Free schools must appoint QTS staff for SEN and looked-after children

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Clarity welcomed as minister spells out exceptions to freedom to employ unqualified teachers

Free schools will not be allowed to fill all teaching jobs with unqualified staff amid concerns that the most vulnerable children need expert help, it has emerged.

Special educational needs co-ordinators (Sencos) and designated teachers for children in care will still require qualified teacher status (QTS), even though their colleagues will not need to be trained.

The development follows repeated concerns from teaching unions that education secretary Michael Gove's plans to relax recruitment rules would undermine the profession. It also comes as free-school heads finish appointing their staff in preparation for opening this September.

Mr Gove had originally said he would "not be setting requirements in relation to qualifications" for free schools. But schools minister Nick Gibb has confirmed that will not apply in all cases.

"Innovation, diversity and flexibility are at the heart of the free-schools policy," Mr Gibb said in answer to a parliamentary question.

"In that spirit we will not be setting overly prescriptive requirements in relation to qualifications, although a free school's special educational needs co-ordinator and designated teacher for children in care will still require qualified teacher status.

"We will expect applications to demonstrate how each free school's governing body intends to guarantee the highest quality of teaching and leadership in their school. No school will be allowed to proceed unless its proposals for high-quality teaching are soundly based."

Last year's Academies Act says Sencos and designated teachers for looked-after children must be qualified in all types of schools.

But Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of SEN organisation Nasen, said those working with SEN children had "not been clear" if the legislation would apply to free schools.

"We welcome the regulations. It will safeguard children and it would have been silly not to have them," she said.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said Mr Gibb's comments showed the "chaos and confusion" around the free-schools policy. "Why not just ask every single teacher to hold QTS? It's an absolute nonsense," she said.

"It also shows a fundamental lack of understanding about QTS. It's a national benchmark and a mark of confidence. There should not be exceptions."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "Every teacher should have QTS. It's an important standard. I can't see the advantage of employing people without it."


No 'dual state'

When free school Eden Primary in north London opens in September, all the teachers will be qualified.

Founder and head Peter Kessler said: "We are mindful of the rights given to us and the implications of being independent and the freedoms which go along with it, but we have not yet found we have had to use them," he said.

Mr Kessler said he had employed a former Senco as his deputy because of her experience of working with vulnerable children.

"We want to be part of the local family of schools," he said. "We have enormous respect for what they, and the local authority, do. We are not interested in setting up a dual state."

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