November 5, 2013


Most parents tell me they want their children to be taught by qualified teachers. 

They also tell me that they want teaching to be a profession which attracts the highest calibre of applicants. And they are of course right to want the best possible teachers.

Countries widely regarded to have the best education systems such as those in Finland, Japan, Singapore and Korea have very different approaches to the curriculum, teaching methods and school structures, but they all make the quality of teaching their top priority. 

According to international studies, the top two priorities for raising school standards are getting the right people to become teachers and developing them into effective instructors. As top management consultants, McKinsey say: "Building the instructional skills of teachers and management skills of principals is a common factor in improving school systems everywhere in the world."

So far so good except that in this country, we have a government that doesn’t quite follow this approach. 

In July last year, the government decided that academies and free schools could employ unqualified teachers. Remember that academies and free schools are still publicly funded schools but are run by the department for education in London rather than by local education departments. 

Free schools by the way are not free at all. They are still paid for by the taxpayer. The ‘free’ bit means they are free of local control. Put another way, you and I have no say over whether a free school can open here regardless of whether we need a new school.

But returning to the quality of teachers in our schools. Most secondary schools are now academies. That means that in most secondary schools, unqualified teachers can be employed, something opposed by most parents.

Which brings me to the government’s view, or should I say views, on qualified teachers. 

The Deputy Prime Minister, Lib Dem, Nick Clegg says he disagrees with employing unqualified teachers. 

He says this is Lib Dem policy. Clegg says it was that nasty man, the Education Minister, Conservative, Michael Gove who made the decision to allow academies to employ unqualified teachers. 

The trouble is that one of Mr Gove’s ministers is David Laws, a Lib Dem and he told the House of Commons that he agreed with Mr Gove. Moments later in a vote in the House of Commons, the Lib Dems abstained. 

That included Southport’s Lib Dem MP and both Clegg and Laws.

At the 2010 election, Lib Dem voters didn’t think they were voting for their children to be taught by unqualified teachers, just as they didn’t think they were voting for the privatisation of Royal Mail or for a trebling of tuition fees. 

Those same voters will wonder why the party now says it is against the use of unqualified teachers in academies, speaks in favour of unqualified teachers in parliament and then doesn’t even bother to vote to show what they really think when given the chance to do so. 

Confusing isn’t it.

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