Olympic fever keeps QTS change on the q.t

3rd August 2012 at 01:00
Government 'buries' academy exemption in Games run-up

Around lunchtime last Friday, when the rest of the country was counting down the minutes before the "greatest show on earth" opened in the Olympic Stadium, a press notice was quietly sent out by the Department for Education.

It announced that thousands of state schools will be able to hire staff who have no teaching qualifications, giving them the same powers as free schools and the independent sector.

The move means any school that converts to academy status from now on will be free to employ staff who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS), while those that have already converted - including about half of all secondary schools - can apply to change their funding agreements to allow them to do so.

The DfE suggested that the move would "help schools improve faster". A statement said it would allow academies to hire "great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before".

But to many, the decision is at odds with other key elements of government policy. The DfE recently introduced a raft of reforms to improve the quality of teacher training and encourage schools to train more teachers themselves.

The most recent initiative is a school-based programme, School Direct, which will replace the Graduate Teacher Programme from September 2013. Schools will recruit their own students and organise teacher training for them so that they achieve QTS.

The government has also created teaching schools, designed to be centres of excellence that provide training to all schools in their area. At the start of the new academic year, bursaries of up to #163;20,000 will be introduced for the first time in an attempt to encourage graduates with first-class degrees to teach shortage subjects.

All this comes alongside the DfE's drive to improve the quality of teachers by insisting that trainee teachers pass tougher tests in English and maths if they are to gain qualified status. And a new set of teaching standards is expected to come into force from September.

The decision, therefore, to allow all academies to hire unqualified staff has left many scratching their heads.

James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said the move was a "retrograde step", adding that pupils "had the right" to be taught by properly qualified staff. "The government will regret this in the future and it is quite possible that QTS regulation will be re-introduced," he said.

However, doubts have already been cast over whether schools will use the freedom. One principal who works for a major academy chain said it was unlikely heads would apply "in their droves" to change their funding agreements.

And Ark, one of the country's most successful academy chains, said it would be "rare" for them to employ a teacher without QTS, unless they were foreign staff with qualifications not recognised in the UK. "If we did employ someone from overseas who did not have qualified teacher status, we would expect them to work toward gaining those qualifications while working in the school," an Ark spokeswoman said.

Likewise, the Independent Academies Association (IAA), while welcoming the greater flexibility it would offer, said many of its member schools would still require any staff without QTS to gain the necessary qualifications soon after. "It is not only good for people to have the technical and practical teaching skills, but it is also good for them to acquire the theoretical skills as well," said David Wootton, chairman of the IAA.

The freedom to employ teachers who do not have QTS has always been available to independent schools. Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, said that 39 of his teachers do not have formal teaching qualifications, including himself.

"I strongly believe that teachers are born, not made, and I will actively seek out teachers from all walks of life who have the potential to inspire children," Mr Cairns said. "Once teachers are in the school, they have a reduced teaching timetable to allow them to spend time observing other good teachers and are actively mentored. By the end of the year they are, in our view, better trained than any PGCE student."

But heads' and teachers' leaders have condemned the reforms. Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, suggested that the move was "a step to fragment the teaching profession", while the Association of School and College Leaders said the reforms flew in the face of attempts to raise the status of the teaching profession.

The timing of the announcement drew fire from classroom leaders. The NUT claimed the government had attempted to "bury" the announcement in the hours leading up to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. The ATL education union labelled the government's decision to "sneak out" the changes as a "new low".

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the union would continue to advise members to employ fully qualified staff and called on academies to "ignore" the changes. "Of course subject knowledge makes a difference," Mr Lightman said. "But it is no replacement for professional training in pedagogy and methodology."

WELL TRAINED

38,429 - Total number of initial teacher training entrants in 2009-10.

30,246 - Number studying at universities.

1,763 - Number on school-centred courses (these trainees pay fees and study for a PGCE).

6,420 - Number on employment-based courses (including GTP and Teach First).

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