Clegg’s “Parental Guarantee”: calls for all schools to employ qualified teachers and teach ‘core curriculum’

by Stephen Tall on June 13, 2014

Teacher In Classroom“We are and always will be the party of education and I’ll be saying more about that in the near future,” promised Nick Clegg in his Bloomburg speech on Monday. Today we saw the start, with the Lib Dem leader setting out the party’s Parental Guarantee that “every parent can be confident that their child will be taught a core curriculum by a properly qualified teacher”.

This isn’t actually a new policy. The ‘parental guarantee’ was first announced last October. And the policy it’s based on was passed at the Lib Dems’ spring 2013 conference: ‘Every Child Taught by an Excellent Teacher’ (F5). Still, there’s no harm in re-announcing these things, especially if you’re part of a Coalition Government which isn’t pursuing the policy. That’s what the party has done today:

Our policy, first passed by our federal conference in March 2013, would change legislation so that, by September 2016, all schools will have the same requirement to employ qualified teachers. We have also planned for every state school to deliver a minimum curriculum entitlement, setting out the basic skills and knowledge that every child needs.

These plans have been strongly supported by both the National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) – who between them represent the overwhelming majority of head teachers in this country.

In 2012, Michael Gove announced he would remove the requirement for academies to employ qualified teachers. As well as this, academies and free schools are exempt from teaching the National Curriculum. This has meant that some schools have abused their freedom over the curriculum, excluding vital subjects.

The Liberal Democrats want to provide greater clarity to all schools on what should be taught. We believe that our children should have the chance to study content that is as engaging and stretching as in the best performing countries.

Here’s what the NAHT’s Russell Hobby said about it: “Teaching is a profession. It has an academic and theoretical foundation as well as the skills and craft gained through experience. Parents should expect teachers to be qualified, as an assurance of their ability. Heads also value qualifications when recruiting. We welcome this acknowledgement from Nick Clegg.”

In some ways, this issue is an artificial divide. As FactCheck noted a few months ago, the number of unqualified teachers in publicly funded schools actually fell between 2010 and 2012 – down from 17,800 in 2010 to 14,800 in 2012. True, these numbers apply mostly to the time before the Coalition loosened the requirement, but as most school leaders believe qualified teaching status (QTS) is an essential requirement when hiring staff it’s unlikely there’s been an explosion in the numbers of teachers who are unqualified (or who are not working towards a qualification) within the English school system.

Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable that a future Lib Dem government (Oi, stop sniggering at the back) should expect that those employed within schools have a professional qualification. It’s hard to think of a comparable profession which doesn’t have such entry requirements; and certainly not one of which we expect so much.

I don’t buy the idea this is the heavy-handed State trying to impose itself on schools which should have freedom to employ who they like. As I noted here on Wednesday, teaching quality is the single most important factor in children’s education – and it’s at least as good in the state sector (on average) as the private sector (on average). Of course there are brilliant teachers who don’t have formal teaching qualifications employed by private schools, but the challenges in the state sector tend to be tougher. It isn’t just subject knowledge that matters, but also pedagogy. I have no problems with the Lib Dems saying we should want the best-qualified teachers possible within our school system.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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