Two questions journalists aren’t asking about Nick Clegg’s free schools speech

Nick Clegg’s speech on free schools – setting out the policy approved by the Lib Dem conference last March – has ruffled feathers. Apparently he and David Cameron even had lunch yesterday to discuss this ‘bombshell’ announcement (which in fact won’t be made until a speech this Thursday).

My view (as I set out here on Sunday) is that schools should have the freedom to appoint teachers who lack formal qualifications, though I’d expect these to be the exceptions not the rule in the vast majority of state-funded schools. But I don’t think it’s at all surprising that Nick Clegg should talk about what the party’s policy on free schools will be at the next election. Journalists’ shock-horror at it all (see Iain Martin’s piece here, for instance) is based on their own ignorance rather than any abrupt Lib Dem U-turn.

Two questions interest me, though, and they seem to have gone unasked so far:

1) How many unqualified teachers are there teaching in academies or free schools? Are we talking thousands, a handful, or somewhere inbetween? Are they found in schools which are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted – as 75% of free schools are – or in schools which haven’t yet been inspected or have been found lacking?  (I don’t know the answers: but these are the kind of questions you’d expect both politicians and journalists to find out before they set off pontificating.)

2) Why did David Laws stand up in the House of Commons last week and argue so vehemently in favour of schools having the freedom to appoint teachers without formal teaching qualifications? Part of the reason – one I gave to the Guardian’s Nick Watts on Sunday – is that David was speaking on behalf of the Government from the despatch box; therefore he was stating the Coalition’s current policy, not the Lib Dems’ future one. That’s true, to a point. But David lacerated Tristram Hunt, Labour’s new shadow education  secretary, for his party’s policy contortions in this area. Yet David chairs the Lib Dems’ 2015 manifesto group and I can’t believe he doesn’t know the party’s adopted policy on free schools. So I’m confused why he would make such an unambiguous commitment to retaining schools recruitment freedom, one his party opposes.

Answers on a postcard, please. (Or below-the-line may prove quicker…)

Update: Fullfact has dug into the figures here, Ignorance is bliss? Inspecting the rise in unqualified teachers. These show that “as a proportion of all full-time equivalent teachers in [publicly funded] schools, the prevalence of unqualified FTE teachers has actually shrunk from 10% in 2010 to 4.4% in 2012.”

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Bill le Breton 22nd Oct '13 - 10:47am

    Stephen I think it may help the deconstruction of events past present and future to see the Liberal Democrats through the lens of *The Simpsons* with the Leader/his office as Homer (D’oh!): Laws/Browne as Bart.

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Oct '13 - 10:53am

    Your first mistake by you both is to have trusted Nick Clegg. All state funded schools can now employ unqualified teachers. Nick Clegg also says he has stopped profit making at schools, when it is possible by getting the schools a body controls to buy its services from them. Nick Clegg’s position is full of holes. If you want to spend your days spinning for him, including highlighting how closely Nick Clegg follows Party education policy(!) then knock your selves out.

  • “Why should free schools be allowed to hire unqualified teachers, and not academies and community schools?”

    Academies can. Legally they’re the same as free schools.

    “Can you explain the reason why you think children should be taught by unqualified teachers? I am not thinking of the weekly singing lesson or guitar lesson but teaching the curriculum day in and day out to classes of children.”

    Because they may be very good. Such as the school which hired a physics professor (, who couldn’t get QTS because the 65 year old American didn’t have a GCSE in maths . Or the retired public school head of maths who was not allowed to teach in a state school because he didn’t have QTS.

    Have to say I think the comments on here seem to think that it’s fine for top private schools to use skilled staff who do not have the union-approved qualifications because they have a better class of student but not those catering to a lower class of pupil.

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Oct '13 - 12:00pm

    And as we get closer to the election so Clegg is letting down his chums and trying to move and engage leftwards, but after all these years few want to know. It’s all the more tragic when you consider that Clegg is trying to make staying in coalition his raison d’etre, when this is largely down to electoral maths and when there are doubts he could take all of his Party with him into a second coalition with the Tories or be accepted by Labour in a coalition with them. And we’ve got a year and half of Tim Farron fans joining Cleggites in trying to prop up this non-sense to come, so as to try and ensure there isn’t a change in leader before May 2015. Fawlty Towers.

  • Stephen, would it be ok for businesses to employ unqualified (and not on a route to formal qualification) accountants, lawyers, surveyors, etc?

    If a business did do this, it would be liable for any untoward outcome.

