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03/04/13

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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.

The BBC raises concerns about the headteacher being unqualified. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

 

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. I’ve read a few medical text books in my time, and I have been in a GP surgery on several occasions. I have told people about my previous experience working in a Think Tank and they were very interested. What are the chances of me getting a job as a doctor under the new NHS freedoms that have just come into force? I don’t have any medical qualifications by the way. Does that matter?

    Previously I couldn’t get a job as a plumber because they said I needed plumbing qualifications, so I thought I would apply for medical positions.

    I know in teaching you don’t need any qualifications whatsoever, now that Mr Gove has changed the rules. Mr Gove says this will allow schools to employ really excellent people that could not be employed before. I know I am one of these excellent people that has previously been kept out of doing a really important job. I am also a Tory. Will this help me get a job in medicine? Or will those marxists at the GMC stop me?

    Thanks for any advice.

    • thanks Ian that is actually funny

    • It is a not entirely valid analogy as far as secondary school teaching is concerned, as for a secondary teacher, the subject degree is the vital qualification and the PGCE of limited use. There was almost nothing that I learnt during my PGCE that I could not have picked up on teaching practice. For a primary head, however, her lack of experience is somewhat unusual.

    • Ian – what you must also do if you want to become a doctor is to write a book telling other doctors how to do it. You should base it on something written about two decades ago by someone much admired by ministers. You should also ensure you do some work for a think-tank which endorses the ministers’ views.

      You should also be young (or youngish). There has been quite a number of young things given posts of responsibility (eg Rachel Wolf, once an “adviser” to Michael Gove, and Natalie Evans at the New Schools Network. All you need to do is to express admiration of the ministers and supply some supportive soundbites. And it helps if you’ve also worked for said ministers.

      And support the ministers’ party – that is most important.

  2. The answer is pure, unadulterated, cynical cronyism.

    Lord Nash was hired as 2nd in command by Gove on no grounds other than his experience running schools – not teaching in them. Not running them. He is also a Tory donor, surprise, surprise. Nash is also connected with Civitas who happen, just happen to be the source of the unqualified head.

    So an unelected politician with an overt conflict of interest then appoints someone equally unqualified into another position of power.

    The matter of pupil need is a triviality somewhere in the far reaches of Nash’s mind, it seems.

    The more I follow education politics, the further it rushes away from the exemplary Finnish model.

  3. As a school governor I have been involved in the appointment of a Head of a primary School. It was not easy, it took us over a year. The job is very difficult, is actually designed by the current system to be more difficult than it need be (but thats another story), so we had to work hard to get the right person.

    The notion that we would have even interviewed a Head with no previous teaching, or even managerial experience…..

    Things really are getting odd.

  4. I meant by the way that is is the job of being a head that is really difficult, tho’ the job of getting one really hard also…

  5. David,
    The type problem revealed here is that which can result from limited regulation of elected political parties. The theory is that we give them free reign in order to make governance of the country efficient and not lumbering under the weight of checks and balances. A clear and obvious sign of the abuse of such power is that term ‘cronyism’, where politicians serve their own interests ahead of the populace.

    If this creeping corruption escalates, then the problem will be much more than ‘just’ an unqualified head, as is evident in the April 1st NHS reforms.

    An unqualified head can be appointed simply because the route for appeal is so tortuous and ineffective. How many signatures on an epetition are required to trigger a response? And how likely is it that even if action is taken on one failing like this, no prevention of repetitions will be put in place?

    I repeat – we need education management by education specialists who are not politically affiliated.

  6. It’s her lack of teaching experience that concerns me more. I have taught in secondary schools for more than 25 years and my PGCE was fairly useless: it was my degree that was my useful qualification. I have worked with a number of utterly useless heads with qualifications coming out of their ears. Experience is important, and she doesn’t seem to have much of that. She spoke well, however, and there was none of this awful educational jargon.

    • Yes, the lack of experience IS the point. It is not for nothing that there is a special status of “Newly Qualified Teacher” who are understood to need special support and mentoring, and the number of which you can have in a school is limited.

      I really cannot see how a Head with no teaching experience can expect to run a school. And to command the required respect amongst teachers.

      • It will be interesting to see how i turns out.

      • It was my professional teaching qualification (Cert Ed) which was useful to me in my career as a secondary school teacher. Plus the continued professional development (called Inset – In Service Training).

        The degree? Didn’t have one – it wasn’t necessary when I entered teaching. And the best teacher I ever had, Mrs Dearns, who taught maths, was Cert Ed trained.

