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“More than 400,000 schoolchildren being taught by unqualified teachers”

…does not appear to make the British state education system noticeably worse. Perhaps, you know, it’s not really a problem. Private schools are full of unqualified teachers and do fine. Despite Chris Husbands, the director of the Institute of Education, being quoted as saying that the dropping of the requirement for teachers to gain qualified teacher status in state-funded schools “flies in the face of evidence nationally and internationally”, no evidence is provided that teachers without a teaching qualification do any worse than their equivalents with one.

The Guardian commenters, waving their PGCE certificates in front of them as if to fend off vampires, come out with the usual “I would have soon had my children taught by an unqualified teacher as treated by an unqualified doctor.” I get so tired of that one. Commenter “latenightreader” replies:

I think you are being a bit melodramatic here. If your doctor is unqualified you can be dead within half an hour. If your mechanic has no idea what he is doing and you drive out of your garage and the brakes fail your whole family could be dead (plus pedestrians on the street, other drivers etc). If your teacher doesn’t have a formal qualification… well then your child might not end up as well-informed on a topic. Or they might as thousands of people leave private school yearly having got 3 As at A-level taught by unqualified teachers (that is why Gove borrowed the practice), and thousands more are homeschooled by parents who manage.

A commenter called “epidavros” also makes a good point:

They [compulsory teaching qualifications] also deter many from entering the profession who would be excellent. You are asking already qualified people, often with industry skills, to take a year with zero pay and added debt to change career.

41 comments to “More than 400,000 schoolchildren being taught by unqualified teachers”

  • JohnB

    Yes, the system promoted by fairly intelligent people to enable one to survive the stupid, has ground many, otherwise talented people, to dust.
    Not sure what the alternatives are.

  • James G.

    That final quote is the reason I’m not pursuing teaching as a much needed and wanted career change – even my teenage daughter thinks I’d make a good teacher, but I just can’t afford the unpaid training time.

  • The Sage

    It’s the license raj by any other name — a barrier to real competition. Worse, by setting things up so that it discourages mid-career changes, you just get the “those who can’t, teach” going in from university, in an increasingly isolated caste distinct from the makers (just like career politicians, really).

  • AndrewWS

    Those of my contemporaries at Cambridge who stayed on to do a PGCE found it an exercise in ideological waffle that put them off the profession. There are now much more practical, hands-on alternatives that friends of mine are doing now or have done very recently.

  • David

    Yep James G, me too.
    And it’s not just the cost, I couldn’t bear a years state indoctrination in extreme leftist PCness. Doubt I’d be given a pass in the end as I simply couldn’t cooperate enough to reach the required level of righton-ness.

  • I knew two people at university who went into teaching.

    One didn’t know what she wanted to do, so travelled for a year then came back and discovered you got paid a bounty to do a PGCE, and so did that an became a teacher.

    The other didn’t know what she wanted to do with a 3rd class degree from an ex-poly, and so worked in some sort of event management company for a while, punctuated by a wasted year abroad, before deciding teaching was guaranteed employment and came with good holidays.

    If this is what a qualification brings, then I’ll not cry too much if people are teaching without them.

  • Stuck-Record

    So, to clarify the teaching Blob’s argument.

    Unqualified teachers are so incompetent that parents will scrimp, borrow and save tens of thousands of pounds to send their own children to schools that use them? Such schools are so bad that the teaching blob wants to get them shut down because they are more successful than the schools that only use qualified teachers?

    OK? Got it. Makes perfect sense.

  • Mr Ed

    My secondary school had a range of teachers, all ‘unqualified’ but including a physics Ph.D who set the A level exam, a mycology Ph.D, a former paratrooper with an MC from the Normandy landings and an Australian opera singer cum Maths graduate to name a few. One former pupil from the late 19th/early 20th century designed the Bouncing Bomb.

    How would a PGCE requirement for teachers have helped any pupils to have learned more?

  • bob sykes

    Home schooling in the US produces better educated people than the public schools, but there is almost certainly a high degree of bias towards high IQ and high work ethic in both the home-schooling parents and their students.

    In the US, the problematic public schools are almost entirely inner city black schools where the students have IQ’s in the 70’s and are very violent.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Are car mechanics qualified?

  • Paul Marks

    The system of occupational licensing of teachers is quite recent – 1974 I believe.

    Everything is “licensed” these days, even security guard work.

    One might as well just commit suicide rather than, pointlessly, dragging things out.