    Why should schools be different?

    If I found out my child was being taught by an unqualified teacher and I didn’t like this, what would I do? Who would I complain to? What action would be available? Who should I sue if their education was impaired?

  • Liberal Neil 22nd Oct '13 - 12:32pm

    Effective teaching involves possessing a set of specific skills and understanding how children learn, however bright or inspirational someone might be.

    A teaching qualification proves that you’ve done the work to get the skills and develop the understanding. It does not prove that you will be a good teacher, because that also involves other personal skills and experience.

    The idea that we would support a system that allows unqualified teachers to teach children seems very wrong to me. It is also wrong that qualified teachers who are not good aren’t weeded out more quickly.

    If the Government thinks it is OK for unqualified teachers to be teaching children then I see no reason at all why all schools shouldn’t have the same freedom.

  • Thanks Stephen for the Fullfact link, which shows that:

    Academies and free schools DON’T in fact employ a substantially higher fraction of unqualified teachers than other publicly funded schools do. (In 2012, it was 4.4% for academies and free schools, 3.3% for all publicly funded schools). So, Clegg is making a big political fuss about a complete non-issue.

    Academies and free schools have actually shown a dramatic DECREASE in the percentage of unqualified teachers they employ between 2010 and 2012. Tristram Hunt has blatantly distorted these figures, by choosing to work on the basis of the total numbers of teachers employed by academies and free schools. The total number of teachers in those schools has rocketed up by 531%, but the number of untrained teachers has gone up by only 141%. Quoting the 141% figure on its own is a classic false scare story, a blatant misuse of statistics.

    However, Fullfact also tells us that the Coalition has since Sept 2012 RELAXED the requirements for employing qualified teachers – for ALL publicly funded schools. So, looking to the future, we can expect all schools – not just free schools and academies – to start employing more unqualified teachers.

    That’s the real story. It’s totally hidden by the politicians, on all sides.

    Politicians, dontcha love ’em?

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Oct '13 - 1:09pm

    It’s not hidden by politicians David. It shows that Nick Clegg is drawing upon a yet narrower pool of people and in this case presumably not even David Laws.

  • Paul Griffiths 22nd Oct '13 - 1:39pm

    Seems to me that the “big political fuss” is being made by the media and our enemies.

  • Paul Griffiths 22nd Oct '13 - 1:55pm

    Sadly, another aspect that seems to escaped the notice of the public (understandably) and political commentators (inexcusably) is that when Liberal Democrats talk about the National Curriculum they don’t mean the bloated, prescriptive, pork-barrel that exists today, but a slimmed down National Curriculum Entitlement. And that’s been our policy since before there even were such things as Free Schools.

  • >Fullfact also tells us that the Coalition has since Sept 2012 RELAXED the requirements for employing qualified teachers

    Personally, I never understand why the requirement for only appointing qualified teachers wasn’t extended across the entire education system, ie. private and public schools, without exception, particularly given the classroom assistant route to QTS is well established. Yes some subjects do have problems attracting capable people, but lowering the entry requirement isn’t going to make teaching or the subject more attractive to candidates nor raise standards.

    The fundamental question is do we really want a professional education system delivering a standard of education and results? because it does not come cheap.

  • Julian Tisi 22nd Oct '13 - 2:14pm

    Thank you to David Allen and Paul Griffiths above for injecting a bit of reality into proceedings and pointing out a few incredibly pertinant facts that no-one on any side seems to be highlighting.

  • >The nearest equivalent, in fact, is higher education
    Depends upon viewpoint, it could be argued that education is about mental health, in which case the nearest equivalent is the NHS.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Oct '13 - 5:02pm

    Quoting from the Iain Martin piece referenced:

    At the weekend, Nick Clegg released extracts from a speech he is making about the Government’s policy of introducing free schools – meaning institutions liberated from the dead hand of local authority and union control.

    Local authorities have no control over what is taught and how it is taught in schools. Tory politicians and Tory-leaning journalists who keep on writing about schools as if they do are simply betraying their own ignorance. I sat on the Education Committee of the borough where I was a councillor for 12 years and never once had any control over what the schools in the borough taught. That is in the hands of their heads and governing bodies. What is this “dead hand” of local authority control Mr Martin is writing about? At the time I was a councillor, my wife was Chair of governors of one of the borough’s primary schools. She never complained to me about any sort of “dead hand” interfering with what her school was doing, she just worked alongside the head and her fellow governors and brought the school up to the top of the league tale in the borough. As Leader of the Opposition in the borough, I would have loved it if there was some “dead hand” problem I could have quoted which would have helped me put the case against the majority party. But there wasn’t. My wife found the LEA a useful source of advice and support when there were the occasional tricky problems, that’s all.

