Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


You can be an expert in your field, but that doesn't make you a good teacher

Gove's plan to let unqualified staff into schools needs a rethink

There are a few jobs on the planet that you really don’t need qualifications for. You can be dropped in at the deep end and work out what you need to do pretty quickly. These do include sales assistant and waitress. These don’t include pastry chef and teacher. Drop somebody untrained into a kitchen hoping to make eclairs and they’d get booted out pretty quickly by a Ramsayesque chef. Yet schools are being encouraged to consider taking on unqualified teachers in a move that could completely and negatively alter their quality of teaching.

Michael Gove, no stranger to the odd controversial policy or three, is keen to open school doors to “brilliant people” without qualified teacher status such as linguists, scientists and engineers. It’s true that there is a gap between real-world experience and classroom teaching. Kids absolutely need more exposure to experts from the real-world workplace. They should learn from brilliant and experienced specialists. If you had a real-life astrophysicist making models with pupils in the science lab, wouldn’t that be amazing?  But that kind of expert-led activity should be in the form of talks, work experience and interactive sessions overseen by qualified teachers, not the experts themselves.

There’s a reason that most teachers spent at least a year getting their qualifications. It takes time to learn how to deliver and plan lessons, deal with tricky pupils and do a myriad of other things that I don’t know about because I’m not a trained teacher, just like all of these mythical experts. You can be the smartest subject specialist in the world, but if you don’t have the tools and confidence to teach, how can you get your knowledge across in the right way?

These experts might get some short-term training, but that’s not a robust or standard solution. Teach First, for example, is a wonderful scheme, but even they themselves admit that not everyone goes on to teach afterwards. Even the degree courses don’t work for everyone – most teachers are great but some really aren’t – so how can we trust teachers with no or shorter training?

A better alternative that would also encourage experts into schools would be to make teaching a more attractive proposition to career-switchers. Increase the funding for postgraduate training, raise salaries, decrease classroom sizes and generally make schools easier places to work in with less Gove-shaped nonsense to deal with.