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Teacher education: to ‘build back better’ we should start from the sound foundations already in place

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 14 July 2021

In early July the Department for Education published the report of its Market Review of Initial Teacher Training and launched a consultation on its proposals. Many university providers have voiced their concerns at the proposals, one of the most forthright being the University of Cambridge. Higher education bodies have spoken out alongside, including the Russell Group and the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET).

At the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) we have also registered our disappointment at the recommendations the report puts forward, recommendations that we, like many others, believe risk eroding the quality of Initial teacher education (ITE) as well as endangering teacher supply.

The IOE was founded in 1902 as the London Day Training College for Teachers: teacher education has sat at the heart of what we do for just shy of 120 years. Today, as the IOE, we train around 2,000 new teachers a year, in partnership with more than 500 schools. Ofsted has rated our provision ‘outstanding’ across the board.

We remain committed to providing high-quality, research-informed ITE that develops teachers with both technical skill and intellectual independence, and to sustaining this model of ITE and teacher professionalism. It’s a commitment that we share with many other providers, schools and current and prospective teachers. We fulfil it by offering subject- and phase-specific rather than generic programmes, taught by specialists who form part of a dynamic and broad-based research community and who work in close collaboration with school-based mentors.

One of the clearest articulations we’ve seen of this model of teacher education and professionalism is provided by Orchard and Winch (2015) and their description of the teacher as executive technician, craft worker and professional. In contrast to the first two roles, each with its own merits and attributes, the ‘teacher as professional’ has broader underpinning knowledge for practice. Orchard and Winch set out how universities’ contribution to ITE supports this combination of conceptual understanding, facility with empirical research and ethical deliberation, to weave into the equally important components of practical observation, experience and reflection. These features are to be found in the ITE offered through faculties of education across the country, the outcomes of which are summarised in UCET’s statement on the importance of the intellectual basis for teacher education.

In comparison with these existing arrangements, we are concerned that the proposals set out in the Market Review would narrow the ITE curriculum and preclude responsiveness to local school and trainee needs, including via negotiated partnership arrangements.

The Market Review report makes 14 recommendations in all, broadly divided between curriculum-related and structural recommendations. On structure, the proposals fundamentally shift the basis of ITE delivery, from a provider-school partnership model to a provider-supplier model. This would comprise a much smaller number of ‘lead providers’, coupled with contracted ‘delivery partners’, schools providing ‘intensive’ placements to larger cohorts of student teachers, and schools offering more traditional placements. The proposals suggest that the onus would be on schools to generate additional capacity to support trainees and that the onus on lead providers would be to tightly monitor who worked with trainees, what training they received and what training they delivered.

This is with a view to delivering a more tightly prescribed curriculum based around the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF). Under the proposals, assessment would be re-directed away from supporting and monitoring student teachers’ progress in relation to the Teachers’ Standards and towards monitoring their performance against the CCF, arguably a less helpful framework for guiding professional learning.

The proposals also set what are widely regarded to be unrealistic timeframes for re-accreditation against the new specifications in order to become a provider. This includes in relation to the validation and quality assurance processes of and Competition and Markets Authority requirements on universities, each of which play an important role in upholding standards. There are as yet unanswered questions about levels of resourcing, both for providers and school partners, most notably in relation to school-based mentoring.

In the face of such reforms, some higher education providers – and school providers (e.g. see NASBTT’s response to the Review) – may decide to drop ITE. Whether school partners will feel they have the capacity to support the proposed model remains a moot point. For some schools it may not be feasible, certainly in the immediate circumstances of the immense disruptions of a ‘once in a generation’ global pandemic. The Review asks for views on what would encourage more schools to engage with ITE.

The loss of these providers as well as provider autonomy risks hollowing out an ITE system that has underpinned innovation as much as the ‘teacher as professional’ model of teacher education. It could undermine a range of associated provision, from short courses through to accredited programmes at master’s and doctoral level.

It could also result in a marked reduction in ITE places and significant disruption to teacher supply, whether because of a loss of providers, or because prospective teachers cannot find ITE provision that suits them. That may be about provision that offers close support from a personal tutor and more gradual immersion in the classroom, or simply the choice to train at a known provider or a local provider with placements close to home. The latter will be especially important for student teachers with caring responsibilities and in ‘levelling up’ areas of the country that struggle to recruit and retain new teachers.

There is time to focus the Review on the right things. In our view, those are a balance between central prescription and space to respond to local need; support for partnership between providers and schools; adequate training and funding for school-based mentoring; and, we would add, the unique contribution of university partners and the infrastructure, expertise and facilities they bring to teacher education. In particular, the case for a costly and disruptive restructuring and re-accreditation process has simply not been made, especially in the current context. The school workforce and pupils (and teacher educators) have endured a lot and given a lot of themselves over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we begin to ‘build back better’, when it comes to ITE we should start from the sound foundations that are already in place.

The Review report and consultation can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-teacher-training-itt-market-review-report

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/initial-teacher-training-itt-market-review

The deadline to respond to the consultation is 11.55pm, 22nd August 2021.

You can also make your views known by writing to your MP. Find your MP online here.

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