Not for amateurs
While the nation was mesmerised by the Olympics, Michael Gove released his latest bit of blue-sky thinking: academies are now free to employ unqualified teachers.
Apparently this will allow schools to flourish by taking on "great linguists and specialists". But I'm not sure how well this stands up. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have perhaps the greatest linguist of all time, Noam Chomsky, at my graduation ceremony (receiving his 39th honorary degree, no less). I'm a huge fan of Chomsky's work. He's the godfather of the cognitive revolution, founder of modern linguistics and a staunch critic of abusive regimes around the world. But none of that means he'd last five minutes in front of a Year 9 class on a sticky Friday afternoon.
At university, fantastically bright individuals with little educational training are a fact of life. Students even have a special name for them: "professors". But while maundering intellectuals thrive in universities, introducing them into our classrooms may not be such a great idea.
Supporters of this deregulation cite its success in the private sector. Yet this avenue of reasoning is most definitely a cul-de-sac. A minuscule class of Pippas and Freddies, each with the spectre of their school fees hanging over them, is unlikely to strain anyone's classroom management skills; conversely, a gang of rowdy teenagers, who see school as the sole reason they can't play Call of Duty 247, are more likely to test a teacher's all-round abilities not simply their academic pizzazz.
Unfortunately, the "success" of our private schools is all too often lazily deployed as a yardstick against which state efforts are measured. So, I'd like to propose something: until the entire staff of Eton College takes a year's sabbatical in which they single-handedly turn around the results of a special-measures comp (ideally with a reality TV spin-off), there should be a moratorium on this sort of dewy, privileged nostalgia.
In the wider private sector (the one that makes cars, not the one that undermines the fabric of British society) any new idea is subjected to strenuous testing before it's put into production. Sadly our chief education imp Michael Gove has largely missed this point. But fear not, Mike - I have the solution.
Whenever I hear about a new education wheeze, I like to run it through a simple thought experiment to check its robustness. I call it "Lee Walker's Law". Put simply, it states: as time in the classroom (t) increases, the probability of being called a bell-end by a pupil (p(bell-end)) inevitably approaches 1. Formally:
lim p(bell-end) = 1
This is important. Holding 38 honorary degrees is admirable, but I'm not convinced that it prepares you for the darker arts of classroom management: how to stop a fight, the best way to remove gum from hair and how to create a safe and respectful learning environment. In short, the sort of things that good teacher training delivers.
And that's the problem with Gove. Yes, he's got a shiny head full of shiny ideas. But the issue with a minister whose background lies in writing leader columns, not filling in report cards, is that he lacks the requisite experience in being called a knob by Year 10s that his job demands.
Our best teachers have keen minds and a passion for their subjects, but they also have so much more. Gove is in awe of the Usain Bolts of education. But me? I'd take an all-rounder like Jess Ennis any day.
Son of Thrope is the son of Anne Thrope (Ms), a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.