Over the summer break, the Department for Education issued a statement declaring a “minor change” to academy funding agreements to allow the schools to hire people without qualified teacher status (QTS) as teachers.
Unions criticised the move and also the timing of the announcement – which was made just before the Olympic Games opening ceremony in late July.
Up until now only independent schools and new free schools could hire non-qualified people. The rule change does not affect state schools.
The NASUWT said that QTS was an assurance for parents while the National Union of Teachers (NUT) pointed to its 2011 ComRes poll in which 89 per cent of parents said they wanted a qualified teacher to teach their child.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower branded the move “perverse” and “a clear dereliction of duty”. She added: “The government has no credible argument for removing the requirement for academies to employ qualified teachers, so chooses instead to bury this decision in the hours leading up to the Olympics opening ceremony.”
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also criticised the timing of the move. Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary, said: “To sneak out this announcement as a so-called minor change when everyone’s focused on the Olympics takes government news management to a new low.”
Headteachers reacted badly too, with the National Association of Head Teachers saying it was a “significant backward step”.
General secretary Russell Hobby added: “A recognised and demanding entry qualification is the hallmark of a profession and an assurance to parents.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said they would be advising members to ignore the rule change.
He explained: “Teaching is a skill, and the idea of employing individuals who have not been given the tools to do a professional job flies in the face of the coalition government's aspiration of creating a high status profession. Of course subject knowledge makes a difference but it is no replacement for professional training in pedagogy and methodology. This is a retrograde step which ASCL would advise academies to ignore.”
A DfE spokesman said: “We are extending this flexibility to all academies so more schools can hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before.
“We expect the vast majority of teachers will continue to have QTS. This additional flexibility will help schools improve faster. No existing teacher contract is affected by this minor change.”
The change to the academy funding agreement states that the schools can “employ teaching staff who they believe to be suitably qualified”. However, SEN co-ordinators and designated teachers for looked-after children will still be required to have QTS. All teachers in special academies will also need to be qualified.