    So all these free schools amount to is that if you throw extra money into creating them you can have more schools. And so? You can have more of anything if you throw extra money into paying for it. But wasn’t Mr Martin writing against the idea that there are money trees?

    As for “union control”, I am not aware that there is any difference in legislation between “free” school and LEA schools on the role of trade unions – I assume teachers in “free” schools have the same rights to join unions as teachers in LEA schools, and if they don’t, surely that’s an infringement of their liberty? I am not aware of any legislation which gives unions control of LEA schools in a way that doesn’t apply to these “free” schools.

    Isn’t it funny how when the Tories introduced the “dead hand” of control over what schools do of the National Curriculum, they were cheered in doing so by the Tory press, but when Nick Clegg supports the idea, he’s condemned as some sort of crypto-socialist?

  • David Allen 22nd Oct '13 - 6:49pm

    Paul Pettinger – “Fawlty Towers”

    Very interesting comments. Yes – Clegg falls out with Browne, Clegg falls out with Michael Moore, Clegg never fell anywhere but out with Cable, even Clegg and Laws now move apart. What a bunch of happy bunnies! When Danny Alexander finally also falls out of favour, perhaps we’ll know that we’ve reached endgame.

    You suggest that there is now a lot of jockeying for position going on, between people who would seek to take over the leadership before 2015 versus those whose chances might look better after 2015. That’s sad.

    There is also an obvious solution. By far the best person to rescue the party now, and to make it clear that Cleggism is dead, would be Vince Cable. What is more, his age is in a sense a distinct advantage. He would not be a credible candidate for PM in 2020. So he should be thinking of leading his party through a 2015 election and promising to continue for two or three years thereafter, then making way for a younger person. If your name is Farron, or Davey, or Swinson – Then you should regard that position with equanimity. Surely you can afford to wait another 3 – 4 years for your big chance?

    Let’s bring in Vince, rediscover traditional equidistance, rediscover a genuine capability to work with either Tories or Labour, promise never again to be a patsy to either. It won’t recover us 60 seats, but it might get us 40, instead of 20. That would mean survival and maybe even a return to government, instead of a collapsing National Liberal rump.

  • Elizabeth

    I think the idea of having some enthusiastic subject experts is an interesting idea but not as teachers per se – rather used as needed to bring something else to lessons. It is almost done this way with music I think and, as a scientist, I think some links with industry etc could add an interesting a dimension.

    It is similar to how it happens at our workplace, some people are people managers who can get away as being generalists but are good at getting across a message, whilst others would never be let within a million miles of managing someone but bring a passion to the technical side not always found in the generalists.

    At the base has to be a Qualified Teacher and that should be unquestionable – the whole concept of trying to argue against it is incomprehensible to me.

    Stephen Tall, I do not see HE teaching any way comparable (I have done this in the past) as it is the dealing with children is the specialism not the actual subject mastery; in some ways being too good at a subject is a handicap as it may prove difficult to get across the fundamentals without over-complicating – I know I find it difficult to help with GSCE in my subject area as I have 10 years further education up to doctorate and then 20 years experience on top of that .

    In HE it is the mastery of the subject that is important – you can say HE is similar only if you start from this and in that case it would be if a very good chemist was teaching degree level Physics – okay up to a point but generally not, in the end, enough

  • Paul Pettinger 22nd Oct '13 - 8:47pm

    @David Allen – well, as years of LDV surveys show, Vince commands greater confidence in members than Clegg or any other Lib Dem Parliamentarian, and I think he could unify the Party like no other. He is no leftie (tuition fees and Royal Mail privatisation), but unlike Ming (who was rather cosy with fellow Fife MP Gordon Brown) is demonstrably a political radical (Saudi King snubbing, banker bashing, idle rich nerving). People attacked Ming for his age, but I still think it was a crude and insensitive label to other short comings and the tide has changed somewhat – we need to rebalance our economy and people having a longer working life is part of that. Whereas Nick compensated Ming’s weakness – he was fresh and a very inspiring speaker – so Vince now compensates Clegg and Miliband’s – he has gravitas, is not from an affluent background or originally the South East, and (in contrast to most political figures) people think he means what he says. Vince is the most statesmen like figure the Party’s got and has had for quite some time.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '13 - 10:05pm

