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Reviewing ITE – are we asking the right questions?

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In the first of a three part series on Andrew Carter’s review of initial teacher education, William Stow, the Head of the School of Teacher Education and Development at Canterbury Christ Church University, considers whether the review is looking in the right places.

burst water pipeI recently had the pleasure of hosting a visit by Sir Andrew Carter and members of his advisory panel, as part of the ‘Independent Review of ITT’, commissioned by the late-lamented Mr Gove. In total, nearly forty students, mentors, head teachers and tutors enjoyed four hours of probing questions and lively discussion, covering a range of important topics, such as subject knowledge and pedagogy, behaviour, SEND, assessment, and the importance of mentoring.

If the panel can make sense of the thousands of submissions and dozens of similarly busy meetings that they have been holding across the country and turn these into valuable recommendations to improve the quality of initial teacher education, then they will have achieved something very important.

But, in all of the detailed consideration for and response to the review, I and my partner colleagues in schools and the University are left with a nagging feeling. Useful, important and interesting as the encounter proved, is the review asking the right questions and missing some fundamental points?

The review comes at a critical moment for the ITE sector. Since 2011, there has been a rapid (and outside Whitehall, probably unexpected) level of growth in school-based and school-led ITE. This has led to some welcome and remarkable innovation and brought about a level of challenge to existing practice. It has also probably shifted for good the locus of control and influence over ITE, towards genuine partnerships between schools and their ITE providers. But there are already worrying signs of over-expansion and stretch: under-recruitment in almost all secondary subjects; local supply problems; and Teaching Schools losing their designation after drops in Ofsted gradings. Despite these problems, there remains a tenacious and continued presence of established providers, but there has been a loss of some notable institutions.

Further instability could lead to significant loss of capacity, especially as Teaching School start-up funding runs out. Schools may no longer have the additional resources to devote to weeks of recruitment, only to find a small handful of candidates appearing for the precious places they have been allocated and to end up with no trainees; university vice-chancellors may lose patience with the declining income and political buffeting associated with teacher education and withdraw courses; and those interested in starting SCITTs might think twice after seeing recruitment decline last year, precisely when the government was offering sweeteners to schools to convert to SCITT status.

It is therefore worrying, and fundamentally misguided, that the review’s remit does not include recruitment and retention. For two years in a row now, there has been a strong suspicion (despite DFE obfuscation over statistics) that recruitment has not been up to target. Of particular concern is that this now includes primary, where SCITTs and HEIs have previously had to turn applicants away at the door.

This has come at a time when we have rising rolls in primary schools and a demographic in teaching which is creating a leadership crisis. We are burdened also with an unmovable, almost clichéd, statistic – that half of all teachers leave within five years of initial training. Less well known is that there are nearly as many qualified teachers not in teaching as there are in schools.

One of the positive aspects for ITE of the cataclysm that was Michael Gove’s time in office, is the way in which Teaching Schools have begun to transform our national conversations about teacher development. Those conversations extend to university education departments, because in many quarters, the focus is now not on ITE and CPD in isolation, but on how we can create compelling and supportive frameworks to help teachers navigate their way through those first five years.

But one of the most unhelpful aspects of the cataclysm has been the intentional exaggeration of false polarities between schools and universities, through both policy making and rhetoric. Whilst the political effectiveness of this cannot be denied, given the pace and scale of change, we should be entering a new phase now, one focused on collaboration and true partnership.

These partnerships can develop to provide access for teachers to the best that schools and universities can offer together – outstanding classroom practice, based on critical appreciation of the latest research and embedding an active research culture in each school; plus a range of options for accredited and non-accredited professional development, taking a longer term view of teacher development and giving teachers the tools to reflect on their own and others’ practice and look beyond the confines of their classrooms and schools.

Buried in this idea is a notion, espoused by Ken Zeichner among others, of the need for developing teachers at all stages of their careers to have reflective or ‘third’ spaces in which to safely explore the realities of their practice. These are spaces where neither school nor university culture dominate, but are rather dialogic spaces for knowledge creation and exchange. For most teachers, access to any space where they have the time and licence to ask critical questions and to find creative and research-informed solutions to their daily work, is limited to five days a year of INSET, often dominated by short-term adjustments to local or national directives.

There are some unnecessary barriers to the future development of this type of partnership working: forbidding the same accredited body from recommending QTS and successful completion of the NQT year prevents partnerships from designing seamless transitions into the profession; the lack of structured opportunities for discussion and debate between Teaching Schools at a regional and national level and other providers of teacher development (both Universities and established SCITTs); the ring-fencing of University Training Schools to be free schools or converter academies only; and the lack of stability in the ITE allocations model that prevents forward planning on more than a one year basis.

Having injected cash, moral energy and exhortation into the Teaching School sector, the government now needs to incentivise partnerships which make the best of the expertise, capacity and knowledge in both schools and in universities. Despite launching the notion of University Training Schools in the 2010 White Paper, this initiative has been slow to get off the ground. If UTS had been a quality-marked aspiration for Teaching School Alliances, which unlocked funding streams to invest in teacher development, we could by now have a powerful national network of these schools.

A significant problem remains. Despite recommendations by think-tanks such as Policy Exchange (whose More Good Teachers report has clearly driven a great deal of Govian policy on ITE and teaching) or the Education Select Committee report on recruitment and retention, we have seen no strategy for CPD, nor serious consideration of the impact that a lack of effective CPD has on keeping teachers in schools. Sam Freedman’s voucher system is clearly a non-starter in the current economic climate, and funding remains an issue. But with proper levels of demand and effective collaboration, school/university partnerships could develop programmes at much more competitive pricing levels which are sustainable and supported as being key to school improvement.

And what about the aspiration to match the ‘high-performing jurisdictions’? Whose teachers are more highly qualified (Finland) and more systematically supported (Singapore) in accessing high-quality CPD? One would not have expected Mr Gove, who clearly held no truck with the value of QTS, to have espoused this. But where are the other (opposition?) calls for this high aspiration, to match the demand of the increasing number of graduates entering teaching with 2:1s and 1sts? Should the aim not be for all teachers to be supported in achieving a fully-funded masters degree by the end of their fatal fifth year, as part of this structured programme of teacher development?

It is surely time to move on from tinkering with one year initial training programmes. Let’s start a serious conversation about retention and teacher development, to stop the wholesale wastage of expertise in both schools and universities to which the current situation is leading and to show that we are serious about sustainable, long-term investment in the thing that matters – the quality of teaching in schools.

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One Response to Reviewing ITE – are we asking the right questions?

  1. Matt Perks Tuesday, 7 October 2014 at 19:41 #

    I think this post echoes a lot of my own views. The thing I would add is my concern that spreading the ITE provision more thinly produces smaller cohorts and makes high quality subject-specific training increasingly difficult to provide.