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Promoting Quality in Teacher Education

A slap in the face? The English government's plans for initial teacher education

Westminster Education Forum: 23 February 2021

A slap in the face? The English government’s plans for initial teacher education

Thank you. I am delighted to be here with you today.

I would like to begin by thanking everyone here today who is either from a SCITT or HEI teacher education provider, or who works in partnership with an ITE provider, for your outstanding work over the last 12 months in supporting student teachers through the Covid 19 Pandemic.

When the pandemic hit and schools had to be closed, you:

  • Quickly and seamlessly moved learning on-line, ensuring that student teachers gained the experiences they need in order to demonstrate that they meet the teacher standards
  • Supported partner schools and colleges deliver on-line support to pupils and students at home, providing resources and technical advice
  • Supported schools that remained open for the children of key workers
  • Provided pastoral and emotional support for student teachers, who were often feeling isolated, anxious and alone, and cut off from their families
  • Gave feedback, often on a daily basis, to UCET, NASBTT and others about the logistical issues you and your partner schools faced, the regulatory changes you needed to allow you to continue with your ITE programmes, the extent of any placement difficulties you were experiencing, the contingency plans you were putting in place and the support that any students who were, through no fault of their own, not on a trajectory to achieve QTS and who would need support. All of this had a direct impact, and we would not have been able to achieve what we did at national level without your support and advice.

Because of what you did, our schools and colleges have the cohort of well-educated, highly-trained and properly-assessed new teachers they need. New teachers with the unique and particular skills in terms of remote and digital learning that our schools and colleges are increasingly relying on.

So thank you again. You should all take a collective bow. The country owes you a lot.

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. During meetings in all parts of the UK, officials have thanked teacher education providers for what they have achieved. Such recognition and acknowledgement goes a long way.

And in England, just a couple of weeks ago announcing the possible development of an international QTS qualification, the government said that:

The UK’s methods of teacher training and development are highly respected and sought after around the world.

Good to have official confirmation of that, alongside evidence coming to the same conclusion from OfSTED and elsewhere. Remember, OfSTED rate all ITE programmes in this country as being ‘good’ or ‘very good’, and have done so under a number of different inspection frameworks. We are the sector that always delivers.

It is unfortunate however that in other contexts the government in England view teacher education as something that needs to be ‘fixed’ rather than celebrated and nurtured.

Don’t get me wrong. Teacher education is not perfect. There are things that need to be looked at, including issues to do with the length of the postgraduate programmes and the availability of school placements.

A review might be worthwhile. But it would have to be a genuinely independent, collegiate and open review, involving the carrying out of real research about what constitutes the best possible teacher education, and allows sufficient time for evidence to be investigated and interrogated and a range of views to be heard. And it should not be driven by political agendas or aspirations.

The announcement of the review of the ITE market that we do have was accompanied by unfortunate statements – both direct and implied – which seem to be at odds with the available evidence. Hints at the need for a radical restructuring of what is a highly effective system are a cause for concern. Reform, proportionate and based on real evidence, yes. Disproportionate restructuring, based on assumptions and dogma, no.

Maybe parts of the current structure are a tad difficult to understand from a student teacher’s perspective. And why is that? It is after all the structure created by Nick Gibb and Michael Gove. A structure which HEIs and SCITTs found a way of making work.

So, what can we expect from the market review? I am not privy to any inside information, so what I am about to say is speculation. But it is informed and considered speculation.

First of all, we keep hearing references to the ‘best available evidence’ and ‘best practice’. We are all, of course, in favour of ITE programmes being based on the best evidence and informed by relevant research. But it should be a range of robust research and evidence. Reference to ‘the’ best evidence makes me worried that government is going to cherry pick the evidence that suits its political and ideological aims, and impose it on the teacher education sector, with new teachers being told what is the ‘correct’ evidence with no scope for them to engage critically and develop themselves as thinking, independent professionals. That would not constitute teacher education. And, of course, what DfE sanctifies as the ‘correct’ evidence will no doubt change in a couple of years’ time, when a new orthodoxy will probably be imposed. New teachers need to be research savvy. That means they must be able to interrogate, question and contextualise research and evidence.

And how will ITE be organised? The DfE’s preferred approach to policy delivery in recent years has often been through tendering whereby a relatively small number of national providers are contracted to work with local delivery partners. Contractual relationships are by their nature inflexible and do not allow for shared decision taking, ownership or accountability. And they would in all likelihood be financially unsustainable for large parts of the sector.

Many HEIs would probably not be interested in being junior partners in the delivery of ITE programmes whose content and structure would be developed by someone else and who would prevent them from providing intellectually robust and research-informed programmes that equip teachers to be thinking, questioning and reflective practitioners. This approach would damage the teacher supply base, damage the quality of teacher education and would risk England being one of the few countries in the world without HE involvement in the way new teachers are educated and trained. That would do huge damage to the prestige of the teaching profession.

To conclude, initial teacher education in this country should be celebrated. Reforms and improvements can always be made, but don’t break a whole structure just to address a few issues that might not even exist, and which your solutions might not in any case address even if they did. The HE sector makes a huge contribution to teacher supply, education research, and the provision of CPD and the supporting of strong and collegiate partnerships with schools and a range of other partners. Don’t put all this at risk just because.

We will, I assure you, defend teacher education and teacher professionalism to the hilt. But we will need the support of our partners and colleagues. I know from discussions I have had that we can rely on this support.

Thank you.