    @David Allen “Academies and free schools have actually shown a dramatic DECREASE in the percentage of unqualified teachers they employ between 2010 and 2012.”
    I think that this is also a misleading statistic as the coalition government encouraged/coerced a lot of state schools to change to academy status so the percentage of unqualified teachers in academies would have been diluted (assuming that the previously non-academy schools had 3.3%-4.0% unqualified teachers, compared to the 10% in the smaller number of existing academies). Even after such dilution, the proportion of unqualified teachers in academies is still significantly greater than across the sector as a whole (4.4% c.f. 3.3%)
    The fullfact article also points out that the data is only available up to November 2012, “barely a few months after the law changed”. It would be more meaningful to look at recruitment of new staff during or after that period, if such data is available.
    Also, much of the criticism has been levelled at new free schools rather than academies as a whole. It would take time for the balance of unqualified and qualified teachers to change in an existing school, but the figures for these new schools would be interesting.

  • Peter Watson – points taken, the decrease may mainly be caused by dilution. Still, it’s a decrease, not the increase so misleadingly claimed by Tristram Hunt. My main point was about clobbering people who deliberately misuse statistics. I accept that to understand what is really happening in any walk of life, one often needs to look beyond the statistics too.

    So, whether 4.4% in free schools / academies is really importantly more than 3.3% generally is a question I’m not entirely qualified to answer. My guess is that much of the time it isn’t. As Stephen and others have pointed out, most employers will have the sense to avoid employing unproven amateurs, except for a few special cases like the local violin tutor who everybody knows is brilliant but who doesn’t have a formal qualification. In theory there is an important argument to be had between the zealots who would ban anyone unqualified versus the free-marketers who would let anyone teach. My take would be somewhere in the middle, allowing the unqualified only in special cases. In practice, figures like 3% or 4% suggest to me that the middle way is mainly what is happening.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '13 - 11:02pm

    After my previous post I had a look at the figures referenced by the fullfacts page. One caveat, the data is in excel but I’m only armed with a browser and a calculator, and can’t get quite the same results as fullfact.
    However, excluding special schools it looks like the proportion of unqualified staff is 3.0% for all publicly funded schools which breaks down to about 4.3% for academies and 2.4% for local authority maintained schools, so only comparing academies with the whole sector is flattering.
    However, the academy sector is largely secondary schools and the proportion of unqualified teachers is much lower (2.0%) in LA maintained primary schools which comprise more than 60% of the staff (that 2.0% compares with 3.7% in academies). Considering only secondary schools, the proportion of unqualified teachers is 3.3% in LA schools and 4.3% in academies. The difference between primary and secondary education does not seem to have been considered in the discussions I have heard. Surely subject-specific knowledge is far less important than teaching ability at primary level, and the need for qualified teachers much greater. This is strongly reflected in the figures for local authority maintained schools, but less so for academies.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Oct '13 - 11:23pm

    @David Allen “In practice, figures like 3% or 4% suggest to me that the middle way is mainly what is happening.”
    Perhaps. I’m a layman, but 1 teacher in 25-30 being unqualified, subject to them having other qualities and skills, does not sound unreasonable if evenly distributed. Much of the discussion also misses the point that a qualified sports coach will have been taught how to teach their sport (UKCC) and often require regular updates. Perhaps the same is true for music.

    The problem is that we don’t have the data to know what are the current figures, if there is an increasing trend since the change in the law, what sort of unqualified teachers we have, or what the effects of this are. The figure of 10% before dilution by existing schools certainly feels too high, and worryingly might reflect the situation in newer schools.

    I don’t believe that even at secondary school subject knowledge is enough in and of itself. It might be sufficient in a private school with a small class of highly-motivated children, but I doubt that a first class maths degree from Oxbridge will be much use if a teacher does not know how to manage 30 uninterested year 10 kids in the bottom set on a Friday afternoon, especially if the teacher has no life experience in such surroundings. My understanding is that a teaching qualification, especially a post-graduate one, is about learning how to teach, and that sounds incredibly important to me.

  • Shirley Campbell 23rd Oct '13 - 2:06am

    Personally, I would chose a subject-led tutorship, led by tutors who had been well-versed and were passionate about their subject, rather than a child-centred tutorship, led by tutors who had been well-versed in “pedagogy”.

    I do not seek to be an aged bore but I am an old person whose aged memory seems to recall the so-called halcyon days of education that were said to span the late 1940s and the 1950s when the tripartite system of education reigned supreme. The system , as implemented , was, and is, much understood.

