Schools without teachers

5th December 2003 at 00:00
DfES vision of a brave new world where children are increasingly taught by support staff

The school of the future need employ just one qualified teacher, Government officials have said.

The controversial suggestion is contained in a Department for Education and Skills paper, seen by The TES, setting out priorities for the next phase of school workforce reform during 2006-8.

Entitled Workforce Reform - Blue Skies it says that schools are able to operate under new "freedoms" brought in by the workload agreement without any qualified classroom teachers and this should be further exploited.

Written by a DfES official and circulated to signatories to the workload agreement, the paper talks of an "essential but presentationally uncomfortable" need to make the case to cut teacher numbers to pay for more support staff.

This week an alarmed DfES tried to distance ministers from the leaked document.

The paper says: "The legal position... is that a maintained school must have a head with qualified teacher status (QTS), but beyond that the position is very much deregulated. The school need not employ anyone else - other staff need not have QTS and staff could be bought in from agencies or come in on secondment.

"Gone are the days of every school having to have a full 'complement' of directly employed QTS teachers."

The paper acknowledges that where support staff are used to teach, regulations say they must by supervised by a qualified teacher. "But," it says, "that teacher might of course be the head."

The paper talks of cutting teachers and recruiting support staff, but acknowledges this could be controversial. "That will take us into essential, but presentationally uncomfortable areas, like the case for reducing overall teacher numbers to pay for a better adult:pupil ratio," it says.

Recruitment targets for teachers should be scrapped, the author says, and replaced with targets for higher-level assistants.

The paper also concedes such a strategy would make a reconciliation with the National Union of Teachers - which refused to sign the workload agreement because it allowed assistants to take whole classes - harder to achieve.

It warns that the Government's next spending review, covering 2005-08, will be "very tight" and says the reforms proposed could keep spending at current levels.

The paper claims reducing teacher numbers could carry a "fair degree of support" from unions signed up to the agreement workload.

But Eammon O'Kane, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers general secretary and leading workload agreement supporter, condemned the paper as "grey skies thinking" and said the idea of reducing teacher numbers was "idiotic".

The paper also risks angering heads by suggesting top classroom staff should earn more than some school managers.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary said: "It is sad that only the NUT predicted the hidden agenda of the Government to reduce the number of teachers. Our stand has been vindicated."

A DfES spokesman insisted the paper had been produced without the authority and knowledge of ministers. They did not agree with the ideas for future policy it offered and no further work would be done on them.

News 6; opinion 21

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