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A new Institute of Teaching? ‘Flagship’ teacher education is already here

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 3 February 2021

Caroline Daly.

The Department for Education announcement on 2 January of a new Institute of Teaching (IoT) is a watershed moment for initial teacher education (ITE) in England. On 4 January the IoT was put out to tender as ‘an independent body’, to be run by a supplier or suppliers. It is intended to be ‘a national role model’ to ‘exemplify how to deliver ITT’ and teacher development, which ‘will support other organisations to understand and implement best practice in the delivery of teacher development’.

Presumably, university partnerships might apply. After all, a number of providers amongst the HE sector in England would qualify as world leaders in enacting research-informed teacher education and have been judged to be consistently ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Many questions about teacher education are raised by this development (for example, see John White’s blog on whether the IoT can support what teachers need to learn). One that is worth serious scrutiny is a core claim in the Secretary of State’s announcement. Gavin Williamson asserted that the IoT will be the ‘flagship’ provider of teacher education for this country. That gives some pause for thought. It appears we are in need of a flagship? I want to argue that many candidates for that accolade exist, and that a world-leading role in teacher education should go far beyond the proposed remit for the IoT.

The issues are serious regarding what is valued in teacher education and what it takes to be truly outstanding in England and on the world stage. That is because such a claim takes on international as well as national responsibilities to education. ‘Flagship’ teacher education reflects world-leading programmes. They are informed by rigorous and independent international as well as local research, taught by deeply knowledgeable teacher educators and evaluated on the basis of transparent criteria.

A flagship provider is recognised across the world for quality of provision that leads values-driven, critically informed ITE that is sustainable beyond the lifetime of serial initiatives. This prepares teachers with the depth and breadth of knowledge to make teaching a career that is based on intellectual curiosity about how best to enable learners to fulfil their potentials. It is an accolade that is earned through sustained provision and exchange of ideas with world-leading teacher educators. Flagship providers of ITE are renowned throughout the world as well as in their own countries – think of Teachers College, Columbia University in the USA or the National Institute of Education, Singapore. Think of England and, among others, the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) is such an example.

So how does a ‘flagship’ warrant its place in the world? This is not an attempt to indulge in exalting the IOE. The IOE is one part of a vibrant HE sector, in which huge benefits for teacher education lie in sharing and developing joint expert knowledge about how teachers learn. This is to take the example of the IOE to explore the ways in which leadership of teacher education on a national stage is built through multiple forms of sustained expertise.

What about the quality of ITE provision at the IOE? The most recent evidence from Ofsted (2014) awarded ‘outstanding’ grades on every criterion for its ITE, across primary, secondary and further education programmes.

We are not alone. Others in the sector must also be wondering – what is the problem to which the IoT is the solution? There are serious challenges in the current national arrangements for ITE – but a lack of examples of strikingly high quality ITE provision with universities is not one of them. The Institute works with around 1,800 student teachers each year and more than 600 schools, colleges and Early Years settings – quality provision that is maintained at scale, year after year.

What about immediate access to relevant, independent, peer-reviewed research of international standing? The last Research Excellence Framework assessment of university research (2014) placed IOE at the top for ‘research power’ in Education. Research power indicates the strongest level of research-engagement distributed among the widest number of staff, a result of a research culture that is broad as well as deep and which permeates the range of provision. It promotes critical thinking, independent analysis and the scrutiny of evidence as sources of teacher knowledge.

What about international benchmarks of excellence? The IOE was ranked number one for Education worldwide in the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 QS World University Rankings. It was awarded the 2015 Queen’s Anniversary Prize, a biennial award scheme within the UK’s national honours system. They are the most prestigious form of national recognition open to a UK academic or vocational institution, in recognition of work judged to be of world class excellence. It is hard to know how this does not indicate that England has flagship provision of teacher education, located in a world-leading university. Other places in the world know this.

Such acknowledgement on the basis of multiple evidence sources builds over years and the widest possible range of relationships with schools, teachers, governments, researchers and developers. It explains why it is fair to suggest that we do indeed have ‘flagship’ provision in England. It may account for why the term ‘Institute’ has been proposed to describe the new, non-university sector national provider.

This makes it puzzling to be told that there is a new flagship in town. There is indeed much work to be done to support the teaching profession and to address the reasons why so many leave, so soon. There needs to be independent research into teacher education across a vastly complex system in which there are huge inconsistencies in the ways new teachers are prepared. What could be immensely useful is funding for a wide-scale, independent investigation into teacher education in all its forms in this country and its impacts on those who enter the profession.

Gavin Williamson says he wants to learn from the sector. It seems to be an interest in learning after having arrived at a solution – but let’s hope that the interest is genuine. There is flagship knowledge and expertise out there.

Photo: London Festival of Education 2015

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One Response to “A new Institute of Teaching? ‘Flagship’ teacher education is already here”

  • 1
    Ian Phillips wrote on 9 February 2021:

    A flagship is supposedly the pride of the Fleet and the home of the Admiral of the Fleet. So what kind of ship is Rear-Admiral Williamson in charge of? HMS Pinafore? The Black Pig? There’s certainly more than a whiff of opera bouffe and pantomime farce about the way the DfE operates these days & Williamson as Dick Deadeye & Gibb as Bill Bobstay would seem to fit the bill.
    Then there is the sclerotic Navy of the 1890s which only listened to it’s own naval architects and refused to contemplate genuine innovation until it was publicly humiliated by Turbinia at the 1897 Spithead Review.
    Finally there’s the 18th Century Navy and the reputedly corrupt Navy Board. Where do you think the term Rum Deal comes from? Again there are parallels: with Pursers like heads of Academy Chains taking advantage of the system to fill their pockets.
    So to mis-quote Eric Morecambe ‘Flagship is the right word for this initiative but for all the wrong reasons’