    Post-graduate “specialists” were engaged to teach their specialist skills in grammar and technical schools (technical schools taught high-minded skills such as languages and linguistics, and economics and business studies, as well as the traditional academic disciplines). Teachers in grammar and technical schools wore their graduation gowns to “celebrate” their academic achievements. Teachers in the secondary modern schools were, in the main, generalists and pedagogics who had graduated from Teacher Training Colleges.

    The current argument seems to be that between subject-centred teachers as opposed to those teachers versed in child-centred teaching. Seemingly, the PGCE should embrace and combine both disciplines. Personally, I would plump for subject-led teachers any time. However, I commend our state-funded comprehensive schools for their outstanding achievements. The GCSE results of our state-funded comprehensive schools, whose intake is not based on selected ability, is truly outstanding and worthy of praise. Long live our state- funded comprehensive education system that caters for all children irrespective of perceived ability or worth. However, the argument between subject-led teaching and child-centred teaching lingers on and Peter Watson touches on this issue. Quite frankly, teachers in the state sector bear the burden of embracing society’s ills ; teachers in the private sector do not. The issue seems to be should those who teach in publicly funded institutions be compelled to hold pedagogical qualifications.? Hate the word pedagogyand hate the concept. Let’s return to the days where honours graduates could be recruited to teach their chosen subject. Furthermore, teachers are not social workers and should not be expected to be treated as such.

  • Shirley Campbell 23rd Oct '13 - 2:48am

    Sorry, I forgot to say that I think that the comprehensive schools are doing an admirable job. Please Liberal Democrats pursue policies that are instrumental into pouring funds into the existing school structures rather than policies that give carte blanche to anyone and everyone to go off on a tangent. Furthermore, why shouldn’t comprehensive schools employ teachers who have outstanding skills and qualities but who lack so-called pedagogical enlightenment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '13 - 1:40pm

    To me, this “Free School” idea is yet more magic fairy dust. It is based on the idea that standard schools are “run” by the Local Education Authority, and that this must be the cause of them performing poorly, and so take them away from the LEA and abracadabra, you have a better school. But can anyone say just WHAT it is that LEA schools can’t do and “free” schools can do that makes “free” schools so much better? Right-wing commentators, Tory MPs, and David Laws, go on about this as if LEAs are dictating to schools what they must teach and how, yet it is just not like that. So far as I am aware, teaching Latin, or having a strict uniform policy, or anything else that’s been put forward as what makes “free” schools better could equally well be done by any LEA school if its head and governing body decided to do it.

    Of course, any school could do better than neighbouring schools if it is free to hand-pick the most able pupils, or if it is given extra money, but that’s just shifting things around, not making any real improvement. If the magic thing about “free” schools is that they don’t have to follow the national curriculum or follow requirements on who they employ, well, take away these requirements from ALL schools, and they will all improve by that argument. Otherwise, just why is it that these things will make a “free” school better, but not any other school?

    It would seem to me that if you are to take away some of the mechanisms for maintaining standards in schools such as rules on curriculum and who may be employed, that is an argument for MORE local oversight of the schools, rather than less. On those grounds, then it would seem better that those schools which are under the LEA should be the ones which don’t have to follow the National Curriculum, while those which don’t have LEA oversight should have to follow it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '13 - 2:12pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    I agree with Mary Reid. Some people still labour under the impression that teaching is just something you pick up along the way.

    My own experience of nearly 25 years teaching at university level is that most of what I do HAS been picked up along the way. I’ve learnt so much about what works and what does not work over the years from experiencing it. These are not things which can be picked up through formal training, like many other practical skills you only learn through experience. I’m not knocking the idea of having a formal training system, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that teaching skill isn’t just a matter of having the right qualification, it is something that will improve with experience.

    Experience is something that needs to be shared. Those new to the job need to work alongside those doing it for a long time, to pick up tips. Also, the other way round – those new to the job may have insights and have picked up new things from modern training that those who have been doing it for years can gain from hearing about. This sort of sharing of experience needs a co-operative mentality. This sort of co-operative mentality must surely also be of assistance between schools. If one school is performing poorly and another performing well, then surely the best thing to do is have a system of exchange of staff – staff from the school that is doing well moved to the school that is doing poorly to pass on their good ideas, and staff from the school that is doing poorly similarly moved to the other to pick up good ideas there – maybe also the staff from the school that is doing well may pick up some of the underlying problems in the other school which are NOT staff related by finding that things don’t work as well in that other school perhaps because of the different nature of its intake.

