When is a teacher unqualified, @TristramHuntMP?

The question to be addressed in this short post is prompted by statements made on a number of occasions by Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow Education Secretary.


Mr. Hunt has recently made a number of public remarks about how the Tories have been wrong to allow schools to employ unqualified teachers (E.g. here, here, and here).

Hunt has also been repeating Labour’s wish to introduce relicensing of teachers qualifications every few years. In doing this, and in his criticism of Tory unqualified teacher recruitment policy, Hunt would seem to be linking the notion of an unqualified teacher with not possessing some kind of licence or certificate.

Hunt also wants to associate with the ‘success’ of Teach First, the alternative teacher recruitment and training social enterprise. Yet as ought to be common knoweldge by now, Teach First recruits are unqualified in their first year.

We might think therefore that there is a degree of confusion in historian-cum-politician Hunt’s logic. How can he think it wrong for schools to employ unqualified teachers but think Teach First is a good idea when the latter’s recruits are also unqualified?

Is it perhaps that the staff Hunt attacks are unqualified from the outset that bothers him, or is it simply that Hunt thinks it wrong if such staff are not working towards a certification of some sort irrespective of being unqualified at the beginning of their school careers?

If it is the former case, then it might strike some as illogical to support an enterprise such as Teach First that places unqualified recruits in schools. Better therefore to have qualified, trained staff from the beginning.

If it is the latter, then Teach First recruits would not by this logic be a problem, but then the issue is why if teaching certificates are so important is it at all okay for unqualified staff to be placed in schools even if doing their best to teach? We might think that qualifications are either important or they are not, and if they are, then they are essential from the very beginning not just after a year.

Confusingly, at times Hunt would appear to be defending this latter sense of unqualified (e.g. “David Cameron and Michael Gove have watered down standards, allowing unqualified teachers into schools on a permanent basis.”) yet at other times he would appear to be arguing something very different (e.g. “Underperforming schools desperately need great teachers and teaching but this out of touch Prime Minister is allowing them to recruit unqualified teachers.”).

Of course, it may be that Hunt means unqualified in neither sense. What he may mean instead by unqualified is simply having not gone to a good university and/or underperformed in university exams (and one possible result of which being passed over for recruitment by Teach First).

Alternatively, he may simply mean unqualified in its broadest sense. However, if this is how he understands unqualified then why seemingly object to the employment of staff in schools who many might think given their professional and life experience would possess more qualifications, in this broadest sense, than the fresh-out-of-uni Teach First recruits he so eagerly wishes to promote even if these other teachers did not achieve the grades or attend the universities Teach First respects? Wouldn’t it be better to have those more than qualified in the world of work teaching future generations than those who have little or no work experience at all?

So, Mr.Hunt, what do you actually mean by unqualified?

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