        I got my degree eventually – after retirement.

        • I agree with you. That was when the CertEd existed and offered a great deal of subject-related learning, as far as I know, a little like a BEd. One of the best teachers with whom I worked had a CertEd. The PGCE is a very different thing and I know few teachers who found it very useful.

          • But the Cert.Ed was offered by those supposed dens of Marxism spewing out left-wing ideaology – the teacher training colleges.

            And if the PGCE wasn’t useful, then this is a reason to improve it not ditch teacher training altogether.

            Michael Gove thinks a subject degree is sufficient in order to teach. He is wrong. In Finland, trainee teachers are expected to master in educational theory as well as subject knowledge.

          • As someone who supervises PGCE students I have to say I haven’t met a single one working who felt they could have managed without it. Dealing with kids and all their issues in classes of 30 all day every day is not something many people know how to do without any preparation.

            I do understand that in some schools with privileged catchments (such as private schools and grammar schools) and a lot of staff support for new teachers it may be possible to cope, particularly if a new teacher is given in house training and a reduced timetable. I’ve just never worked in a school like that.

            Are you sure you’ve stayed fully in touch with what PGCEs involve now FJM?

          • After TWENTY FIVE years in the class room/lab, much of it spent with student teachers, I am quite aware of what they think of their PGCE courses, which involved a mass of largely pointless paperwork and box-ticking (literally). I am reflecting their opinions, to an extent, as well as my own. It is extraordinary how people on LSN who either have no experience whatsoever of teaching, or rather little, are so confident of being right. I currently teach in a small market town in the East Midlands, an area which is by no means privileged, and have also taught in inner city comprehensives. Though aware of what you call ‘kids and all their issues’, I think it is a good idea to teach them in an exciting and engaging way so that they can forget their ‘issues’. I have no particular expertise in mental health, beyond what one picks up in life, and do not subscribe to the teacher-social worker model. Of course, however, I am aware of the need for sensitivity in dealing with children with real social problems. None of this, however, came from my PGCE course, which, from what I have heard from colleagues, was actually relatively useful.

  7. Btw, I think Toby Young should have done up his tie properly and you ought to have worn a suit and tie to give a professional appearance.

  8. Jack Milner says:

    Mr Young’s view is that ‘Ms Briggs has taught in a school – several schools, in fact. As a director of Civitas, the well-known education think tank, she helped run Civitas Schools, a network of after-school classes and Saturday schools across the country. As for her lack of credentials to run a primary school, she is one of the country’s foremost experts on E D Hirsch’s core knowledge curriculum and, as such, advised the Department for Education on the new primary National Curriculum…. Ultimately, it’s for parents to decide whether they want their children to be taught by teachers without PGCEs, not trade unions or Labour politicians.’

    • I believe in parental choice and do not think education should be controlled by various LEA hacks, trade unions and left-wing ideologues.

      • johnebolt says:

        Just by a right wing hack called Gove and his 20 something acolytes?

        • johnebolt – I always find it amazing that people still talk about “LEA” control. Firstly, LEAs no longer exist. And the “control” exerted by Local Authorities had disappeared since Local Management of Schools. What “control” that remains comprises a few roles including administering admissions, ensuring sufficient school places (becoming increasingly difficult now that more schools have become academies, responsibility for SEN and providing back-room services to their maintained schools.

          But it suits Gove et al to bang on about the iron-hand of LA bureaucracy in order to persuade schools to sever ties with LAs. But some academy heads are now complaining that they suffer more control from academy chain head offices than ever they did when they were LA maintained (see Academies Commission faq above).

    • Jack – thanks for reminding us that Ms Briggs “advised the DfE on the new primary National Curriculum”. Her views as an untrained, inexperienced commentator obviously take precedence over the expert panel which comprised academics chosen and praised by Michael Gove. But when they disagreed with him he sneered. See below for more information:

      http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/07/from-praised-academic-to-professor-toadying-favour-with-labour-party-this-is-the-fate-of-experts-who-fail-to-give-the-required-answers-what-does-this-tell-us-about-gove/

      The “schools” that Ms Briggs taught at are, as you say, a network of after-school classes. They are designed to supplement what is taught mainstream schools. Teaching to a small number of motivated pupils for a few hours a week is not the same as teaching the full range of pupils full-time.

      It’s a bit like saying that someone who’s offered nutritional advice to paying customers is qualified to become a hospital consultant. Or an unqualified person who did a few hours working in a Citizens’ Advice Bureau can set up as a solicitor.

