Ignorance is bliss? Inspecting the rise in unqualified teachers

21 October 2013

"let's also give parents the reassurance that some of the basic building blocks of an education — that a teacher is properly qualified"

Nick Clegg, Murnaghan, Sky News, 20 October 2013

"[Nick Clegg's policies] have led to ... the 141% rise in unqualified teachers since 2010"

Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary, quoted on BBC News 20 October 2013

The Deputy Prime Minister was yesterday forced to deny the Coalition was in 'crisis' after opening a rift with the Conservatives over free schools.

On Sky News, Nick Clegg voiced concern over the fact that teachers in free schools weren't necessarily "properly qualified". Meanwhile, the Labour party's Tristram Hunt reiterated his own party's opposition to allowing unqualified teachers to teach in free schools, slamming the Coalition for overseeing a 141% rise in the numbers since 2010.

Qualified to teach? How it used to work

Before 2012, people could only be employed as teachers on a permanent basis at a state school (other than an academy or free school) if they had 'qualified teacher status', meaning they'd undergone and completed formal teacher training.

'Unqualified teachers' (such as teacher trainees, some of those trained overseas and people with particular skills but no training) were permitted to teach only if a school was satisfied they had sufficient qualifications or experience and no suitable qualified personnel were available.

How it works now

Under the Coalition, the requirements restricting when schools could employ unqualified teachers have been relaxed. Since 1 September 2012, schools don't need to factor in the availability of a qualified alternative teacher. The same is true for free schools and academies

The Coalition has previously pointed to "innovation, diversity and flexibility" as being at the heart of its free schools policy. More recently, the Education Secretary has responded to questions on the use of unqualified teachers in schools by saying: "Head teachers are best placed to make staffing judgments in individual schools".

Against the charge that the change is "dumbing down" the education system, ministers last week retorted that the Ofsted inspection process is helping to ensure that quality in the classroom is being maintained.

The extent of unqualified teachers

It's too soon to discover the full effect of 2012 reforms to recruitment laws have had to maintained schools. Figures on unqualified teachers are only available to November 2012, barely a few months after the law changed.

As well, the quote from Tristram Hunt isn't very precise: taken as referring to all schools, it's wrong. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) unqualified teachers across all publicly funded schools has fallen since 2010. 17,800 (full-time-equivalent: FTE) were unqualified in 2010 compared to 14,800 now. The proportion has fallen as well. In 2010 4% of FTE teachers were unqualified. In 2012 it was 3.3%.

However the case for academies and free schools taken in isolation reflects the numbers Mr Hunt is citing. In 2010, 2,200 teachers at these schools were unqualified. In 2012, 5,300 were the same (a '141%' increase).

But these schools have greatly increased in number in recent years. In 2010 they employed 22,800 FTE teachers between them. In 2012 they employed all of 121,000 FTE teachers. So as a proportion of all FTE teachers in these schools, the prevalence of unqualified FTE teachers has actually shrunk from 10% in 2010 to 4.4% in 2012.

So the Shadow Education Secretary's apparently dramatic increase looks less impressive when you consider what's really going on.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.