Are teachers qualified to teach? Is Nick Clegg qualified to call himself a liberal?

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has spoken out about the use of non-“Qualified Teachers” in free schools. I am being somewhat careful with my punctuation and capitalisation to make it absolutely clear that the qualification to which Nick Clegg refers relates to some kind of official status rather than whether somebody is qualified to teach. I will leave aside whether non-qualified teachers should be used in academies. The arguments are slightly different, though I would still side with the right of a head teacher, rather than a politician, to decide such matters.

Before turning to the issue of qualifications, it is worth noting that Nick Clegg also used the same arguments in relation to the national curriculum.

He said: “What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it?” Well, perhaps it is worth asking if we should have a national curriculum at all. However, if we do have one, there is certainly some point in all schools that are controlled directly by the state and local authorities keeping to the same curriculum, but it does not follow that free schools should stick to that curriculum any more than private fee-charging schools should have to. The point about free schools (of which there are only about 200) is that they provide parents with additional choice. Parents – not unreasonably, given the lack of rigour in the national curriculum and given that it is very much oriented towards the median child – might want something different for their children. To the modern “liberal” wanting something different seems to be a crime.

Regarding teaching qualifications, Clegg said: “I also believe every parent needs reassurance that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, meets certain core standards of teaching and care. A parental guarantee, if you like.”As it happens, the parent may want that guarantee to come from the head teacher rather than that guarantee coming in a rather roundabout way of requiring all teachers to be licensed by the state. The parent may also be content that the Ofsted process ensures that the state is happy that the school is decent (a quid-pro-quo for state funding) but may not be interested in whether every teacher in that school is “qualified” according to some bureaucratic definition. The parent may want qualities in their child’s teachers that transcend state teaching qualifications. If the state-controlled school wishes, it can put on its gate a big notice stating: “all our teachers are certified as qualified by the state”. Meanwhile, the free school can put up a big notice saying: “Our ancient Greek teacher is not certified as qualified by the state, but he is one of the leading teachers in the country and, in any case, try finding a state school that teaches ancient Greek at all.”

Economists do not like using anecdotes as evidence, so this one should be treated more as a parable. My wife has taught French for most of the last 25 years. For the first half of her career she taught in a grammar school with the top 20 per cent of the ability range. She would spend much of the week teaching Oxbridge candidates Balzac. Returning to teaching after having children, she had Nick Clegg’s required qualification. However, she did not get the first job for which she applied in a local primary school because her experience was clearly unsuitable for the job. She might have been okay at the job. However, there was a better qualified candidate but who did not, as far as I know, have “Qualified” teacher status. It was perfectly clear to my wife that the other candidate was more suitable.

Meanwhile, for the last six years or so, my wife has taught in primary schools in French clubs (age 4-11) where parents pay separately and, it has to be said, are very discerning about whether they are getting good value for money. She has also taught similar age groups in church catechism classes. This year, she has started working part time at a local primary school in a very similar job for the one for which she applied seven years ago. Unquestionably, it is her recent experience with young people that was regarded as relevant (as well as the fact that she is a French speaker, of course). Through some quirks, she seems to be hired on the non-qualified teacher scale (it is hard to work these things out as they are so complicated) but she would jump Nick Clegg’s hurdle due to her (largely irrelevant) secondary school experience.

But, who is to take these decisions? Some state school heads have class teachers teach modern languages (which are becoming a requirement at primary level) who have absolutely no experience speaking the language at all. This is absolutely astonishing – but, according to Clegg it is okay. When it comes to the process of a free school choosing a teacher – especially for a specialist subject – it is the people on the ground who are in the best position to determine what combination of ability, different types of experience (years spent teaching, working with different age groups, practical experience and so on), formal academic qualifications and formal teaching qualifications best suit the position. The idea that this information can be centralised and decisions taken at central government level about such matters should be anathema to anybody who is a member of a party with the word “liberal” in its name.

Indeed, if there were a national qualification body that determined who should be able to call themselves a “liberal” then I am quite sure that Nick Clegg would not qualify.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Home.

Academic and Research Director, IEA

Philip Booth is Senior Academic Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs. He is also Director of the Vinson Centre and Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. He also holds the position of (interim) Director of Catholic Mission at St. Mary’s having previously been Director of Research and Public Engagement and Dean of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences. From 2002-2016, Philip was Academic and Research Director (previously, Editorial and Programme Director) at the IEA. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. He is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Federal Studies at the University of Kent and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, University of Notre Dame, Australia. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an adviser on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.

1 thought on “Are teachers qualified to teach? Is Nick Clegg qualified to call himself a liberal?”

  1. Posted 21/10/2013 at 17:49 | Permalink

    It is typical of the official academic world in England that more attention is paid to paper qualifications than to practical ability to do the job well (and to learn on the job). I taught post-graduate classes in universities for forty years without being officially ‘qualified’. Of course that is not the same as teaching in primary schools or in secondary schools (where I did teach for one year), but the principle is the same. Who is to choose who teaches? State bureaucrats or a combination of the people running the school and their customers (the parents and children)? As Philip himself has pointed out on other occasions, the situation is very similar with respect to financial regulation. It is likely to lead to disappointment or worse if bankers (for example) seek to satisfy the regulators rather than the bank’s customers. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the quality of the output from state schools is so poor.

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