Train wreck: why lowering the QTS bar is a threat to education

T'was midnight in the classroom 
and all the desks were shut.
When suddenly 

the DfE 
produced a quiet ‘Cut-cut’

Said Gove to we
‘I don’t like T, 

or Q so close to S.
Academies have said to me
‘Our schools are in a mess.’'

The powers-that-be, the DfE 

 declared a novel route: 
not GTP nor ITT 
for schools now to recruit

So Gove was cheered by nobody

as schools snoozed on the beach.
The problem never seen before 
was teachers trained to teach.
'DUDE! You are TOTALLY now a teacher!'

You will forgive my hack verse. Barely droll near-poetry seems as good a response as any to the bizarro-edict that has united almost every teacher: the announcement that in future, schools won’t have to hire teachers with QTS. Which means for the first time in several decades, state schools can recruit staff with no teacher training to teach, with no requirement that they eventually obtain such a novelty.

A DfE spokesman said that ‘academies had been asking for this freedom,’ to which my obvious response is, ‘Well, how about if we all start making requests about what we’d like?’ What is this, Christmas?  I’d like trifle. Can I have that? Some people eye their dusty cat-o-nine-tails with misty-eyed memories. Are they making a come-back too? 

Michael Gove, I am hugely disappointed (which will no doubt have him weeping into his Happy meal). So far, I had liked the look of a number of this administration’s policies more than half; where New Labour had gone so wrong was to pimp out their commitment towards the three Es of education to the fashionable, flimsy, Frankenstein orthodoxies of league tables, metrification and progressive flim-flam; this regime seemed to genuinely believe in driving up teaching quality.

But this is an Olympic somersault.
Your new Head of Music
Your new Head of PE

But stay; what value QTS anyway? Regular readers will know that I view much teacher training with the same sense of weary disappointment as the average Christmas Cracker toy (even the nice ones from M&S). There’s a lot of guff on some ITT programs. I learned a whole lot about EAL inclusion, but less than nothing about behaviour management, on mine. Brainless ideological dogma, witless mis-prioritisation and a national inconsistency of training are just some of the problems. Perhaps M-Gove was reverberating to the hum of this fork.

But the solution isn’t to drive an axe into the base of the bark; the tree needs pruned and treated, not ruined, harrowed, the land salted.

Some have said that in practice, this will mean little; that schools would be mad to hire staff who didn’t have suitable experience and education for the role of teacher, and that we should trust Heads and Governors and schools to recruit in their best interests. This market model of moral motivation- that by pursuing our own self-interest we ensure utility- is partially true, but ignores a more complex problem with self-interest. There is a huge difference between one’s interest, and perceived self interest. Exhibit A: crack addicts, doomed lovers, and other desperadoes. While many schools would never dream of hiring an unsuitable candidate, given the pressure of budgets, the attractiveness of cheaper staff, and the inexorable pressures of expediency, schools will, and I repeat, will, hire teachers with inadequate experience and ability to ‘fill gaps’, as temporary fixes that become permanent non-solutions.

Don’t believe me? Witness the rise of the Cover Supervisor as long term teacher and supply; witness the rise of HLTAs from classroom assistants to full time teachers. Hundreds of schools have already told me how non-teaching staff are already used as teaching staff, as cover. Some have even told me about office staff being used to cover lessons, and TAs. Fine, in a pinch; not as a rule. Is sort of expect my teachers to have degrees in their subjects, and some kind of formal instruction in the trade.

Another caveat: there are undoubtedly some excellent people teaching in schools who never experienced ITT, but have flourished in their roles; One excellent headmaster even told me he’d tried to fill vacancies at school, had no luck, and went for a non-teacher option; successfully. And of course non-qualified teachers are common in the private sector, so what’s the fuss, say some? If private schools do this, why shouldn’t we? And to be fair, this IS a good argument, and possibly one that moved Gove more than most. Critics of the scheme shouldn’t ignore this: it can work, in certain circumstances. Why not in the state sector?

Your new Head of Broom Cupboards

The first answer is that, just because a strategy can work in exceptional circumstances, doesn't mean it should be a freedom allowed to all; a system needs to cater for the blunt fact that its inhabitants will be largely within the norms of the bell curve of excellence. Some dedicated stalwarts would take this opportunity and honour its noblest possibilities and responsibilities; others will take it to the pawn shop and flog it for a bag of magic beans. And the race to the bottom gathers pace.

The second answer is that opening this hatch, however slightly, is an invitation to dilute the profession even further. There will be more and more teachers now who have never made the commitment to teach that an ITT course provides. Despite the current wobbly table of the national training situation, it is better than no table. Teaching isn’t something that ‘You just have a go at’ it’s a specialist skill. And yes, most of it is learned on the job; but leaving it to schools alone is a huge mistake. As recruitment can fall victim to expediency, so too can training- many schools train staff as poorly as they can afford, and concentrate on ticking induction boxes. Of course some don’t. But that’s the national situation. A formal process of training at least ensures a softer landing into the classroom, with built in time to reflect, research and review one’s practice.

I’ve just come back from Poland, a country where the minimum, mimimum time it takes to get from nought to teaching is three years, and that’s fast track. This is the educational tiger of Eastern Europe remember, pissing all over the PISA tables for literacy and improvement. In a few years time, we’ll no doubt be sending delegates of concerned investigators over there to find out why they’re doing so well in the international Top Trumps.

And we’ll notice that they train their teachers. And we’ll go, ‘No, that can’t be it. Maybe it’s the perogi?’


  1. I'm more optimistic that there will be no flood of unqualified teachers in regular secondary subjects. Rather, I feel, this new freedom will be used exactly as independent schools tend to use it, that being providing for subjects where qualified teachers are very rare. So rare, in fact, that most state schools cannot offer ancient Greek, Latin etc.

  2. The argument that private schools already successfully use non qualified teachers is spurious - step into the private classroom, small class, engaged pupils, boundaries in place; now step into the state/academy classroom with the saucer-eyed non-qual at the front - large class, disruptive pupils, boundaries tested in extremis. Watch the pretty paper airplanes, the youtube phones and the frustration of the pupils who do want to progress but cannot due to the rabelaisian carnival presided over by the unqualified Lord of Misrule.

  3. I must be thick- I just don't understand how a government who wants to raise educational standards can do this.
    What next? A bin man to do the head's job? Qualifications- must have working knowledge of dealing with rubbish on a daily basis-tick. Must be able to work long hours and be prepared for abuse-tick. Must not be afraid to get hands dirty-tick. Oh well, that's the matter sorted then.

    Ofsted- how will they evaluate this? Standards-
    Are the class learning and progressing at the same time? Errr
    Does the teacher have a thorough understanding of the subject being taught? ...Errr
    Is the lesson differentiated..Errr what does that mean?
    Does the school have anyone who has a teacher qualification? See the head, he taught his mate Bert the new route on that new estate that was built last year..

    Government response to damning report from Ofsted-It's not our fault.

    Good grief before we know it there will be standards for those in government.Who would do a job like that at a fraction of the pay? Plenty of Tax perks though and a nice Gaff in London... Interesting thought..

  4. I finished full-time secondary after too many days of getting totally fucked to the nuts with TAs that can hardly read and write, SMTs that have no concept of the value of education for its own sake and fail to comprehend that abstract ideas cannot be measured and quantified, teachers that think apostrophes are optional and 'not-important', cover supervisors doing a job way out of their depth and the change to a - cough - less knowledge-based curriculum. Some other muppet can put up with those half-wit ideas like APP, pseudo-scientific learning styles and other associated bollocks. Best thing I ever did was when I left.


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