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This is no time for a mass experiment on teacher education

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 13 August 2021

Alexandra_Koch / Pixabay

Caroline Daly.

We have until 22 August to respond to a DfE consultation about the proposal to radically restructure Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The proposals, in practice, pave the way to close existing programmes of ITE in England from as early as 2023, replacing them with an experimental form of provision that will be subject to approval by a centralised Accreditation Board (about which there is little detail). These proposals have been put forward from the DfE despite much ITE enjoying excellent track records, highly experienced school partnerships and expert staff.

The proposal is for existing ITE provision in England to be replaced by a system that is experimental on several levels, in terms of: student recruitment; curriculum; assessment; quality assurance and, crucially, stakeholder roles.  This includes the possibility of universities becoming redundant or certainly optional for ITE as new entities are created to extend degree awarding powers to other providers. Government will require all providers to be reaccredited in order to continue recruiting from September 2022.

This is in a system where, almost exactly one year ago, all of the 340 initial teacher training (ITT) partnerships that were inspected in the most recent national Ofsted cycle were judged to be good or outstanding. We can only speculate as to why the government had so little trust in the comprehensive and sustained judgements of the entire system that were concluded just one year ago. In July this year, Ofsted published some very hastily produced inspection evidence that criticises five providers, in a way that has attracted deep, authoritative questions about this current activity.

It is also at a time when schools are desperately trying to ensure the best possible conditions for their pupils in a system devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hard to understand why any policy-makers should wish to increase destabilising impacts on a system that is already managing unprecedented uncertainties. During the pandemic, schools, ITE providers and the DfE have worked together to provide a professional transition into first posts for Early Career Teachers. The change of focus now to introduce extensive disruption is concerning, inevitably increasing the pressures on both schools and ITE providers. Expert and highly successful providers of ITE may decide not to participate in this turmoil. It is hard to tell whether this is an intended or unintended consequence of the proposals, but it is a real prospect.

It coincides with the stark findings published in April from the latest National Education Union (NEU) survey of 10,000+ school and college staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The warning is clear about the dangers of any further disruption within an over-worked system: 35% of total respondents reported they would definitely no longer be working in education in five years’ time. The importance of listening to professionals couldn’t be clearer: 66% of respondents said the status of the profession has worsened, with government blamed for failing to listen to or value them.

So, we can be forgiven for having profound doubts about the DfE’s invitation to quickly ‘consult’ with the teacher education and schools community, amid ongoing disruptions from the pandemic and, for schools, a summer of repeated exam chaos. It seems that ITE providers have only a choice to remain involved as part of a massive experiment. Some outstanding providers are clear they may very likely pass on that.

It is fair to speculate about the seemingly cynical timing of this, introduced while the teaching profession is looking the other way, to focus on the well-being of pupils and teachers and prioritising how it will support the multiple needs of pupils following the impacts of COVID-19 on learning and mental health. Do head teachers remember asking for their long-term, trusted teacher education partnerships to be shut down while they were busy dealing with the pandemic?  Did they sign up for a mass experiment in which the expert knowledge base that exists in so many university ITE partnerships is put aside indiscriminately, being replaced with a non-university Accreditation Board that determines all aspects of teacher education?  When did the teaching profession decide that learning to teach is best micro-managed by government, in a system where the expert, independent, research-informed experience of universities is optional?  If it goes, it goes?


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5 Responses to “This is no time for a mass experiment on teacher education”

  • 1
    Andy Squires wrote on 14 August 2021:

    Caroline, I couldn’t agree more. Almost all voices from the sector are as one on this hasty and I’ll considered plan. The best that we can hope for is that DfE go back to the drawing board and start again. This will allow time fir the ECF and CCF to bed in and be properly evaluated. Both these changes are far reaching, but have been met with enthusiasm by the sector as we can see the clear rationale behind them. Now is not the time, in a pandemic to put the valuable pipeline of teacher education at risk when the country needs it the most.

  • 2
    Theodora Bryer wrote on 16 August 2021:

    Thank you for writing this Caroline – I will share it with teaching colleagues and everyone else I know that cares about education.

  • 3
    Gemma Bradford wrote on 18 August 2021:

    I would like to know what the alternative plans are exactly? I expect that it will be about saving money and paying ‘cheaper’ private providers or academy chains who get the trainees in the classroom on a timetable form day 1. In my opinion, trainee teachers need time to reflect on their practice (although my PGCE [2000] was incredibly demanding there was space within the assignments to reflect on theory and practice). This will probably be about getting cheap labour in the door as fast a possible because of a teacher retention crisis due to undervaluing (and underpaying) experienced staff. I just don’t think that the government really care about the quality of teacher education really – they are thinking of cutting budgets and bodies in classrooms.

    The pace in secondary schools is so fast now that I think that (in general) there isn’t much space for reflection on practice, or for building theoretical/subject knowledge. In a whole career it doesn’t seem too much to ask to take just a year or two out of the intense pace to develop and reflect on effective practice. Investment at the start will pay dividends and affect that teacher’s practice throughout their career. Classroom experience is fantastic and essential but sometimes, as a professional, you could find that you have made the same mistake year in year out without the chance to stop and reflect, or without the foundation of theory and reflection that ITT provides. On another note, SEND is a neglected area of ITT (in my opinion) and surely the new plans will worsen this situation?

  • 4
    Caroline Dalyi wrote on 18 August 2021:

    Thanks for these responses. This deep responsibility for the future of the teaching profession and concern with what is at stake is felt by leaders, teachers and teacher educators across the system. If anything positive comes out of these proposals it will be an even stronger awareness of the values that unite us in our dismay.

  • 5
    English higher education policy: hope and pay | srhe wrote on 18 October 2021:

    […] hitting hardest the very regions and communities the government has pledged to level up.” Caroline Daly (UCL) blogged for UCL on 13 August 2021: “This is no time for a mass experiment on teacher education”. We might hope […]