Free schools ‘snubbing chance to hire unqualified teachers’

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Michael Gove’s reforms enabling free schools to hire unqualified teachers are largely being snubbed, figures show.

Only around one in 40 teachers in mainstream free schools are unqualified, figures released to the under the Freedom of Information Act showed.

But the figures varied widely from school to school, with many only hiring qualified teachers while at others more than three quarters of their teachers were unqualified.

The issue caused furore in Yorkshire earlier in the year when the Yorkshire Post revealed that a school in Leeds was advertising for “two unqualified maths teachers”.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Children and young people deserve to be taught by a qualified teacher.

“Being an enthusiastic amateur does not in any way substitute for the skills and knowledge of child development gained with qualified teacher status.

“It is encouraging to see that most free schools agree.

“Parents will not be impressed however to discover that the freedom to employ unqualified teachers has been taken up to such a degree in some schools.”

Responses from 80 mainstream free schools showed just 26 of the 1,029 teachers did not hold qualified teacher status (QTS), excluding those teachers who qualified overseas and those who were trainees.

In all, there are 174 free schools in England and the FoI request asked specifically about teachers, rather than teaching assistants or instructors.

Trinity School in Sevenoaks, Kent, which opened in September this year, said seven of its nine teachers were unqualified.

At Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, which was ordered to close its doors on April 4 earlier this month (DEC), five of the school’s seven teachers were unqualified, the figures showed.

It was one of the first 24 free schools to open in 2011, but was declared failing and placed in special measures by watchdog Ofsted in May.

Mr Courtney said: “The lesson should have been learnt from high-profile cases such as the appointment of an unqualified head teacher at the new Pimlico Primary free school who had to resign after just six months in the job.

“Teaching is a profession, and like any other profession it needs to be mastered. Michael Gove should take away these freedoms which some free schools are abusing to a great extent.”

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt claimed the Government’s education reforms mean that people who flip burgers require more qualifications than people who choose to teach, accusing Mr Gove of undermining the profession.

Responding to the latest figures, Mr Hunt said: “By allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms on a permanent basis, David Cameron is damaging school standards.

“The failings that have led to the closure of Cameron’s flagship Discovery Free School in West Sussex are the consequence of what happens when teaching standards are watered down.

“Labour would ensure that all teachers, in all classrooms become qualified.”

Just days before the closure of Discovery New School was announced, inspectors warned that a second free school, Al-Madinah in Derby, was “in chaos” weeks after it was placed in special measures.

The Muslim free school hit the headlines earlier this year after a whistle-blower claimed schoolgirls were made to sit at the back of classrooms and non-Muslim female teachers were pressured to wear head-scarves.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also opened coalition dividing lines over education policy in October by insisting all teachers should have qualified teacher status, despite the Government’s policy to allow unqualified teachers in free schools and academies.

The UK’s poor performance in major international education rankings has also focused attention on the quality of teaching amid calls for standards to be higher. However, Mr Gove said last month there were now fewer unqualified teachers in state schools than there were under the previous government.