The "unqualified teacher" row has been around for years. Independent (i.e. private) schools have used teachers without teaching qualifications for years. A degree in the subject you are teaching is often enough to secure a position at such a school.
However, Nick Clegg has recently fanned the flames of this debate by openly criticising the policies of his Cabinet colleague Michael Gove.
There are, of course, supporters of the unqualified teacher model. One could argue for the better results claimed from private schools. Martin Stephen of the Telegraph makes a good argument for passion and experience over mere qualifications.
However, to solely use the results that private schools obtain as justification of teachers without Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is fallacious. There are a whole host of other factors which influence these results, and these are well articulated by a new teacher experiencing a private school for the first time here.
As with a lot of public sector jobs, teaching is a profession that attracts a lot of ill-founded criticism and an excess of confidence that "anyone can do it". One user on Twitter even announced that he "could teach kids history in my sleep & I am not a qualified teacher". That may indeed be the case, but there are several things wrong with this statement.
Firstly, and most obviously, teaching a narrow band of one subject to a group of willing children can be done on a one-off or irregular basis. Many schools use specialists in a given topic to come into schools and speak to children for a session or two. That does not make them teachers. It might seem to be splitting hairs to say that "to teach" and "to be a teacher" is not the same thing, but it is nonetheless true. To be a teacher requires a consistent level of tolerance, dedication and energy that few are willing to give. Teaching is truly a vocation rather than a job. It is also true that there are people employed as teachers who are a poor fit for the demands of the role. For them, it is just a job.
It may also seem to be fussy to ask "and how many of the kids in your class would absorb the knowledge you gave"? Ironically, some of the most vocal critics of teachers seem to be the best educated themselves. Their most recent experience of teaching would have been during their time at University, on the receiving end of an almost wholly didactic and one-way exchange of information. At this point, it would be useful to point out that children (usually the under 16s) and adults learn in different ways. Someone who can't explain the difference between andragogy and pedagogy shouldn't be allowed anywhere near an educational institution. For example, I hold qualifications to teach adults in Further Education, but this would not, nor should it, qualify me for teaching children of any age. A fundamental part of teaching is the acceptance that individuals, adults or children, learn in different ways. My experience here for children is extremely limited, but, for instance, some adults will happily learn all they need from reading a book, whereas another adult needs to learn in a more practical environment. Good teaching recognises that these different learning styles exist, identifies them in individuals, and structures the teaching matter to suit.
It's true that modern teaching methods can be perceived as quite prescriptive, but teaching should reflect the best of the current thinking in education. This is intended not only to give each child access to the best methods, but to give a consistent application of them regardless of the area of the country you live in, or your economic background. We can question, rightly, whether the methods currently taught to teachers are the most effective methods. Many teachers may say that they are not, however the point is that a consistency is brought to teaching. Continue research into teaching methods, by all means, and update the model with the best of the current thinking. Let every child benefit from this development. Unqualified teachers risks an uneven application of this skill. Even if the most effective teacher in the UK happens to be unqualified, we need to learn, absorb, and distribute the reasons for this success, not isolate it.
There is an irony at the heart of this issue that I have not seen discussed elsewhere. Do we really have an Education Secretary whose policy it is to disregard the qualifications it has itself created and overseen? What message does this send to children and young people of today? "Get your qualifications, children, and in future another Minister will singlehandedly render those qualifications irrelevant?"
If it is really true that the outcomes from private schools are better, if social factors can somehow be isolated, then perhaps we need to determine why this is. Whilst it is true that private schools use teachers who do not hold QTS, many private sector teachers qualified in the state sector. This gives an academic rigour to teaching methods which further benefit from the lack of interference from unqualified & ignorant busybodies such as the Department for Education. Here's an analogy; you can be a qualified and competent gardener, but if someone comes along who insists on digging up the seeds to see how they are growing, then it's likely the end results won't be great.
On the other hand, you could just shrug your shoulders and say that unqualified teachers are the natural and inevitable outcome from a Government of arrogant, privileged chancers who think that they know better than a qualified expert.