Last year, Labour accused Theresa May’s government of allowing more than 600,000 pupils to be taught "regularly" by an unqualified teacher. This number includes TAs and HLTAs.
Now we all know that without those support staff our education system, as we know it, would collapse. It is, by absolutely no means an attack on them when I say: how the hell has this been allowed this to happen?
The thing is, as teachers, we all recognise the damaging recruitment and retention crisis that we’re currently in the middle of. After all, it’s us that battle it every single day when yet another colleague quits and aren't replaced, or when we have to cover other lessons as well as our own when they’re off sick with stress.
But the government, high up in its ivory towers, refuses to recognise this situation. And worse – they’re the ones who bloody caused it all.
In 2012, Michael Gove and the Tory government removed the requirement for all teachers to have teacher qualifications. Since then, the number of unqualified teachers has increased by more than 60 per cent.
The move was specifically aimed at free schools and academies, but the reality is that it has spread across the whole profession. Unqualified teachers plug the gaps in the insufficient number of teachers, they cover PPA, and of course, they cover illness.
When paired with the chronic underfunding in schools, it leaves many classes with a mishmash of teachers each and every week. Consistency, this certainly isn’t.
And the results are plain to see. I’m not slagging off the unqualified teachers – most are an excellent addition to the profession. But, how do we know if they’ve received the necessary safeguarding training? Or know how to control a class effectively? Or can adapt their teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of the pupils?
I’m sorry to say, this column doesn’t get much cheerier. You see, things are only going to get worse. The government fails to meet its recruitment targets year on year, and it’s blindingly obvious to all that as a profession, teaching doesn’t have the appeal it once had.
According the National Audit Office, 34,910 teachers left for other reasons than retirement.
That’s almost 35,000 excellent teachers that we’ve had to replace because the job has become to onerous.
We can talk about workload, work-life balance, and a lack of respect and pay – the list really is endless. Whichever way you paint it and for whatever reasons they give, the reality is that a third of teachers appointed since 2010 have moved on.
So who replaces these missing 35,000? Well, it’s likely to be unqualified teachers.
It’s time the government recognised the mess it’s caused. After all, it’s our pupils who suffer the most.
Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories
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