      • Jack Milner says:

        Mr Young’s drift on this is as follows: ‘Left-wing critics of free schools and academies are constantly harping on about the fact that they’re allowed to hire “unqualified” staff, by which they mean teachers who don’t have the union-approved bit of paper. It’s a complete red herring. Independent schools have long enjoyed this freedom, yet it hasn’t put parents off. Far from it. According to a 2012 Populus survey, 57 per cent of parents would send their child to an independent school if they could afford it. Ultimately, it’s for parents to decide whether they want their children to be taught by teachers without PGCEs, not trade unions or Labour politicians.’

        • Jack – I love this phrase, “Mr Young’s drift…” He does drift about, doesn’t he? But usually ends up in the same place with the same soundbites (although he’s had to stop using “plummeting down league tables” since the UK Statistics Watchdog expressed concern about the figures allegedly supporting the plummet).

          A teaching qualification isn’t, as Young maintains, a “union-approved bit of paper”. It’s a parent-approved one. 80% of parents in the latest YouGov poll thought schools should only employ qualified teachers.

          Perhaps Young will think that this YouGov poll is also a “red-herring”.

          http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/04/parents-critical-of-governments-education-policies-yougov-poll-reveals/

          • Jack Milner says:

            Both you and Mr Young will no doubt share my astonishment at the number of times polls commissioned and paid for by special interest groups, in this case the NUT, produce results supporting the views of the special interest group in question, despite the scientifically established impartiality of the polling process and the unimpeachable reputation of the polling organisation employed.

  9. Jack – so, we either trust both YouGov and Populus to be impartial or we don’t. If the latter, neither myself or Toby Young can quote opinion polls from YouGov or Populus.

    Young is quite correct that in the Populus poll 57% of respondents said they would send their children to independent schools if they could afford to do so. 25% definitely said No, while 18% said Don’t Know.

    The reasons were illuminating. The poll didn’t make it clear whether respondents could choose all reasons that applied or were restricted to, say, two.

    The most popular reason was independent schools offered a better standard of education. 51% chose this. So 49% did not. I would have expected this to be higher given the amount of hype surrounding standards of education in independent schools. Oddly, only 3% chose “Better/higher standards (non-specific)” as a reason.

    Only 3% chose the reason, “State schools are not as good” which you’d expect to be higher when 57% had said that independent schools offered a better standard of education. Somewhat contradictory.

    For more reasons see:

    http://www.populus.co.uk/uploads/ISC.pdf

  10. Tarquin Hapsburg says:

    I remain astonished (not really).

  11. Jack Milner says:

    So do I

  12. If Ms Briggs successfully completes her training she will be a Newly-Qualified Teacher (NQT). As such she will be expected to undertake Statutory Newly Qualified Teacher Induction. This is supposed to be the bridge between initial teacher training and a career in teaching.

    An NQT is entitled, among other things, to support from the head who is responsible for judging whether the NQT satisfactorily meet the Teacher Standards (England). So we have a ridiculous situation where an NQT on Statutory NQT induction will be supporting and assessing herself.

    NQTs are also be expected to observe and learn from experienced teachers in their own and other schools. But as head Ms Briggs will be expected to monitor and assess the teachers in her school as part of performance management.

    The situation is quite ridiculous.

  13. It’s so ridiculous I’m actually lost for words. However were I a prospective parent there I probably wouldn’t be. Blatant political agenda.

  14. Ms Briggs “Core Knowledge” curriculum is being flogged to free school applicants to include in their proposals.

    Surely this doesn’t imply that the DfE would look more favourably on free schools that subscribe to the “Core Knowledge” philosophy? We know that Gove is a fan.

    http://www.coreknowledge.org.uk/freeschools.php

    Core Knowledge helpfully provides evidence of its effective use in the US.

    http://www.coreknowledge.org.uk/effectivenesst.php

    But the first paper cited (2004) concluded:

    “While there is a performance advantage favoring Core Knowledge schools, the
    available data are not adequate to conclude this advantage can be attributed
    solely to the Core Knowledge curriculum.”

    The second piece of research had been done in 1999 – surely there’s something a bit more up-to-date?

    The third was more promising – it concluded “there appears to be a strong relationship between student performance and the Core Knowledge curriculum.”

    But there was no mention of later research (2008) which found: “the results of the effect of the core knowledge curriculum on achievement have been inconsistent, sometimes even within the same research report.” because results depended on what type of test was administered.

    http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6105/m2/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf

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