  • Marcopohlo

    What happens when artificial intelligence like IBM’s Watson (which is the world champion Jeopardy player and is now being programmed to do medical diagnostics and will eventually surpass all human doctors) becomes generally available? What happens when ordinary citizens can use their computers to do car repair and law better than the mechanics and the lawyers?

    Will we hear similar Jeremiads from the medical, mechanical, and legal communities – about the dangers of self-diagnosis and self-representation – as well? Probably.

  • Stonyground

    Well that was strange. I’m browsing through my bookmarks and the very next thing I see after coming here is this:


  • Why am I not surprised at this?

    It’s a guild by any other name. On this side of the Pond, Education Departments are infamous for inflated Grade Point Averages and the insane left wing politics.

  • Stuck-Record


    Just read in interesting book on that very subject.


    The authors try hard to be even-handed on pros/cons of technology but find it hard to conceal the fact they are pretty unashamedly cornucopians.

    There is a fairly simple thought experiment I use to find out whether someone is a Jeremiad or a vested interest on any type of employment. Imagine a 10p pill was invented tomorrow that would prevent all illness (barring accident). Would the 90% of medical staff in the NHS happily retrain as something else? Would Labour celebrate the £200 Billion the country could now spend on something else?

    Or, would they try to stop, modify, or control it. Wrapping it up in a huge layer of red tape to be administered by a new layer of jobs that only they could do.

    I think we know the answer. But how someone answers lets you know whether they are truly working for ‘others’ or their own paycheck and status.

    Uber and the taxi wars are only the beginning.

  • bradley13

    It’s a funny definition of “qualified”. I went to a school (in the US) that hired teachers who held degrees in the subjects they taught. Once you reached the high school level, the teachers generally held masters degrees. Not a “qualified” teacher to be seen.

    This was after misadventures in the state-run schools, where you found plenty of “qualification” but not much love for or interest in the material being taught.

    At anything above early primary school, pedagogical qualification should be secondary to actual, genuine, real qualifications in the subject material. That would provide truly qualified teachers

  • I have made good money teaching and tutoring in maths, physics and related fields. It’s a tough job mainly because I taught “kids” (some much older than me) who weren’t interested in maths etc. Of course this was tricky. I used to teach the GMAT maths course (a basic requirement for a US MBA). And my nemesis was a Russian oligarch-scion who insisted I was teaching using “English, not Russian logic”. The latter was of course whatever he wanted it to be. I have heard worse stories from the Arab World. Two briefcases deposited on the teacher’s desk on was opened to reveal a large sum of USD and the the other contain a machine-pistol. I was not put under similar duress so I failed the arsey New Sov. I failed him because quite simply he got the questions wrong. I tried. But if someone is so up themselves they don’t grok that a basic knowledge of mathematics is vital to a business career then basically fuck ’em. Sorry, folks, I had to get this off my chest. The thing is for the first time in his life this geezer faced doing something tough. A very new experience for a former Sov rich kid.

    I taught this (without complaints from the more rational members of the class and if I could have defenestrated the grimnacious fucker. I think I taught it well. I had no teaching qualy but the University of Leeds seemed to think my BSc (Physics, Nottingham) and MSc (Astrophysics, QMC, London) kinda meant I could teach maths to a level sort of between GCSE and A-Level.

    Odd that I could teach in a university but not in a school. Even odder that my boss was the head of Modern Languages (the prime focus of the pre-GMAT teaching was getting the “kids” up to speed on English). She thought I was OK. All my students (with the notable exception I mentioned) thought I was OK and it was fun for 18 quid an hour (in the mid-late ’90s). Not bad for a potless postgrad. I was on a grant of c.6500GBP a year. 18 quid an hour was a nice little earner.

    I was a good teacher (and I have done it before and since – one way or another). I have no teaching qualy. I just know my subject and that is maths. I love maths. I adore it. You know how you felt when you saw Scarlett Johansson’s buttocks at the start of “Lost in Translation”. That is how I felt when I first differentiated a function of a function. That is how I felt when I grokked Q-Mech. Actually the later was better. One is an arse and the other is the base-code of the Universe.

    I have to admit I like both. For if it were not for the calliphygian nature of women (some women – the rest are LDs) we wouldn’t have anyone to pass on the math.

    I don’t have an A-Level in mathematics. Oh, the twistedness of yoof! I had to hack my way from a Biology course by self-teaching maths and rolling very well on “Fast talk” to get onto physics. But I did it and it was a hard slog afterwards. I mention this because I understand the process of learning math at a very deep level.

    So can I teach it? You betya ass on it!

