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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I didn't expect to have to choose between a boyfriend and Judi Dench - but it happened

He told me I'd spoiled the cruise by not paying him enough attention. But what was I to do when Dame Judi Dench asked for a chat?

This happened around 20 years ago, in the days when a new boyfriend was staying at my house. One quite memorable mid-morning, the phone rang while we were in bed and it was the editor of the Times; then it rang again (when we were still in bed) and it was Dame Judi Dench. Yes, Judi Dench.

I was as surprised as anyone would be. True, I had recently written a radio monologue for her (about a wistful limpet stuck on a rock), but I hadn’t attended the recording, so I had never met her, or expected ever to hear her say, “Hello, is that Lynne Truss?” in that fabulous Dame Judi voice that only she possesses.

She said that she and her husband, Michael, were often invited to perform public readings; could I help by writing something? Stunned, I said that I would love to. She gave me her number. I hung up.

I can’t remember why I didn’t jump straight out of bed to start work on the Dame Judi project. But what I do remember is that when the phone rang yet again, we ignored it, on the grounds that, post-Judi, it could only be a disappointment.

A few months later, I was invited on a winter cruise, sailing from Colombo in Sri Lanka to Singapore. I took the boyfriend. It was only when we were changing planes at 3am that I spotted, among the other dog-tired passengers, Dame Judi with a group of friends.

Nervously, I went and said hello, what a coincidence. She said that we must talk. Then the holiday began and the boyfriend and I had a wonderful time. We met nice people and enjoyed the ship, although we consistently failed to identify our allotted muster station.

At the end of ten days, we were sitting on deck at Singapore, when I said, “Well, wasn’t that lovely?”

The boyfriend took me aback by saying, “Actually, glad you asked. No, it wasn’t.” I had spoiled the whole experience, he said, by continually talking to other people when I should have been talking to him.

I was very upset. All this time, he’d been unhappy? Casting my mind back, I realised it was true that I had made friends on board (and he hadn’t); also, at dinner, I had openly talked to the person sitting beside me, because I thought you were supposed to.

And now I stood accused of cruise-ruining! “I’ll get us some tea,” I said. “Oh, yes?” he fumed. “You’ll be gone for an hour, as usual.” And I said “No, I won’t. I promise.”

And so I went inside, wiping away my tears, and someone started chatting to me and I squeaked, “Can’t stop.” After that, I just slalomed through the throng with my head down.

Then, as I re-emerged into the sunlight with a prompt, relationship-saving cup and saucer in each hand, there was Judi Dench, and she said, “Shall we have our little chat now?” 

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad