Labour has accused Theresa May’s government of allowing more than 600,000 pupils to be taught by unqualified teachers.
After a pledge by Jeremy Corbyn to stamp out the practice, the party has analysed official figures to calculate that 613,000 pupils in state-funded schools in England have been taught by adults with no formal teaching qualifications.
Michael Gove, the former education secretary, introduced the right for free schools and academies to use unqualified teachers in 2012, a move which has been expanded under the current education secretary, Justine Greening.
Labour claims the use of teachers who are not qualified leads to children in state schools being taught by people who have had no guaranteed training in safeguarding children, controlling a class or adapting teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils.
Official government figures show that the number of unqualified teachers has increased by more than 60% to 24,000 since the government removed the requirement for teachers to gain qualifications.
Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, said the government was relying on unqualified teachers to plug the gaps in schools brought about by chronic underfunding.
“Under Labour, all permanently employed teachers had to be qualified. This government changed the rules and scrapped that requirement, allowing schools to employ unqualified teachers, permanently threatening standards.
“The Tories’ failure on teacher recruitment is putting school standards at risk, and it’s our children who will pay for their mess,” he said.
Labour calculated the number of pupils by multiplying number of unqualified teachers by 25.5, the average class size in the state sector.
The expansion of David Cameron’s free schools, coupled with more academies, which were launched under Labour, helps explain the rise. This follows claims that the Tories have missed their teacher training targets for five years in a row.
The Conservatives argued that the change would make up the shortfalls in subjects such as computer science, engineering and languages, bringing state schools more in line with private schools where qualified teacher status is often desirable but not mandatory.
One minister has claimed that the use of unqualified high-flyers from industry and academia can be used to inspire children, particularly in inner-city areas. Labour insiders believe that the public remains opposed to the use of unqualified teachers.
Corbyn has promised that a Labour government would ensure all permanently employed teachers were qualified. Labour has argued that Gove changed the rules despite massive polling evidence showing the reform was unpopular with parents.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The number of teachers overall has risen by 3.5% since 2010 and the proportion of qualified teachers in schools remains high.
“Nine out of 10 schools are rated good or outstanding and we have a record number of teachers in our classrooms – 95% of whom hold qualified teacher status.
“The rest include some trainees working towards their professional qualifications as well as experts, such as leading scientists, sports people or musicians, who headteachers think can add value to individual lessons and enrich the learning experience for children.”
Unions and Labour claim that not enough trainee teachers began courses in more than three-quarters of subjects, with maths, physics, design and technology, computing and business studies all falling at least 15% short of their targets.
About 6,000 trainee teachers began courses after achieving a 2:2 or lower in their degree subject, and less than half of trainees are studying for their qualifications in universities, they claimed.
The only subjects to meet the required recruitment levels were PE, history, biology and geography, while English and chemistry narrowly missed them.
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