Tory vice-chairman hits out at Michael Gove's decision to allow unqualified teachers into the classroom
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Wednesday 26 March 2014
A senior Conservative has raised fears that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to allow unqualified teachers in the classroom could be used by schools to “hire on the cheap”.
Richard Harrington, who is vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and MP for Watford, said the concern had been raised with him by teachers in his constituency and added they “have a valid point”.
The move has caused a bitter political row with Labour - backed by teachers’ leaders - who believe that all teachers should be qualified, with Mr Gove insisting allowing unqualified staff would allow schools to recruit “brilliant” linguists, actors, scientists and engineers who are unqualified.
Mr Harrington’s comments emerged on the day that thousands of schools throughout England and Wales were either closed or partially shut as a result of a one-day strike by the National Union of Teachers protesting at government policy.
In a letter to Mr Gove published by the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Harrington acknowledged there could be cases of “outstanding” unqualified individuals being the best person for the job.
However, he added that the teachers' argument “did worry me”, saying: “Their argument is that instead of this being used as a tool to bring in experienced individuals in certain areas for the benefit of education, that it will be used as a tool to effectively ‘hire on the cheap’ and fill classrooms with unqualified teachers not because they have valuable experience but because they are lower cost.
“I would hope that headteachers would not do this of course but I do think it is a valid point which should be given proper consideration.”
In a statement afterwards he said he had merely passed on his constituents’ concerns “as is my duty as their Member of Parliament”.
Placards lined-up before an NUT rally in Centenary Square, Birmingham (PA)
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education spokesman, said: “Many parents will not know that David Cameron has changed the rules to allow schools to recruit unqualified teachers on a permanent basis.
“It’s staggering that [David] Cameron has watered down school standards in this way. Now even his own Tory party vice-chairman is speaking about this damaging ‘hire on the cheap’ teacher policy. Labour will put an end to this, ensuring every classroom has a qualified teacher.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Independent schools and free schools can already hire brilliant people who do not have qualified teacher status.
“We have extended this flexibility to all academies so more schools can hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before.”
Meanwhile, around 10,000 schools were either shut or partially closed as a result of yesterday’s NUT strike over increasing on pension contributions, plans to introduce more performance related pay and increases in teachers’ workloads. The NUT has warned there could be further strike action in the summer if talks failed to resolve the dispute.
A teachers demonstration in Newcastle in support of the NUT walkout (PA)
A rift appeared to develop between the two biggest teachers’ unions as an internal memo signed by Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - which did not take strike action yesterday - accused NUT activists of running “abusive social media campaigns” and making “aggressive accusations” about her union.
The memo said that NASUWT members should not cover the lessons of striking teachers but added: “We should not tolerate any threats, insults or attempts to intimidate our members of activists by the NUT”.
“Unfortunately, in some areas, this has been a hallmark of the activity to date,” it added.
The NUT denied any campaign against the NASUWT.
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