Michael Gove's muddled thinking on teacher training

The Education Secretary plans to introduce tougher tests for trainee teachers, whilst allowing academies to hire unqualified teachers.

Whatever the merits or demerits of Michael Gove's plan to introduce tougher tests for trainee teachers, he doesn't win any marks for consistency. The Education Secretary argues, rather persuasively, that the new exams will ensure that "we have the best teachers coming into our classrooms", yet just a few months ago he changed the law to allow academies (which now account for more than half of all secondary schools) to hire unqualified teachers. The government announced in July that the schools, like their private counterparts and "free schools", would be able to employ people who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS). A spokesman for the Department for Education said:

Independent schools and free schools can already hire brilliant people who have not got QTS. We are extending this flexibility to all academies so more schools can hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before.

Yet now, announcing plans to introduce more challenging English and Maths tests for would-be teachers, Gove insists that the "rigorous selection" of trainees is the key to raising standards. He said:

These changes will mean that parents can be confident that we have the best teachers coming into our classrooms.

Above all, it will help ensure we raise standards in our schools and close the attainment gap between the rich and poor.

There are good arguments for making it easier to become a teacher and there are good arguments for making it harder. But Gove can't expect to be taken seriously if he makes them at the same time.

Education Secretary Michael Gove granted academies the power to hire unqualified teachers in July. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.