Educational establishments hiring unqualified teachers – who really loses?

When it comes to our kids’ education, do any of us actually sit back and wonder whether the teachers will actually be qualified to teach?

Ask the question and the answer would generally be that teachers being qualified to teach goes without saying. Should it even occur to us that future generations are being shaped by unqualified teachers when we (rightly) assume those teachers will know what they’re doing?

Does this question sound peculiar? Just the notion that schools and colleges may choose to hire unqualified teachers may seem far-fetched. However, we are beginning to see a rise in unqualified teachers taking up teaching posts.
According to the Labour Party, with data from the Department for Education School Workplace Survey, the number of unqualified teachers has risen from around 15,000 to around 25,000 in the last three years. These figures would suggest that around 615,000 children are being taught by unqualified teachers. So, the question now arises – who actually loses?
Some schools and colleges see this as nothing more than a money saving exercise. With new teachers keen to gain valuable experience, some long fought for terms and conditions are being dismissed as ‘unimportant’.
Many teachers who are still working towards completing their qualification fear that secure work will be hard to come by. When faced with the prospect of being out of work, or struggling to find long term meaningful contracts, what should the priority be?

One unqualified teacher explains what has happened to him. “I am actually hired as a Teaching Assistant and have begun working towards my teaching qualification in the last few months,” he says. “Although I am not qualified and am still hired and paid as a teaching assistant, I regularly find myself having to carry out the duties of a Teacher.”
He then goes on to explain “I am on minimum wage yet doing the same job as a qualified teacher. I am fearful of raising this with my employer for several reasons, with the main one being that I need this job.
Initially I could not see the problem, though there are some areas in which I find myself constantly challenged. Classroom control is a particular challenge. The classes I work in are generally over 20 students, more and more of whom now have identified and varied learning disabilities.
All I can say is that I do my best. I realise that my best may not be enough, and I accept that for the job. I have chosen to remain anonymous as the teachers I work alongside don’t agree with organisational decisions, but I am not prepared to jeopardise my own progression.”

This opinion is in stark contrast to those who have been in the profession longer. What of those teachers who have fought to better terms and conditions in the workplace?
One qualified teacher currently employed at Craven College in Skipton explains: “As a qualified teacher, I think it should be a minimum requirement that all teachers are either qualified or working towards a qualification.” Regarding the issues around this, she goes on to say: This is a real issue for us, not least because new people coming in who don’t hold the relevant qualifications or have experience ultimately settle for less. This undermines not only the qualifications themselves, but also puts our long fought for terms and conditions at risk.
I know of educational establishments who hire people to teach who are neither qualified (to teach) nor do they hold qualifications in the subject they are delivering. This is a real recipe for disaster. When somebody is not qualified in a subject, but then goes on to teach in that subject, the only thing they are passing on is their own perception. This is very damaging and can literally ruin career opportunities for students, not to mention cause untold damage to how society actually thinks about certain subjects.”
One curriculum leader speaks of potential damage being done: “I have witnessed many potential discriminatory opinions being passed on to students which are based purely on the mind-set of the person stood at the front of the classroom. Realistically, we need to understand that many students take the teachers word as ‘final’ – and here is the danger.”

Reports tell us there is a shortage of teachers. What with class sizes getting bigger coupled with mounting pressure to pass exams surely the ability of the teacher to deliver is the crucial element? Rocket science this is not, yet the same question continues to arise.
Not all educational establishments are keen to hire unqualified teachers. For some minimum standards are indeed in place, with requirements for qualifications at a certain level – at the very least working towards.
Mud sticks. Once a school or college has gained a ‘bad name’ it is very difficult to shake off. People are judged on their education, and often before employers have met potential employees, the listing of a certain ‘bad’ school or college can seriously prejudice against people regardless of their knowledge or ability.
A final thought – if the children are our future, how does that future look?

Michelle Graham

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