    Or Ms Johansson’s…

    PS. At Nottingham as an UG (’92-’95) we had to build Lego robots and program them QBASIC). That was first year (first poke I got as a student!). I was really good at that because I had had a Speccy as a kid. Point being unlike a lot of my cohort I was self-taught. My g/f at the time was dreadful at it. Oh well.

  • Phil B

    Never mind unqualified teachers. The REAL shocker is that Orville and Wilbur Wright never had a First Class Honours degree in Aeronautical Engineering from a top university \.

    And tey never applied for air traffic clearance or permits from the local Authorities …

    What is the Guardian doing about THAT, eh?

  • Don’t talk to me about the Wrighs… Please don’t.

  • Sean

    Equating qualifications with qualified is a mistake. We should be using the word credentialed rather than qualified to describe the situation (not problem).

  • Fred Z

    Almost all engineers can be teachers.

    Almost no teachers can be engineers.

    When I studied maths we had 5 students from the “Education” school come to a second year algebra class because they wanted to teach maths to school kids.

    Dumber’n a bag of hoe handles, at maths and everything else they spoke about.

  • James Waterton

    Almost all engineers can be teachers.

    If by ‘teacher’, you mean effective teacher, then you’re completely wrong about this. Most people can pass themselves off as a good teacher if they know their lesson content and they’re teaching it to a group of engaged and capable learners who aren’t already one or more steps ahead of what’s being taught. That’s the easiest teaching gig in the world. However, that content knowledge and inherent intelligence is going to mean nothing if you’re in front of a class with several disengaged/bored/uninterested students, which is most likely what a teacher’s going to end up with. If you can’t win most of them over and contain the remainder, you aren’t an effective teacher. If you can’t figure out how to get across a concept that you might know backwards (and this is harder than one might think, particularly with lower level classes), you aren’t an effective teacher. Your rich content knowledge and overall smarts isn’t going to get through to the students who do want to learn, let alone the less interested members of class.

    Being an effective teacher is about understanding what makes other people, and in particular other people taking part in the learning process, tick. Many engineers might well be amazing engineers but would still be awful teachers. Of course, some engineers would make excellent teachers, as some from all professional backgrounds could be excellent teachers. Some people can instinctively teach well and would make a great teacher without a second of formal training. Others have to hone their craft at the coalface. Some people simply lack the interpersonal skills to ever be effective teachers. The skill set of a capable engineer will not guarantee that that person will make a decent teacher.

    And I agree that teacher training courses don’t make people into much more effective teachers. They’d be a lot more useful if they dialed back on the theoretical pedagogy stuff and focused primarily on practical experience.

  • James Waterton writes,

    However, that content knowledge and inherent intelligence is going to mean nothing if you’re in front of a class with several disengaged/bored/uninterested students, which is most likely what a teacher’s going to end up with. If you can’t win most of them over and contain the remainder, you aren’t an effective teacher. If you can’t figure out how to get across a concept that you might know backwards (and this is harder than one might think, particularly with lower level classes), you aren’t an effective teacher. Your rich content knowledge and overall smarts isn’t going to get through to the students who do want to learn, let alone the less interested members of class.

    I broadly agree with this, but (and I expect you broadly agree with this), much of the boredom, disengagement and outright hostility of the pupils stems from the fact that they are not there by choice. You won’t get 100% engagement even with a class of volunteers, as NickM’s comment illustrates, but you can get close enough. That’s why university classes taught by geeks with no social skills can be successful. It’s better yet if in addition to the pupils having the unquestioned right to walk away from the teacher, the teacher also has the unquestioned right to walk away from any student. NickM implies that this was a problem with the scion of powerful parents in a place where the rule of law is not strong, but in more peaceful places there is no reason why teaching of adults has to involve pack dominance skills at all.

    Teaching of young children will still involve particular social skills that some people seem to have instinctively and some seem to lack altogether. However most people are in the middle and might indeed benefit from being taught successful ways of interacting with children and (I say this with reluctance) making them learn things they will need in life such as reading which are not easy to master now.

  • A further general point: it is when teaching qualifications become compulsory that those setting what the curriculum covers can afford – given the state-guaranteed market – to move away from teaching teachers things that they actually would benefit from learning and into the further reaches of theoretical pedagogy, not to mention yet more reheated left wing politics.

  • Tarrou

    In the US at least, teaching is what very stupid girls go into in university while they hunt for that MRS degree. 80%+ of US teachers come from the bottom quarter of their university class. One would unquestionably be statistically likelier to get a better education from anyone except a qualified teacher.

