Unqualified Teachers? Horses For Courses

Horses For Courses.

Horses For Courses.

Jamie Oliver demanded, and apparently got, a revolution in school meals. In a television series shown a few years ago, he went through the lunchtime offerings of many a school dinner menu with a fine tooth comb and discovered that teeth were, quite frankly, the very least of our worries.

Our saviour Jamie, ousted the-now infamous ‘turkey twizzlers’ (no, I don’t know,jamie_oliver either..probably best not to ask.)..cue: wholesome food, source-able, reliable menus. In short, what all Mums, Dads and carers hoped for all along; decent, quality, reasonably healthy, nutritious food for our youngsters and, I’ll admit, with the added bonus of not having to pack a lunch every week night! My daughter’s school even introduced a salad bar from which, she insists, she partakes every day. Great stuff. A very far cry indeed from the somewhat dubious school meals that I recall from the early to mid 80s. Who knows what livestock (or livestock anatomy) was lurking in that, and I certainly never saw a lettuce or a tomato? My Mum wasn’t at home making sandwiches either; I paid my money and took my choice, as the saying goes.

Whilst driving in the car today, I heard on the radio that horse DNA had been found in a frozen burger removed from a school premises. Horse DNA! Horse DNA..!! In a SCHOOL meal! Many, many parents (like me, for example) had begun to get a bit too complacent . I, for one, believed that Jamie had sorted this matter once and for all. I also considered that the horse DNA scandal was the preserve of those folks, sitting in front of the TV, with a (once) frozen, budget, microwaved, ‘value’ ready-meal on their laps. Quite frankly, it serves them right for not watching more of Jamie’s TV programmes in the first place.

Except, deep down I, and many others, knew that the budget, value , frozen ready meal was just the tip (or the dregs) of an issue that would continue to run and run. Like peeling back the layers of an onion. Who knows how deep this’ll go? All the best stories go right to the top. I’m waiting for the discovery that a top-of-the-price-range ‘wild boar and chorizo burger’ actually contains 5% of each of those ingredients and 90% horse. Then what?

Well, probably nothing, actually. I think we’ve probably all resigned ourselves to the fact that we’re likely to have consumed a lot more horse than we probably would’ve chosen to. Fine. It’s safe for human consumption. Even the equine-injected anti-inflammatory ‘Bute’ story fell at the first fence, when it was pointed out that you would need to consume 200 horse meat products just to give yourself just ONE human-safe dose of the stuff. Even I can’t eat that many burgers. So, horse meat is safe to eat. Manufacturers just need to be honest and tell us what we’re eating. Not ‘shepherds pie’, maybe, but ‘jockey’s pie’. See how that goes down.

So, we may have established that it’s not so much what you give us that matters, it’s being honest about what you package that counts. Or is it? How many people, I wonder, would really choose a ‘jockey pie’ or ‘Cheval bolognaise’ if it was packaged as such. I’m not convinced that would go down well, and that’s the source of the deception. Horse may be leaner, tastier and cheaper, but is it acceptable to the wider public’s palate?

There are some unfortunate parallels to this lurking in the murky wings of the DfE. In the late summer the government announced that unqualified teachers would be permitted to work in schools. The reasoning behind this was that there is an awful lot of knowledge and subject-expertise out there that is, quite simply, untapped because the people concerned aren’t qualified teachers.


Jamie had somehow popped up again, earlier last year, in an attempt to prove this very point and set up a sort of ‘super school’ called “Dream School”. There were no qualified teachers, but nonetheless, highly eminent and knowledgeable people in their respective fields: David Starkey, teaching history; Jamie, himself, teaching cookery; Simon Callow, drama and Shakespeare; Alistair Campbell, politics and debate, for starters. There is no doubt that this was an illustrious and knowledgeable group. And, as far as I remember, a selection of pupils were chosen to attend, from a cross-section of socio-economic backgrounds.

But something wasn’t quite right with the DNA of these illustrious and knowledgeable people, and the pupils knew it. Certainly, they knew their stuff and the kids were privileged to have them there, whether they realised it or not. This was an excellent opportunity to get some knowledge from the real experts.

Unfortunately, the majority of the lessons fell flat – often into complete disarray – because the experts couldn’t or didn’t know how to get over, around or under the behaviour issue. They just weren’t able to capture the imagination of the young people, however hard they tried. Several episodes of car-crash TV followed: Simon Callow looked drawn and frantic when he couldn’t get his excellent and well-planned Shakespeare lesson off the ground; self-appointed Principal Jamie himself spent a good deal of time withdrawing and lecturing the young people on a one-to-one basis; Alistair Campbell did fare slightly better, but only when he went completely off-script; David Starkey caused a few raised eyebrows as he proved himself to be…David Starkey.

The point was well and truly made, although I don’t think that Jamie and Co ever imagined it would work out that way. It turned out that this was the perfect case-study of the pitfalls of employing unqualified teachers. Any teacher will tell you that without good behaviour, attention and at least a modicum of interest from the pupils there is no lesson – no matter how outstanding the planned content and subject expertise may be.

The people staffing Jamie’s “Dream School” simply weren’t teachers. Yes, they had the subject knowledge, but they didn’t have the myriad of other invisible, and often unrecognised, skills that go to make up the alchemy that is a ‘good teacher’.


It is an astonishing display of ignorance, on the part of the government to think that it’s acceptable to place unqualified teachers into schools and expect it to work out okay on the basis of superior subject knowledge. A fine racehorse will outrun a humble cow any day of the week, but that won’t make it any more appetising to the masses, and it certainly won’t prove palatable if the label’s misleading. Putting unqualified teachers into schools is simply to provide deliberately misleading labelling. Parents, pupils, even teachers just won’t know who’s who anymore, and then where will we all be?

Horses for courses, surely?

Please follow me on Twitter: @cazzypot

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