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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.