    My personal experience is somewhat unique, being the child of missionaries I was homeschooled until we returned to the states when I was 15. I begged to be allowed to attend a school (mainly for the sporting and social aspects) and when they placed me in a well regarded private school (which I think you call public over there), I was quite shocked to find the 10th grade feverishly studying things I’d learned in 1st. Then I took classes at the local public school and it was far, far worse. I can say unequivocally I learned not one single academic thing in my three years of “Education”, both public and private.

  • James makes an excellent point. If the pupils/students/kids/whatever want to learn then 3/4 of the work is done already. It becomes a pleasure. I never even considered teaching because I didn’t want to be a glorified baby-sitter.

    And that is what teachers are now expected to do – to get all touchy-feelie with the critters (not thst touchy or especially feelie of course. I don’t do that. You’re expected to be able to empathize the pain of One Direction splitting or similar. All I’d want, expect, and am prepared to give is a lesson on maths, physics, or computers. I am not and have never wanted to be a counsellor to the pubescent.

    My educmaction was supercharged by University simply because it was taught straight and I was expected to pay attention. I went from a klutz who had only the vaguest concepts of physics to getting a fully-funded MSc in London (one of only six in the country – the other four were at Sussex) in Astrofizz. I learnt more in that environment (note the absence of uniforms as well) in three years than I ever learned in the prior 13 years.

  • rxc

    I am an engineer with no teaching credentials, but at one point in my career I taught people how to operate nuclear power plants, and I think I did a pretty good job. My students thought so, as well. No teaching credentials whatsoever.

    The need for credentials in education is part of the smokescreen in education that obscures the problem that all students are not equally able to learn the material. Education is the only profession I know of where the practitioners have no say whatsoever about the quality of the materials they are given to work with. And by materials, I am talking about the students, not the books or the facilities. Engineers can’t build good structures with bad steel or concrete, farmers can’t grow good crops in bad soil, few musicians can make good music with junk instruments. Even lawyers can turn down most cases they know they will lose. But teachers are expected to produce competent adults from every one of a pack of individuals whose abilities fall along a quite wide distribution, from genius to idiot.

    The politicians cannot allow the teachers to say that some students are just too dumb, and should be doing manual labor or going to trade school (which may be too technical, these days), and the teachers have all bought into the progressive movement to create new soviet people where everyone is above average, from the blank slates they are given by the parents. So, they need a few fig leaves to hide behind. One is “lack of resources”, such as the need for gleaming new schools with language labs and science labs (no actual science is done there, however, because that would be dangerous). The teacher/pupil ratio must be kept as low as possible. No hard subjects must be taught. And when all else fails, they can blame the overall society for lack of self-esteem in those troubled groups that are over-represented in the category of under-achievers.

    Credentials give the teachers themselves a shield from criticism – “Look at me, with several degrees and lots of courses I take during the summer, and lots of pieces of paper certififying that I am competent – it can’t be my fault that the students don’t learn this stuff – it must just be too hard for them.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    James Waterton:

    “Being an effective teacher is about understanding what makes other people, and in particular other people taking part in the learning process, tick. “

    Followed by the rest of his observations, and a standing ovation that will be heard as far away as the Crab Nebula. WELL SAID !!!!!

    A good teacher is good at teaching. Sometimes world-class mathematicians, engineers, pianists, gardeners, zoo-keepers, doctors, chess-players, swimming instructors, and speakers and writers of the English language are also good teachers, and sometimes not.

    A good teacher understands his material at a fairly deep level, and he also knows how to approach it from various angles, because he pays attention to how the student’s mind is working (or not) and if his preferred presentations and explanations of the material are producing glazed-over eyes and not much else, he tries another approach. So the teacher must also understand where students are getting hung up. The teacher of physical skills has to be able to find a way to communicate to the student what his body should be doing.

    My mother was trained as a concert organist, and she taught music for a couple of years in public schools (ca. 1930) and then made a career as a piano teacher. She always said, “A teacher must be a good diagnostician.”

    Exactly so. I taught calculus to pay my way through graduate school, and subsequently tutored high-school math to the disengaged and piano as well, with casual teaching of beading and English. And I have had good teachers and terrible ones.

    I hate the “Those who can, do … those who can’t, teach” saying. Because many teachers love teaching (in principle at least, when not unduly put off by red tape and academic and social politics) and are perfectly capable of building sound bridges but enjoy working with the minds of living, squirming critters even more.

    I don’t see why there can’t be good courses in educational methods; in fact I imagine there are some. But I’d bet that nearly all good certified teachers are self-taught to a large degree, but then that’s true in a way of a good doer of anything.

