UK Deputy Prime Minister Clegg Criticizes ‘Unqualified’ Head Teachers

A coalition government can make for difficult policy debates — especially on education. UK Tory education policy was lambasted by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, who said that all state teachers should be qualified and that unqualified teachers should not be allowed to teach in state-funded schools, writes Toby Helm of The Observer.

In a speech, Clegg said the Tory education policy, led by Michael Gove, allows free schools, which are publicly-funded but autonomous, to employ unqualified teachers and they have failed to apply the minimum basic standards to the developing charter-like institutions. Clegg said parents need more reassurance about standards and the curriculum because, “parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education.”

The intervention by Clegg drives a wedge between the two governing parties over a key domestic policy, as more signs of trouble emerge this weekend with the free school program, the flagship of the Tories’ public service reform agenda.

Following the criticism, headteachers of free schools are re-evaluating their jobs. A 27-year-old, resigned as headteacher of Pimlico free school in London after just three weeks in the job.  Also, a headteacher stepped down from the Discovery new school in Crawley, West Sussex, after an Ofsted report into her work at the 60-pupil primary free school stated that she “lacks the skills and knowledge to improve teaching”.

A parent who took his son and daughter out of the school last year because he was so displeased with it said: “My children were not getting the teaching they deserved and that we were promised. On reflection I think one of the reasons was that the teachers were not trained. And you could not complain to anyone. It was all run by the same family.”

Clegg said he is in favor of more autonomy, but that there should be national standards and controls that parents can rely on. Clegg, addressing the issue of unqualified teachers, said that all teachers in state schools should be fully qualified or be working towards a full qualification.

“Frankly it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers,” Clegg said. “Over the last 10 years, there’s been a revolution in the way in which we’ve recruited and trained our teachers. Whether it’s through the on-the-job learning offered through schemes like Teach First and Schools Direct or the continued contribution of our universities to educating generations of Britain’s teachers. That’s why I believe that we should have qualified teachers in all our schools,” He added.

Headteachers of academies or free schools should have the freedom to employ untrained teachers in the same way that private schools “hire the great linguists, scientists, engineers and other specialists they know can best teach and inspire their pupils,” according to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s department.

In addition, Clegg called for the national curriculum and rigorous new food standards to apply in all schools.