Confessions of an Unqualified Teacher

Henry Stewart's picture
I have a confession: I was an unqualified teacher in an English state school. In 1982 the Liberals that ran Liverpool Council decided to close Croxteth comprehensive school. The local community objected, the parents occupied the school, decided to re-open it and run it themselves and called for volunteers to teach.

I was exactly the sort of unqualified person that Gove describes, an enthusiastic youngster with a good degree from a top university. The first day was great, with a dozen photographers and two national TV crews crowding into my classroom alongside an eager group of 15 year olds. In fact the first few days went well, I seem to remember having a very innovative way of teaching trigonometry.

But then it got harder. Students seemed to have learnt in the lesson, but couldn't remember it next time round. Behaviour started to deteriorate. "You have to be tougher, Sir", I remember one student telling me, "I got caned 32 times last year." (Well, that had clearly been effective!)

I had the knowledge, I had the passion, I was even quite good at explaining things. But I had no training in lesson planning, in children's psychology, in effective teaching practice or in how to embed knowledge in teenage pupils, never mind differentiation or exam technique. Luckily most of the volunteers were qualified teachers and, after a term, I gave up and left it to them.

Are private schools the same as state ones?

Gove's justification is that private schools employ unqualified teachers, so it must be a good idea.

I do know some parents who have moved their kids from local comprehensives to a grammar school in the leafy suburbs or a private school. They report that behaviour is better but teaching is often worse. They give examples of getting students to write down what the teacher dictates or to work from worksheets while the teacher does their marking. (Yes, I presume they change the approach when Ofsted visit.) Both can work with groups of highly motivated students and you don't need qualifications to teach like that.

I am sure that not all private sector teaching is like that but teaching at my local comprehensive tends to be far more skilled, because it has to be. Many students do not arrive naturally motivated to learn, a lot are easily distracted and some have severe social and behavioral issues. All the skills of a qualified teacher are required, engaging attention, motivating to learn, dealing with disruption and sometimes being a part-time social worker into the bargain.

Ofsted failed twice as many private schools as state-funded ones

To suggest that what works for private schools will work in all schools just shows how out of touch Michael Gove is with the reality of teaching in state-funded education. And possibly out of touch with the reality of private schools too. They are not all like Eton and Westminster. Many private schools do not fit the idealistic image that Gove portrays and are in fact pretty lousy places to learn. Last year Ofsted failed 14% of the private schools it inspected, compared to just 6% of state schools.

Those who know me in my day job will know that I advocate "recruiting attitude, training for skill". But I make an exception for professions. If I go to a doctor, I want to know they are qualified. It is true that I would never recruit a teacher, or any other professional, solely because they had a qualification. They need to have the right attitude and to be able to demonstrate their teaching skills, but what they learn in becoming qualified is a crucial bedrock for the job they do.

Less than 1 in 15 parents agree with Gove and want unqualified teachers

Michael Gove is in a lonely place in his belief in unqualified teachers. As well as losing the support of his Liberal colleagues and even ex-Education Secretary Ken Baker, a YouGov poll for the NUT indicates that only 6% of parents are happy to see their children taught by unqualified teachers.

I would suggest they are more in touch with what schools are like than he is. Perhaps it is time for him to listen to those with direct experience.


Note: Croxteth Comprehensive was kept open for a year by volunteers and, after Labour won the next local election, was re-opened in 1983. It was a rare example in those days of a political victory for a community. I have long wondered if, years later, Wayne Rooney honed his skills on the extensive playing fields that we saved from the developers - but wikipedia tells me he actually went to the local catholic school.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Educators UK's picture
Sun, 19/06/2016 - 21:11

The percentage of teachers in private schools who are not formally qualified is quite small, however as the author explains the lesson results can be varied. In a perfect world all of these non-qualified teachers would be highly skilled individuals, with a wealth of real-world experience in the field they're teaching. Most are, but it's the small pocket who lack formal teaching skills and applicable knowledge which can cause problems.

Transferring this to state schools isn't an easy implementation, as there won't be the salary or benefits pull to attract the highly knowledgeable individuals who can add significant value beyond what formal teaching training can offer,

Comment from the staff at

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.