Are academies short-changing students by shunning qualified teachers?

An image showing golden statues representing academy awards

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Are academies awarding non-QTS teachers, at the detriment of students?

We will soon be marking ten years since the expansion of the academies programme in England. Academies now account for 66% of secondary and 30% of primary state schools.

In 2012 the Department for Education effectively abolished the requirement for teachers to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). The government argued this would allow schools to employ teachers with exceptional subject experience that would enrich classroom teaching.

In practice, this regulatory relaxation has been used as a route to employ cheap teaching staff. Most new non-QTS teachers earn £6000 less each year than their newly-qualified counterparts. Of the additional 12,000 teachers in English state schools since 2012, two thirds do not have QTS.

A new study from the University of Oxford, based on data from 18,000 English state schools, has found that, independent of context, academies employ more teachers without QTS than non-privatised schools. It also found that schools with more business-like management structures (eg sponsored academies or schools in multi-academy trusts) were even more likely to rely on non-QTS teachers.

How does this affect students?

However convincing government rhetoric might be, several studies from the US show that students achieve more if their teacher has a teaching qualification.

One study found that in mathematics, qualified teachers have a statistically significant positive impact on student test scores relative to teachers without a formal qualification. Another concluded: ‘We find compelling evidence that teacher credentials, particularly licensure and certification, affects student achievement in systematic ways and that the magnitudes are large enough to be policy relevant.’

When looking beyond teaching status and across the performance of academies as a whole, a 2017 report from the Education Policy Institute found no evidence of positive impact on outcomes as a result of academisation. That report also noted that, even if there’s no overall improvement, there is a huge variation in the performance of academies.

And perhaps that’s the true result of the freedoms afforded to academies: not systematic improvement, but myriad approaches with myriad outcomes.

It’s not surprising then that, as well as finding an increase in the number of non-QTS teachers used by academies, the Oxford study found that across England, the academies programme is also widening inequality in students’ access to qualified teachers.