Should we be worrying about unqualified teachers?

Teacher Image copyright Thinkstock

How much does it worry you when you hear that almost 400,000 children in England are being taught by unqualified teachers?

It is something Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Greens say they want to change.

Do you think head teachers should try every means possible to attract talented young people into teaching?

The Conservatives say it is essential to give many schools the freedom to recruit people without a formal teaching qualification.

UKIP agrees, arguing that you can have an experienced and outstanding teacher who is unqualified.

It is one of those muddling and muddied debates that is a dividing line between the political parties.

Depending on where you stand it is either a useful alternative way of recruiting a wide range of talents, or an excuse to lower the pay and status of teaching through deregulation.

While a newly qualified teacher can expect to start on £22,000 a year, an unqualified teacher can be paid as little as £16,000.

Qualified-teacher status is awarded after finishing an approved initial teacher training programme.

In theory you must have it to get a teaching job in a school run by your local council, but not in an academy or free school.

Claims of a rise

Labour says there are about 17,000 unqualified teachers in England's schools, and points to an increase in the number employed in academies.

This is true on both counts, but - as is often the case in politics - is just one slice of the truth, as the official workforce numbers show.

School type Type of teacher 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Jan 2010 Nov 2010 2011 2012 2013
Maintained Regular teachers(full-time equivalent) 431,900 435,600 435,200 434,900 432,800 432,700 425,200 358,700 320,800 301,900
Unqualified teachers (FTE) 18,600 17,900 16,700 16,800 16,400 14,400 15,600 11,900 9,500 9,300
% 4.3 4.1 3.8 3.9 3.8 3.3 3.7 3.3 3.0 3.1
Academies Regular teachers (FTE) 2,300 2,900 4,000 6,200 9,800 15,300 22,800 79,300 121,200 149,300
Unqualified teachers (FTE) 300 300 500 800 1,000 1,700 2,200 3,900 5,300 7,900
% 13.0 10.3 12.5 12.9 10.2 11.1 9.6 4.9 4.4 5.3
All publicly funded schools Regular teachers (FTE) 434,200 438,400 439,300 441,100 442,600 448,000 448,100 438,000 442,000 451,100
Unqualified teachers (FTE) 18,800 18,200 17,200 17,500 17,400 16,000 17,800 15,800 14,800 17,100
% 4.3 4.2 3.9 4.0 3.9 3.6 4.0 3.6 3.3 3.8

Schools have long been able to make an exception to employ unqualified teachers for their specialist skills, often in subjects such as music, art and sport.

Go back a decade to 2005 and the full-time equivalent of 18,800 unqualified teachers were working - 4.3% of all teachers in England.

The 17,100 employed today make up a smaller proportion - 3.8% of teachers in publicly funded schools.

That means all schools, including those directly managed by local authorities, free schools and academies.

If you look at the crude numbers, more unqualified teachers were working in local-council-managed schools in 2013 than in academies.

As more schools have converted to become academies, the number of unqualified teachers employed in academies has also gone up.

Teaching assistants

Less commented on is the significant increase in teaching assistants, with a starting salary even lower than an unqualified teacher at around £13,000.

Of course they don't take classes on their own, they are in class to help not to lead the learning as the teacher does.

School type 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Jan 2010 Nov 2010 2011 2012 2013
Maintained FTE teaching assistants 147,000 153,100 163,000 175,700 181,600 190,500 207,700 198,900 195,800 192,900
Teaching assistants per 100 teachers 34.0 35.1 37.5 40.4 42.0 44.0 48.8 55.5 61.0 63.9
Academies FTE teaching assistants 200 400 800 1,300 2,100 3,700 6,200 20,800 36,500 50,800
Teaching assistants per 100 teachers 8.7 13.8 20.0 21.0 21.4 24.2 27.2 26.2 30.1 34.0
All publicly funded schools FTE teaching assistants 147,200 153,500 163,800 177,000 183,700 194,200 213,900 219,800 232,300 243,700
Teaching assistants per 100 teachers 33.9 35.0 37.3 40.1 41.5 43.3 47.7 50.2 52.6 54.0

But the figures show how their role in schools in England has grown.

So as far as those political positions on qualified versus unqualified teachers are concerned, it seems the parties' rhetoric is largely about staking out different visions of teaching and the school system.

One view is of a less regulated, more diverse teaching workforce; the other argues that formal training in the skills of being a teacher is an essential part of bolstering the status of the profession.

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