Under Cameron, it’s easier to become a teacher than to get a job in a burger bar

by Kevin Brennan

At the end of what has been a busy week for Labour’s shadow education team, today exam regulator Ofqual has announced its planned changes to GCSEs. It is welcome that Ofqual want to strengthen the rigour and integrity of qualifications – but it is odd that David Cameron is doing the exact opposite when it comes to teaching standards. David Cameron’s policy of allowing unqualified teachers in our schools is damaging education standards in our classrooms- as we have seen from the case of Michael Gove’s Al-Madinah free school in Derby.

Labour would bring an end to the watering down of standards and guarantee that all teachers in state funded schools would have to become qualified. That is what this week has been about.

On Wednesday afternoon, in a fashion of which we have unfortunately come to expect from them, the Liberal Democrats performed a remarkable feat of political contortion.

Nick Clegg had surprised his own schools minister by declaring “we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”

It was a relief to hear Clegg agree with Labour policy on this issue. We have long warned of the dangers of the Government’s policy which allows unqualified teachers to teach in Free Schools and academies, and the inevitable watering down of teacher standards that it will lead to.

All this was a tad inconvenient for the Lib Dem schools minister, David Laws who just a few days earlier had passionately defended the policy of allowing unqualified teachers.

In an education select committee hearing last Wednesday, Laws was questioned about his party’s policy on this issue. Laws claimed that he supported a resolution at the Liberal Democrat conference which stated that “every child deserves to be taught by an excellent teacher and appropriately-qualified teacher, or a dedicated professional who is working towards such a qualification.” Then when closing up the debate that took place on Wednesday this week on the subject, he again indicated that he agreed with his party’s position.

It was a rapid volte face but surely welcome as it would mean that the House of Commons could pass a motion supporting having qualified teachers with Lib Dem support.

This is why it was all the more baffling that Liberal Democrat MPs abstained from voting on Labour’s motion, the wording of which mirrored exactly what their leader had proclaimed just a week previously from a podium at a community school in East London, and a resolution that they had put forward at their own party conference!  So the motion fell and the policy continues.

It should not be more difficult to become a shift manager at McDonald’s than it is to get a job as a teacher in a tax-payer funded school. Michael Gove’s downgrading of the teaching profession risks lowering standards in our schools. Allowing unqualified individuals to teach in our schools without needing to acquire a teaching qualification is not a risk that the Labour is willing to take.

The damning Ofsted report of the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, which catalogued a series of failures related to unqualified staff should teach us a bitter lesson of the price that will be paid for this ill-judged policy.

400 children were left without schooling for an entire week while an emergency Ofsted inspection took place, and how much other learning time did those children lose in a school with such a poor quality of teaching?

The inspectors commented, in addition to other desperate failings, that the “teaching is inadequate. Many teachers are inexperienced and have not received the training and support they need.” The large numbers of unqualified teaching staff was also noted, with the inspectors reporting that they were in “desperate need of better support and training.”

That this should happen is no accident.  Gove’s special Adviser Dominic Cummings said failure due to ‘disastrous teaching’ was an inevitable feature of the Free School programme.

The risk David Cameron is willing to take by enacting this policy was further illustrated by the report on events at the Kings Science Academy, a free school in Bradford.  This was a school visited and lauded by Michael Gove and David Cameron around the time that falsified invoices were being submitted.  Again the report shows the danger of unqualified people and Free Schools.

Having qualified teacher status is not just a piece of paper. Having sound knowledge of the subject you are teaching is essential, but so too is knowing how to effectively deliver a programme of study for a range of abilities, learning effective pedagogical skills, and having sound understanding of behavioural management.

In the debate in the House, Michael Gove claimed that the number of unqualified teachers was higher under Labour. He was referring to data released in a written parliamentary answer to question that I had asked in July. What he deliberately missed out was the part in the answer that said that the number of ‘unqualified teachers’ during the years of the Labour Government ‘includes the numbers of trainees working towards QTS; overseas trained teachers who had not exceeded the four years they were allowed to teach without having QTS and instructors with a particular skill who were employed when a suitable qualified teacher was not available.’ Of course many of these went on to acquire QTS as required by Labour.

In fact under this Government there has been a 141% increase in the number of unqualified teachers in academies and Free Schools.

David Cameron and Michael Gove have stripped almost every other assurance that any parent could have about education in tax payer funded schools. It is surely not too much to ask that there be a nationally recognised minimum standard for teachers in those schools.  And surely it is not too much to ask that the Lib Dems should support a motion which backs their professed policy.

Unfortunately it became clear this week that on planet Lib Dem that is too much to ask.

Kevin Brennan MP is Labour’s shadow schools minister

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3 Responses to “Under Cameron, it’s easier to become a teacher than to get a job in a burger bar”

  1. Seymour says:

    Please define what you mean by a qualified teacher
    Is it someone who is good at teaching and knows the subject or is it someone who has a BEd? They aren’t the same thing.

    From what I see, the teaching qualification that the teachers want to enforce focus on being left of centre, anti-male (actually anti boys being educated as boys need to be to be succesful) and being right on

    Being able to pass a rather simplistic qualification that, in its exams, just requires regurgitating what the lecturers want to read/hear doesn’t make a good teacher.

  2. Ex-labour says:

    And what exactly was Labours education policy? Oh right that’s it, dumb down exams so that anyone can pass, impose ridiculous league tables which distorted the teaching behaviour of every school, then send everyone to university on Mickey Mouse degrees and then wonder why they could not get a job.

    Very well thought through policy Kevin.

    My wife worked at a primary school in the Labour era and all they were interested in was political correctness and any lefty new “right on”teaching methods. Needless to say when the kids got to go to our local senior school the teachers complained they had not even the basic grasp of maths and English.

    Grammar, comprehensive, academy, free school, I don’t really care so long as you have teachers who can teach and stop this one size fits all approach where lefties think all kids are equally intelligent and the schools aim for the lowest common denominator.

  3. Leslie48 says:

    Nonsense propaganda from the Right has it that Labour left a mess or dumbed down; utter, utter rubbish. For decades & decades GCSEs ( started by Thatcher), A Level passes & university expansion ( Under Blair and Major) have been increasing but while other advanced economies rejoice at more ‘human capital’ we have the old elitist right moaning. More working class kids , more lower middle class kids and more girls are going to university than ever, ever before. Our meritocracy is working far better now than back in the early 1960s when Sixth Form & University was an experience of a small middle class elite.

    Its nonsense to argue otherwise for example more kids do A Level Maths & AS maths & GCSE Maths than ever before and our universities are not up in arms about dumbing down indeed universities have bitterly complained about Gove’s proposed A/AS changes ( including Cambridge). Our Economy is doing fine at graduate level( possible exception is engineering ) the issues remain for those at the bottom .

    I think Keven has to be careful not to denigrate the standards which have evolved at A Level since curriculum 2000 and of course we did introduce A* under Labour. Its worth repeating because Labour are deaf on the A Level changes Gove is seeking; millions of parents & our students are seething at the removal of retakes from this January, are angry at the removal of AS and I include private school heads, the Russell group including Cambridge as well as our comprehensives. We are about to go backwards to the 1960s. As a parent recently said at a leading London private college reception Gove is an idiot.

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