    Anyhow, it used to be that very few American teachers had any formal teacher-training, and the “certification process” consisted of teaching and the certificate was the paycheck you got for the work.

    At one time you didn’t need a license to do people’s nails, either.

  • Mr Ed

    The test of a great Maths or science teacher is to see if they can rise to the equation.

  • Julie near Chicago

    *Ee-e-ew-ww*, Mr Ed! (LOL)

  • thefrollickingmole

    I have a wonderful “anecdote not evidence” from my last re-qualification as a medic.
    Because a lot of us were indifferent to mathematics as part of the course we had a 1/2 day maths refresher.
    The lady that came in wasnt a teacher, but was so good at it it was unbelievable. She showed us the problem, then went over the solution in slightly different ways till all of us had a “eureka” moment and all the minor different methods made sense, like a light being switched on she was that good.

    Made me a little sad that i picked up more mid level maths is 1/2 a day with her (and the class) than a whole 2 years being indifferently taught the “one way” at high school.

    Some people are incredible teachers, the majority are jobsworths.

  • pete

    I’m surprised by this post.

    I suspect that most libertarians seek the best schools and the most qualified teachers for their own children.

    Follow the money.

  • Maybe you have not read the comments?

  • Tarrou

    Pete, I would say that if academic excellence is your goal, homeschooling cannot be improved upon. Parents have far more leverage and control than a teacher, they know the child much better, and they have continuity of instruction year to year. Of course, there are social and political reasons to want your child indoctrinated into whatever psychobabble was fashionable when whichever teacher you get was in college, but they seem rather silly to me.

    And as to your assertion, which group do you think does not seek out the best schools and most qualified teachers for their own children?

  • staghounds

    It’s funny that the law requires the schools to give every child an education, whether he wants it or not.

    Waterton and Solent are dead right. At least half a good teacher’s work in the government’s schools is straight up salesmanship. Certainly the truly brilliant teachers I’ve known were very like all truly brilliant sellers- they made me understand the product and what it could do for me that I did what I could to get it.

  • marvo

    You are all missing the point that it is a year of leftist indoctrination specifically designed to outrage/bore/offput anyone who is not left wing or won’t follow the crowd without question. It is genuinely difficult to pass the course without lying if you hold center or right of center views (by this I mean that you might disagree with the BBC now and again).

  • Paul Marks

    Actually Natalie teaching, at least for male teachers, does involve “pack dominance skills”.

    If the teacher is not he leader of the pack in class – then someone else is.

    This need not mean physical violence – but pack dominance skills are a lot more than that.

    Sadly these are not taught at Teacher Training colleges – indeed nothing useful is taught at these places.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Homeschooling works if the parents are intelligent enough, but I suspect it’s a self-selecting group anyway. For the majority of the population, they don’t have the time or resources to devote to these efforts.

    I would also note that the Finnish education system, ranked highly by PISA, relies heavily on accreditation and teacher training to maintain their standards. And by all accounts, these are important factors towards their students’ strong performance on international tests. Ditto for East Asian systems, though these rely greatly on shadow education systems. How would homeschooled students stack up on such tests?

    Isn’t it more economically efficient and productive for the majority of children to be ‘raised’ and taught in schools by specialists while their parents devote more time to their work?

  • I have been fortunate enough to have met my share of very smart and well-informed individuals, and very few of them – if any – got their smarts and their knowledge in school. I’d go even further and say that they got to be what they are in spite of school, not thanks to it. So, unlike with other services provided by the government at taxpayers’ expense, such as health or old-age care, I can without any worry say: shut down all government education yesterday. Believe me, nothing bad will happen – which is to say, nothing worse than has already been happening for decades.

  • Sorry I’m late to this post and the comments thereto, but I have to add my bit.

    In the past twelve years I’ve been a home school educator and a college student (in that order), and I’d planned on using my degree to teach History at high-school level — until I ran up against the Education Department, which managed, very effectively, to dissuade me from pursuing the education accreditation.

    [20,000-word rant deleted for reasons of brevity]

    Suffice it to say that I’m not teaching History (despite the entreaties of several faculty members), because there is no way that I would ever have signed on to the “acceptable” teaching practices that the education establishment requires.

    My own temperament, which tends somewhat towards the grouchy when confronted by bureaucratic idiocy, would probably have done my cause little good as well. But that’s beside the point. What is very clear is that State education, as practised in the U.S. anyway, has little to do with the education and welfare of children, but rather with the welfare and job security of the teachers and administration — not to mention the propagation and inculcation of a socio-political philosophy which I find totally repugnant.

    Thank God I home-schooled my kids.