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Should we review the impact of radical unpredictability in ITE?

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In the second in our three part series on the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Education, Bob Bowie wonders whether previous changes have been properly evaluated first.

tangled cablesAgainst a backdrop of reported shortages in teaching, the DfE is currently undertaking a review of ITE, led by Andrew Carter. This blog has previously questioned whether the review is considering the right questions, particularly around recruitment and retention of teachers.  To add to this, before implementing further change, I believe the review needs to consider the radical changes that have already taken place.

The Carter Review comes after a radical restructuring of the ITE funding mechanism, giving much more money to schools and incentivising them to train their own teachers alongside traditional university-led routes into teaching. Michael Gove often said that today’s teachers are the best ever, but despite this, in one of his final major acts as Secretary of State, he commissioned the report on how things are going in ITE, presumably to inform future decisions on what to do next.

It’s interesting to speculate what such a report might have said four years ago. At that time the DfE could have taken a snap shot of a sector which had conducted some radical experiments. Here are four questions such a review might have asked:

  1. How has the expansion of Teach First gone?
  2. How good is employment-based initial teacher education?
  3. How good are traditional partnership methods of initial teacher education?
  4. Does our wide diversity in ITE routes produce better teachers?

1. How has the expansion of Teach First gone?

In 2006-7 the inspection of the provision of Teach First at Canterbury Christ Church University showed promising results and in 2008 Ofsted was confident the NQTs were making a strong impact in their schools of employment. Subsequently Teach First was expanded with additional university partners delivering the training. How had that gone? Had the early strengths been replicated and extended? 2010-11 was a good time to ask that question via a full and independent review.

2. How good is employment-based initial teacher education?

By 2010-11 the Graduate Registered Teaching Programme had been running for some years. This route, school based and school-led, backed by universities and SCITTs, was a significant innovation in initial teacher education. There had been early concerns about the quality of secondary subject specialist provision and whether trainees were being dropped in to fill vacancy gaps and left unsupported. There were shining examples of large GRTP routes that were sophisticated and well-developed examples of school-led systems. This would have been an interesting time to review the model, especially as a further expansion of a school-led system was to follow.

3. How good are traditional partnership methods of initial teacher education?

As required by governments for some considerable time already, university-led PGCE secondary programmes have two thirds of the course already spent in school. 2010 was a sensible time to review whether or not this model should keep its position as the main method, given the seeming success of the alternative Teach First and GRTP models.

4. Does our wide diversity in ITE routes produce better teachers?

Given the experiments in ITE in England, in contrast to many of the very best international educational jurisdictions which prefer fewer and more traditional routes, this was a good time to ask this question.There was no major review but rather a radical transformation of the system, upscaling Teach First and a whole new school based system, Schools Direct. The traditional ITE system has been destabilised with unpredictable funding mechanisms, problems in recruitment of new teachers to all subjects leading to the departure of some historic and established providers – notably the Open University. Like all other aspects of our education system – school status, performance, examinations and curriculum – radical unpredictability became the hallmark of ITE. It is a good time to review what radical unpredictability has already done to the quality of ITE. It will be interesting to see how that is located in the review; for example, the Chief Executive of the NCTL, Charlie Taylor, has noted that the introduction of schools direct has already caused instability in the sector.

Returning to the Carter review I believe it should consider the following questions:

1. To what extent does school-funded ITE provide great teachers?

School Direct’s biggest innovation was to re-route the funding for ITE to schools (mirroring policy trajectory in Academies and Free schools where the portion previously given to local authorities is retained by the School). The problem is, how can we make sure we are producing great teachers for the whole country? For example, how well can schools find sufficiently good teachers of foundation subjects to train tomorrow’s teachers?

2. To what extent does the ITE system as it stands recruit and retain enough teachers for all our schools?

Recruitment onto ITE routes is in trouble. Last year the School Direct programme under recruited. This year the situation is worse. This is surprising in a time of high youth and graduate unemployment and in a period of economic recovery may get worse as graduates seek other careers.

3. To what extent does school-led ITE produce teachers who can teach in any school?

QTS has an implicit idea within it that there is a basic common currency of what a professional teacher is. With the emergence of major chains of schools, now seeking to train their own teachers in particular ways, is this tacit recognition of the end of the universal professional teacher? Does the marketised teacher training sector produce specific teachers for specific settings? If it does, this is surely a problem for the idea of the teacher as a professional, and undermines education.Any review of ITE should take an honest full look at the system we have created. System change has been a reoccurring feature of recent education policy, and the review must be bold enough to evaluate those system changes honestly.

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