Breaking research

Academies widen pupil inequality and ‘degrade’ teaching workforce

  • Academies are more likely than other schools to employ teachers who are unqualified which may be undermining the quality of education for thousands of pupils
  • More than a third of unqualified teachers in primary schools do not have an undergraduate degree and nearly a quarter do not in secondaries


The government’s flagship Academies programme is widening class-based inequality because pupils are being denied access to qualified teachers, according to new research published in the British Journal of Sociology Education.

The findings are based on data from more than 18,000 English state schools and represent the first national large-scale analysis of how academies impact school workforces. This is as a result of their freedom to recruit staff who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS).

The Nuffield College, University of Oxford study reveals that the percentage of teachers without QTS hired by academies is rising compared with schools still under local authority control. The greatest increases are among those structured more like businesses — academies run by government-approved sponsors or belonging to a chain of schools.

In addition, these state-funded but independent institutions are exacerbating the tendency for schools with pupils from poorer backgrounds to hire more teachers without QTS, according to the study.

“More than a third of unqualified teachers in primary schools do not have an undergraduate degree and nearly a quarter do not in secondaries,” says lead author Nicholas Martindale, from the Department of Sociology at Oxford.

“Neoliberal policies that outsource the management of the education system and undermine professional accreditation are degrading the teaching workforce and widening inequality in access to qualified teachers.”

There are currently around 7,000 academies in England and the government has allowed them to employ teachers without QTS since 2012.

Senior political figures, trade unions and pressure groups have argued that outsourcing the running of state-funded schools has caused a rapid increase in the number of pupils taught by unqualified teachers. However, it has been unclear until now if this is because academies are more exposed than maintained schools to certain factors, such as being located in deprived areas.

The researchers analysed a newly-compiled dataset that combines two censuses — School Workforce in England and Schools, Pupils and Their Characteristics. The dataset relates to 18,158 primary and secondary schools.

The study found that academies have employed over a thousand more teachers, without the skills and experience normally required, than other state schools — and thousands of children have been taught by these unqualified staff.

The likely consequence, say the researchers, is that the quality of education for these pupils has been undermined. Teachers without QTS have less pedagogical training, where they learn about the theory and practice of education, and less subject knowledge than their qualified colleagues. Future research should now investigate the effect of the academies programme on other aspects of employment such as pay and working conditions for teachers, they add.