation - and that takes some doing," said Mr Hart.

A joint statement issued by Mr Willis, Mr Hart and Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, called on more funding for the workload agreement.

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