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August 3, 2012

I originally thought that Michael Gove’s announcement about academies being able to recruit anybody as teachers was simply a distraction for September so that people didn’t take too much notice of how many free schools are going to be undersubscribed! However, today it looks as if, by accident or design, the requirement to have Qualified Teacher Status in order to teach in any school could be going the same way.


The reaction has been mostly predictable. Anthony Seldon, the outspoken headteacher of Wellington College has been quick to tell us how liberating it will be to be able to employ good chaps without having to worry about all that qualifications business. The unions have gone into ballistic indignation mode and the higher education institutions, whose core business is clearly threatened by this move, have been expertly defended by Chris Husbands from the Institute of Education. Meanwhile, headteachers have been slower than one might expect to rubbish the idea and most classroom teachers probably just see this as another eccentric Gove initiative. Perhaps the school system has been beaten down so effectively over the past eighteen months that the fight has gone out of it.


The first thing to say about the plan is that it is ideological rather than practical. It fits neatly with the Gove assertion that teaching should operate on an apprenticeship model where new teachers learn on the job. Since we have been saying for years that teachers are lifelong learners that is an easy assertion to make but, of course, it is hopelessly flawed.


Teaching requires a mixture of pedagogy (understanding the role, the clients, the context, the dynamic and so on) and subject knowledge (the expert voice, the curriculum content, examination system and the rest) and to be a good teacher you have to blend all of that with experience and personal qualities like resilience, determination and an ability to get on with people. You need all three of these and the ideological debate is all about the third one.


There is another, quite separate, argument to be had about whether QTS, an honours degree or even a Masters qualification is the best preparation for teaching but all of them do give you a chance to reflect, explore and learn. That is important because otherwise people simply teach like they were taught so that the bad habits of one generation get foisted on the next and new ideas and innovations do not get passed around and learned.


Also, even if they are viewed as a ragbag of requirements, these qualifications do require teachers to be reasonably literate and numerate and to study the area in which they going to teach. Does anyone think that parents will be stupid enough not to complain about teachers, however charismatic they appear, who are only one step ahead of the class in learning?


The qualifications also provide a security blanket for schools. Trainees are security checked so if someone has a criminal record or is on a sex offenders database it should be known about. The same cannot be said about someone who arrives in the school with some convincing documentation from some faraway country and a couple of e-mail addresses for references.


Funnily enough, the requirements also protect schools from the maverick decisions of school governors who are more likely than most to be taken in by anyone who is over six foot tall in a sporty jacket with a slight military bearing and clean shoes! Because everybody went to school, most people think they know about teaching and how to do it. Quite a lot of them think they could do it rather well and an open open application process is going to bring them out of the woodwork.


So, in the end this notion is not going to appeal to many headteachers. The risks are not only that you get conned but that, if things go wrong, you are likely to get sued as well. Most academies arrange their liability insurance independently and once insurers begin to see the risks involved then premiums will rise. If the fancy new unqualified teacher fails to deliver adequate GCSE scores, there might be a good legal case to be made against the school for not acting in the interests of children.


The Secretary of State for Education may be many things but he’s certainly not stupid so what is he really up to? Well, as mentioned above, if you’re thinking of moving to a bigger job in September you wouldn’t want a free school places disaster to cloud your record but there’s more to it than that. The troops into teaching initiative, a massive increase in school-based training and an OFSTED regime designed to cut the numbers of education providers are all working together to destabilise teachers and teaching while regional pay and payment by results are only a little further down the line.


The end intention is a multiplicity of provision delivered by any number of people and through that the destruction of the maintained system with equity of access and equity of opportunity. The coalition has tried – and probably – failed to do that to the National Health Service but there’s still a chance with education and as things fall apart there is a lot of money to be made through private intervention. The ‘not’ not for profit educational trusts and foundations are waiting in the wings.


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