    Now, this co-operative mentality is the OPPOSITE of the “competition drives up quality” mentality which the Conservatives and a few Liberal Democrats e.g. David Laws, are so keen on. This is the mentality that drives the “free” school idea, the idea that some sort of dog-eat-dog competition between schools will improve standards.

    See how much the Conservative Party is funded by the “finance industry” – and see how that also is the background of some of those Liberal Democrat MPs who have this mania for the idea “competition drives up quality”. How much is it the case that the ethos of the finance industry, the way of doing things which seems to work there, is being picked up by those dominant in our society and being passed down to be applied everywhere because people from that background are too much influenced by their own experience there and just assume a similar ethos and way of doing things will work anywhere? We can see this in the way that so many of our children are held back by a sort of aggressive self-centred pushiness, which is the message from our dominant culture on how people ought to be, and perhaps it is how you need to be if you’re a top person in the finance industry, but for MOST jobs is actually damaging attitude.

  • @Matthew
    “My own experience of nearly 25 years teaching at university level is that most of what I do HAS been picked up along the way. I’ve learnt so much about what works and what does not work over the years from experiencing it. These are not things which can be picked up through formal training, like many other practical skills you only learn through experience.”

    But would your learning (about university education) been more effective if you had early on in your career undertaken a course of formal study?

  • @Matthew – Oop’s missed my second point!

    Would your students/guinea pigs have got more out of your lectures/seminars/tutorials if you had had some basic grounding in the art of teaching? This point has a serious side, as with tuition fees (university) students are becoming more aware and vocal about the quality of learning they receive.

    As a local (to me) Academy principle said recently, we only have your child for 5~7 years, a very short time in which to achieve a lot, therefore we must actively seek to use that time wisely. I suggest using qualified staff is good starting point.

  • Foreign Languages is an area where this can make sense. For 2009-2010 I was invited to teach English to the final year students at a high school in Slovakia where the previous year’s pass rate was 72 percent and no qualified teachers were available (my only qualifications being that I am British and have a lot of experience in what would be classed as tutoring/language consultancy in the UK). Anyway, I got a 100 percent pass rate, so my take on this is that the only qualifications worth anything are the ones the kids get, not the ones hanging on the teacher’s wall at home.

  • Richards S

    What you describe is not teaching in the real sense

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Oct '13 - 9:05am


    Would your students/guinea pigs have got more out of your lectures/seminars/tutorials if you had had some basic grounding in the art of teaching?

    Possibly. I’m not saying I’m against any sort of training, what I am saying is that theoretical training can’t compensate for experience, there’s a lot that can only be learned by being out there doing it. I have to say that what training courses I have gone on I have not found very useful, but maybe others get more out of them.

    This point has a serious side, as with tuition fees (university) students are becoming more aware and vocal about the quality of learning they receive.

    Yes. It does not help that within the universities, doing research is seen as what we are about, and teaching is seen as a sort of second-rate task that is done mainly by those whose research hasn’t got anywhere, and who aren’t going anywhere themselves. I myself have been threatened with being sacked for putting my efforts into teaching rather than research – the subliminal message passed to us is “put the minimum possible effort into teaching, so that you can get on and publish research papers”. That is a consequence of the funding regime imposed by previous governments, and the obsession with university “ranking” where ranking is essentially determined by research outcome. Consider not just the points on the league tables given by the research rating, but also the points given by staff-student ratio – suppose the academic staff in one university spend 60% (typical of high-ranking universities) of their time on research, in another 20% (typical of low-ranking universities), then it will seem as if the staff-student ratio is twice as good in the first as in the second, but in terms of time spent on teaching it’s exactly the same.

    I’m concerned that putting a tick-box teaching certificate on top of that will be counter-productive. You bring in your research star who brings in the grants and churns out the papers, make him/her sit through a couple of days of power-point slides on lecture preparation, and say “There, s/he’s a trained university teacher”. Then you sack the people who’ve been doing it for years and gained so much experience, or you make them so miserable by the way they are made to feel second rate because they aren’t research stars, that they leave voluntarily.

  • How many of the people above have ever taught? One of the things which amrks the UK out is the pathetic standard of teacher training. Gove and New Labour have both gone for the sink or swim dump people in the classroom with no proper training approach, even the traaining content of PGCE is much reduced so that new teachers know nothing about classroom organisation or the way children learn.

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