Passion, peripheral issues and the colour yellow – yesterday’s debate on qualified teachers

Janet Downs's picture
MPs were supposed to be discussing whether teachers in state funded schools teachers should be qualified or working towards qualified teacher status while they are teaching.

Unfortunately, the debate strayed and scooped up “peripheral issues” such as free schools, academies and regulation. It took Nik Dakin (Scunthorpe, Lab) to remind the House, and the Secretary of State in particular, to stop indulging in time-wasting waffle.

It being the day before Halloween, the Government raised the spectre of non-qualified teachers being sacked. But Dakin, an ex college principal, suggested a system whereby such staff could be given credit for “prior learning, assessments and so on”.

Remember, Dakin said, 78% of parents wanted their children taught by qualified teachers. He didn’t need to say this 78% could vote.

Pat Glass (North West Durham, Lab) acknowledged “having a qualification does not make a great teacher, but it is a damn good place to start.”

But not having QTS would prevent Damian Hurst from teaching Art, said Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock, Con). Schools will no doubt breath a sign of relief – diamond encrusted skulls don’t come cheap.

For some Honourable Members, passion trumped pedagogy; for others knowledge of teaching methods was essential.

The battle cry of freedom echoed round the Chamber. Who could deny the desirability of freedom?

It took David Ward (Bradford East LD) to remind the House where this freedom led: appointing inexperienced principals, fabricating invoices, employing family members, using taxpayers’ money to refurbish a derelict industrial building owned by a Vice-chair of the Tory Party...

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West Lab) was disappointed there were so few LibDems present and that the Secretary of State hadn’t stayed for the winding-up speeches despite taking up 30 minutes with his ramble. Brennan accused the Member for Yeovil (David Laws, LD) of simultaneously holding two opposing views. Laws was like Odo the Shape-Shifter, a Star Trek character who slept in a bucket, Brennan chuckled while the shadow Education Minister, Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central, Lab), waved his hand in a flip-flopping motion.

But Laws was having none of it. In defiant mood, he rose to his full height and challenged Brennan.

“In 2005, when Labour was in power, there were 18,800 unqualified teachers in state-maintained schools. That figure is now down to 14,800.”

The Education Secretary, who had now returned, shared a smile with his junior, Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk, Con). Their boy had nailed Brennan.

But not quite: the number of unqualified teachers may have fallen but nearly a third of them (5,300) are in a minority of schools: academies and free schools. And this number’s likely to rise thanks to LibDem abstentions.

If LibDems had voted according to their supposed convictions, the Opposition would have won. Parents would have been be assured that Parliament supported their desire to have qualified teachers in their children’s schools.

Fashion note: Liz Truss introduced a welcome note of colour with her fitted jacket in sunshine yellow. Did she know in advance that LibDems wouldn’t have the courage of their convictions?

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