Reserves who save the day

Can an army of unqualified professionals help ease the staffing crisis? Elaine Williams reports

Schools have only ever welcomed Gayle Hann with open arms. As a final-year medical student with a degree in psychology, as well as 14 GCSEs and a black belt in kickboxing, she is equipped to plug just about any teaching gap in any school.

She is in big demand to teach science, and when schools find out she has also worked as a drugs and alcohol counsellor, they are quick to take her on for personal and social education lessons. "I could work full time if I wanted to," she says . "I constantly have to turn work down because schools are so desperate for staff. They don't seem to mind that I'm not a qualified teacher."

Ms Hann, 30, is one of a growing army of non-qualified teachers employed as "instructors" in schools. Department for Education and Skills statistics show that instructor numbers have doubled in the past year to a record 8,000 as heads seek to cope with shortages.

Gayle Hann is doing the work to fund herself through medical school, and she believes the contact with children will help to get her a post in paediatric medicine. Certainly, instructors' pay easily outstrips what she once earned as a nightclub bouncer.

She ran an after-school club in medical history for gifted and talented students, as well as a medical skills course at one Doncaster school for pupils interested in becoming doctors or nurses. "The school advertised the fact that I was a medic and the kids loved it," she says. "We had to run the course four times because so many signed up for it."

Ms Hann used teacher supply agency Select Education to obtain work in schools in Sheffield. David Rose, a spokesman for Select, says instructors are a growing area for the agency, with 1,000 on its books, 800 of them working regularly - double the number employed a year ago. Sixty per cent are FE lecturers, lured into secondary schools for more pay (typical rates are between pound;80 and pound;110 a day). The rest include research students and others with specialist skills. Mr Rose says heads are told these staff are unqualified, and the agency supports instructors by offering relevant training.

John Heald, headteacher of Rodillian high school, Wakefield, took on two FE lecturers to fill shortages in English and maths, but they went on to qualify as teachers. Rodillian also brought in lecturers from a local college to teach A-level law and psychology.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, says using instructors can only be a "stopgap measure", but Mr Heald believes it is a sensible way to cope with teacher shortages. He argues that instructors offer a useful and wide-ranging pool of experience on which schools can draw.

At Little London, a primary school in Leeds, sports coach Kevin Crumbie will be starting in September as a full-time instructor. He will teach PE across the school to give teachers more non-contact time. He already works 20 hours a week, covering lunchtimes, during which he teaches a range of sports.

Mr Crumbie, 40, was a semi-professional footballer who gained coaching qualifications in football and basketball. He found his way to schools via Action Sports, a body funded by Leeds City Council through the social regeneration budget to improve sports provision in deprived areas. "I love working in the school, and the teachers are very supportive," he says.

Peter Hall-Jones, Little London's headteacher, says Mr Crumbie offers a positive role model for pupils and a level of PEexpertise far above that of most primary teachers. Moreover, his appointment releases teaching staff "to do what they are best at. Everyone is a winner."

Little London also employs an actor and a musician to teach drama and singing, thus enriching the curriculum and increasing non-contact time for teachers by one day a week. But Mr Hall-Jones says the school has a duty to support instructors by providing training and helping them to become qualified teachers if they choose to take that path.

"I see our use of para-professionals to support teachers as a way of attracting well-qualified and highly skilled staff from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds," he says. "By working with them in school and offering them the opportunity to train as teachers, we are also supporting Leeds City Council's Campaign 300 to attract recruits into teaching from ethnic communities."

But recruitment analyst Professor John Howson believes that unless unqualified instructors are offered "employment-based routes" into teaching, their growing use will devalue the profession. He also fears that over-reliance on instructors who may lack "generic" teaching skills will increase the burden on qualified staff, who will be left with increasing pastoral responsibilities. He points out that since April instructors have been classified as "teachers without qualified teacher status and not en route to QTS".

"If the Government is going to classify them as teachers, this significantly blurs the boundaries," says Professor Howson. The Government should put "structures in place, covering the pay, conditions and regulation of para-professionals" and offer a framework that "allows schools to have the staffing structure that suits their particular needs", rather than the existing ad hoc arrangements.

The General Teaching Council is concerned about the growing number of unregulated staff in schools. Emma Westcott, its policy adviser, says: "We do not underestimate the contribution that other adults make to teaching and learning, but it is important to assure parents that their children are safe and well taught."

Many people believe the current Education Bill will remodel the teaching workforce by setting out in primary legislation the duties of a qualified teacher, and empowering the Education Secretary to specify what non-qualified staff can do. Many view this as a cultural sea change, enshrining in legislation a broadening of the school workforce. While the DfES insists the bill will not essentially change the rules about employment of unqualified teachers, a government briefing paper to MPs says unqualified staff have a crucial role to play provided there is a "suitable management framework".

For example, the paper states that regulations will allow the use of FE lecturers to teach pupils at school, in collaboration with the college management and provided "the contents of the course have been set up by a responsible qualified teacher at the school".

This increased flexibility is seen as a necessity if schools are to provide, for example, a more vocational curriculum.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says: "Not every teacher has the appropriate vocational skills to teach across the vocational spectrum. This (bill) legalises the situation."

UNQUALIFIED SUPPORT

Rules about the employment of unqualified staff to teach in schools are outlined in the Teachers Qualifications and Health Standards Regulations 1999. The main categories allowed are:

* Teachers with an overseas teaching qualification, who can teach for up to four years without QTS

* Employment-based trainee teachers or graduates on registered teaching programmes, who can teach for the duration of their training

* Student teachers wishing to retake part of a course or awaiting admission to a course for not more than two years

* Nursery teachers without QTS who were in post before September 1989

* People without QTS but who have specialist experience or qualifications, who can teach for as long as there is no qualified or registered teacher available

The unqualified teachers' 10-point pay spine currently runs from pound;12,456 to pound;19,698. The qualified teachers' nine-point spine runs from pound;16,038 to pound;24,843.

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