Stories + Views
Should an unqualified teacher become head of a school?
I appeared on BBC London News tonight discussing whether it is right for an unqualified teacher to become a head. The issue has arisen because 27-year-old Annaliese Briggs, who is currently training to be a teacher and has very little teaching experience, has just been made headteacher of Pimlico Primary free school, which is due to open on the site of Pimlico Academy in September. I appeared on the Beeb discussing the issue with Toby Young. He attempted to defend the appointment by saying that Briggs is well versed in the educational philosophy of E.D. Hirsch and has experience in other walks of life, having been deputy director of the right-wing think-tank, Civitas. But even he came unstuck when he talked about his own free school West London Free School; he explained that some of his teachers, including a head of classics, were not qualified state school teachers, but they nevertheless had quite a bit of teaching experience, certainly far more than Briggs has. I commented that crucially his headteacher is very experienced and has an air of authority about him which Briggs manifestly has not, given her shaky performance on BBC news. She came across as very defensive and uncertain, and basically admitted that she will be baby-sat by two other principals.
I know just how important an experienced headteacher is. They need to have got “their hands dirty” by having years of experience inter-acting with staff and pupils. They need to understand how difficult and stressful the job can be, and they need that “intuitive knowledge” that only someone with substantial experience can have; it’s a look in the eye, it’s the way they can pat you on the back and motivate you, it’s that basic sympathy and understanding that you get from someone who’s been around the block and had to deal with the tricky situations that come up when you’ve been teaching for years. Otherwise, you never quite get the trust and respect from your staff and pupils.
I’m not quite sure how this manifestly poor appointment has happened, but it highlights problems with a policy which allows unqualified teachers to teach in free schools and enables it to happen without any due process of scrutiny. Too much secrecy and backroom dealings are going on; there’s a real lack of transparency here.