Norfolk and Suffolk headteachers’ mixed reaction to unqualified teachers debate

Some of Norfolk's headteachers would consider putting unqualified teachers in their classrooms – despite fears by others it could have a negative effect on the region's students.

Following the announcement that the department for education has relaxed the rules for academies to allow them to take on teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS), education leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk have been giving their views on the latest policy change.

It brings academies in line with Free schools and independent schools, who already have the freedom to take on unqualified teachers.

According to the DfE, it will mean they can 'now hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers, and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before'.

But while some headteachers have welcomed the news and said they will seriously consider taking the government up on the offer, others have blasted it as a watering-down of the profession that could have an adverse effect on students.

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Michael Rose, headteacher at Wayland Academy in Watton, is among the headteachers who said they would 'certainly consider' employing unqualified teachers in the future.

The changes came into effect immediately for new academies opening or converting from now on and existing academies – including 18 in Norfolk and 29 in Suffolk – can ask for the a clause to be included in their agreement.

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Mr Rose said the new rules could help overcome recruitment problems faced by so many schools in Norfolk.

'Our problem has been, for some years, recruitment within maths, design technology and IT. If we were able to train up skilled individuals to the right level, that would be something potentially positive. But it would need to be the right person,' he said.

David Brunton, principal at City Academy Norwich in Earlham, and Rachel de Souza, principal at Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, also said they would be open to the idea.

Mr Brunton said, although teachers with a PGCE were 'better prepared than ever' to join the profession, he believed there were some 'naturally gifted communicators' without QTS who the school would consider employing.

He added: 'Teaching is not just about being knowledgeable in a subject, it is about being able to connect with others to share that knowledge. These attributes can be both learned and innate.'

But other headteachers – including those at Norfolk academies – have dismissed the policy, insisting training is a crucial part of the teacher role.

A number of schools already welcome untrained staff into their classrooms – in the form of instructors or high-level teaching assistants – but headteachers insisted they were not classified as teachers, were on a different pay bands and received extra support.

Ian Clayton, headteacher at Thorpe St Andrew High School which has no plans to become an academy, said bringing in an unqualified teacher and immediately putting them in front of a class was 'gambling with youngsters' lives'.

He said: 'In interview I ask 'Are you a mathematician who wants to become a teacher or a teacher with a passion for maths?' What Thorpe wants are teachers who can pass on that knowledge. You don't have to be a doctor in maths to be a very effective teacher.'

Tim Roderick, headteacher at Sheringham High School, which became an academy in November, said teaching was a 'highly-skilled profession' and was about more than just good subject knowledge.

He added: 'Just as I wouldn't want to be operated on by an unqualified doctor, I'm sure parents do not want their children taught by unqualified teachers.'

Teaching unions have also hit out at the government's policy change.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said ministers were trying the make teaching 'the poor relation of the professions' in England. 'It is the entitlement of all children and young people to be taught by a qualified teacher.'

Specific details about how the new policy would work have yet to be released.

Headteachers said they would want to be assured the right checks and balances were in place to ensure only the most suitable people were taken on as teachers and that schools were required to offer training in key areas.

The DfE first made the announcement on Friday. It has been accused of trying to hide the news as the country got caught up in the excitement of the Olympics opening ceremony.

To read more headteachers' views, click on the link to the right.

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