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"To be good (dare I suggest, outstanding), schools need teachers who are brilliant people"

Posted on: 21 Dec 2016
Posted by: Pam Hutley

Responding to DfE research which reveals little benefit from subject-specialist teachers, Pam Hutley, head of Hollygirt School in Nottingham argues "an outstanding teacher is so much more than their knowledge".

This blog is in response to an article in TES which reported DfE research showing 'limited evidence' that subject specialist teachers can help improve pupil outcomes.


I know brilliant teachers who inspire and motivate who are passionate about their subject, which happens to be the subject they were qualified in … this may sound obvious. Surely if you are passionate about something it will have been the subject of choice at uni? Maybe not.


I know teachers who are teaching the subject they are qualified in who are neither brilliant nor inspirational/motivational nor indeed passionate.


It is wrong to assume that any teacher can teach (well) any subject. Why should a biologist be assumed to have physics knowledge any more than an English teacher has maths? Would you expect a technologist to be able to teach Spanish?


A brilliant teacher, might, however, prepare fabulous resources to teach fast-paced dynamic lessons for any subject given suitable notice and enough chance to learn ahead of the children. We do expect a lot of our teachers, and on top of the preparation of the actual lessons, picking up the knowledge to be able to confidently respond to the questions of the most curious children may be a step too far for senior non-specialists. A good degree in a relevant subject is a bonus for teachers of KS4 and 5 (as there is likely to be some overlap in key subject knowledge) but I would suggest it is not a prerequisite, if the teacher can evidence the necessary skills in another way. An outstanding teacher is so much more than their knowledge.


However and somewhat unfairly, we expect quite naturally that our primary teachers can teach across the curriculum range. Many schools cannot afford subject specialists at this age, so a primary teacher, who may be a historian or a PE specialist could be teaching the Year 6s something like the following on a week towards the end of the autumn term: understanding animal and plant classification (vertebrate and invertebrate; vascular and non-vascular). Simultaneously investigating town planning in geography; looking at the difference between active and passive verbs and altering word order in sentences as well as some of Hamlet in literacy; investigating the causes of WWII and the key events of the war. Learning conversational Spanish and basic Latin grammar, whilst teaching the rules and positions of attack and defence in hockey; doing observational sketches in art; making a felted and embellished cushion in DT, learning about algebraic equations; and more … plus preparing children for a Christmas concert, a nativity and much carol singing. Oh yes, don’t forget the RE, PSCHE, (including FBV’s) and we throw in full written reporting in every subject, extra-curricular activities, duties and so much more, we can see quite plainly that what we need of our teachers is so much more than a degree!


To be good (dare I suggest, outstanding), schools need teachers who are brilliant people, brilliant time managers, brilliant multi-taskers and most importantly who teachers believe that children need passion, inspiration and motivation as well as much care, support and love, if they are to thrive in our competitive world.

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About Pam Hutley

Pam Hutley is head of Hollygirt School, a co-educational day school in Nottingham.