No education system can be better than the quality of its teachers. The most successful countries, from the Far East to Scandinavia, are those where teaching has the highest status as a profession. These countries have demanding initial teacher education programmes which require successful completion in order to enter into the profession.[1]

Finnish researchers point out Finland’s educational success depends upon, “the professional skills and qualifications of teachers” which are, “decisive for successful education, especially in order to guarantee the equality of education”.[2]

Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) represents a formal set of skills, qualities, and professional standards that are recognised as essential aspects of an effective educator.

The rigorous criteria involved in achieving QTS ensures that teachers possess solid knowledge and understanding of educational values and subject matter, and high standards of planning, monitoring, assessment and classroom management.

In May 2018, the DfE announced a number of policy changes in relation to QTS.[3] These changes involved extending the NQT induction period to two years (with no impact on pay) to provide more support to new teachers in developing their practice, knowledge and skills; introducing an early career framework (ECF) to build on and complement initial teacher education and underpin the induction period; and amending the statutory induction guidance to create a new role of mentor in addition to the induction coordinator/tutor. The Union responded positively to these proposals.[4]

However, there are significant issues of capacity. The NEU has pointed out that trainees will need sufficient time to undertake the training asked for in the first two years. Mentors will also need defined time and focused training to ensure that mentoring is of high quality. There are substantial risks that this will add to already high workload levels for existing staff, which could impact negatively on their retention levels.

Furthermore, teachers’ access to continuing professional development (CPD) is currently affected by a lack of funding, time and suitable high-quality provision. Additionally, many local authorities no longer offer CPD, and there is, in particular, a shortage of CPD opportunities linked to individual teachers’ professional needs.

Government must address these funding, workload and other barriers directly, otherwise their proposals will not succeed.[5]

Moreover, the Government’s stated desire for a qualified teaching workforce is undermined by the DfE’s continuing commitment to a policy that allows unqualified individuals, without QTS, to work as teachers in academies and free schools in England. This is in stark contrast to policy in other parts of the UK. The Welsh Government, for instance, makes clear that “to become a teacher and teach in a maintained school in Wales, you need to attain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) “.[6]

Allowing academies and free schools to hire unqualified teaching staff may lead to a decline in educational standards. Unqualified teachers may have difficulty coping with pupils with behavioural issues and special educational needs. They may be an expert in their subject specialism but they will lack the classroom experience and pedagogical background needed to maximise children’s learning potential and properly support their educational development.

It is impossible to guarantee consistency or quality of teaching unless the merits of QTS are universally recognised.  All schools, regardless of their status, should adhere to the same criteria and requirements when appointing teaching staff to ensure that all pupils are afforded the same high standards of teaching.

Unqualified teachers are cheap alternatives to trained and qualified staff. They may be expected to perform the same duties as qualified teachers but they do not receive the same financial remuneration.

Of the 452,000 FTE teachers in state funded schools in England in 2017, 21,000 (5%) were unqualified.[7] In 2017, the Labour Party estimated that more than 600,000 pupils were being taught by unqualified teachers. [8]


[1] Michael Barber and Mona Mourshed (2007) How the world’s best performing schools come out on top.  New York: McKinsey  https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/social-sector/our-insights/how-the-…

[2] Pirjo Pollari, Oli-Pekka Salo, Kirsti Koski (2017) In Teachers We Trust – the Finnish Way to Teach and Learn. i.e.: inquiry in education: Vol. 10: Iss. 1, Article 4

[3] DfE (2018) Strengthening QTS and improving career progression for teachers : government consultation response, May.

[5]  National Education Union (2018) Response to DfE Consultation, March.

[7] Department for Education, School workforce in England: November 2017 (published 28 June 2018). Table 3a: Head count and full-time equivalent numbers of regular qualified1 and unqualified2 teachers and occasional teachers in state funded schools by qualification status, gender and sector,  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/school-workforce-in-england-november-2017

[8]  Rajeev Syal (2017) More than 600000 pupils in England taught by unqualified teachers, 25th July https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/25/more-than-600000-pupils-in-england-taught-by-unqualified-teachers