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Promoting Quality in Teacher Education

UCET Market Review Response (July 2021)

Summary

UCET response to the DfE's Market Review, which was published on 20 July 2021.

The Executive Summary is below.

The full response can be found in the attached PDF.

Executive summary

There are some parts of the Market Review proposals which we support in principle. We agree that: ITE[1] programmes should be informed by the most up to date and robust research; there should as far as possible be consistency between ITE curricula and the experience of student teachers in school; and that mentors should have a key role in the delivery of ITE programmes and should be both properly trained and adequately resourced. We also acknowledge that government, or another regulatory authority, has both a right and responsibility to hold ITE providers to account and to ensure a measure of consistency, although not uniformity, in the way that new teachers are trained and educated.

This response will be accompanied by a more detailed paper about the proposals and underlying assumptions relating to the quality requirements.

Universities make an essential contribution to teacher education and to teacher supply. They are involved in the education of some 80% of new teachers entering England’s schools each year, either through core postgraduate and undergraduate programmes that are designed and delivered in partnership with schools, or by working with SCITT, School Direct, Teach First and Apprenticeship partners. Universities give student teachers the opportunity for time away from placements to allow them to share and reflect on their experiences with those working in different schools settings. University programmes are subject to rigorous internal and external quality assurance processes in addition to those that apply to ITE. Universities give student teachers access to centrally provided resources such as library facilities and to pastoral, well-being and other support. They allow for access to subject and pedagogic expertise and to a research-rich teacher education environment. The importance of the involvement of universities in teacher education, which is a characteristic of high-performing education systems throughout the world, cannot be overstated.

We have a number of concerns about the Market Review proposals in regards to:

These concerns are set out in further detail below.

(a): The effective and indiscriminate reconfiguration of all ITE programmes, and proposed replacement with a design that is experimental on several levels

The proposal is to reconfigure ITE and replace it with a model which is experimental in terms of: recruitment; curriculum; assessment; and, crucially, stakeholder roles. Our concern is with the extremely destabilising impact this will have on a system that is already managing uncertainties associated with the pandemic. During unprecedented disruption, schools, ITE providers and the DfE have worked together to provide the most professional transition into first posts for Early Career Teachers. It is concerning to see the focus will now be to introduce extensive disruption and increase pressure on both schools and ITE providers. It is very likely that many expert and highly successful providers of ITE will decide not to participate in this disruptive process. It is hard to tell whether this is an intended or unintended consequence of the proposals but it is a real prospect.

(b): The level of prescription and lack of academic autonomy in terms of content and structure, assessment, mentor training and the implications of the proposals for the status and professionalism of teaching

It is important that ITE programmes are research informed and that new teachers are equipped to be able to interpret, apply, critique and contextualise relevant research. This is, at least in part, acknowledged in the consultation proposals. However, the proposals also imply that some research is incontestable. We do not agree with this. There are always alternative approaches and new teachers should be aware of these. The status of teaching as a profession depends in part on it being an intellectual endeavour. Teachers should be more than just executive technicians. The continued involvement of some universities in teacher education might be at risk if they are expected to slavishly follow and accept current and potentially time-limited DfE approved orthodoxies and deliver prescribed curricula. The withdrawal of such institutions would do huge damage to the prestige of the profession.

There is a need for initial teacher education reform on this scale to be informed by the widest range of robust, independent research into the development of teachers as professionals and the extensive knowledge base that exists about what constitutes effective teacher education.

OfSTED expects ITE providers to develop ambitious curricula that, while ensuring student teachers receive their CCF entitlement, reflects their particular contexts and that of their partner schools. Any prescription to curriculum content over and above this could undermine the scope providers have to provide this contextualisation, and might de-professionalise teacher education and through that the teaching profession.

(c): The need for an accreditation system to deliver the reforms

The proposals are divided into two parts: (i) those relating to the content and structure of ITE programmes; and (ii): the shape of the market needed to deliver these programmes. But there does not appear to be any link between (i) and (ii). No evidence is given in support of the claim that changes to the ITE market are needed to deliver the reforms. There is no reason why, if they were properly funded, the proposed new quality requirements could not be achieved by changing the Secretary of State’s requirements for ITE, to which all programmes must adhere and compliance against which is checked by OfSTED. This is not to say that we agree with all of the new quality requirements. We do not. But the case for a complex, costly, disruptive and time-consuming accreditation process has not been made.

(d): Implications for teacher supply of a reduction in the number of accredited ITE providers and the ability of schools to offer placements

The proposals could lead to the withdrawal of high-quality ITE providers, including those in teacher-supply cold spots, for a number of reasons. The extra costs of running ITE programmes and increased prescription about how resources are used, combined with the uncertainties surrounding accreditation could lead senior staff within some universities to conclude that ITE is a too unpredictable and expensive activity to be involved in and focus their resources instead on other more cost-effective and stable areas of activity. Others might decide that delivering ITE content in an uncritical and unquestioning way would be inconsistent with their ethos and would lead to a de-professionalisation of teaching of which they would want no part.

The withdrawal of existing providers would impact negatively on teacher supply (including in rural areas), the levelling-up agenda and the diversity of the teaching profession. Reducing the number of accredited ITE providers would reduce the choice prospective teachers have about where to train. Many people choose, for family, financial or other personal reasons, ITE providers that are close to where they live. Increasing the distance to be travelled to either providers or placements will result in fewer applicants. Many student teachers choose to train at specific universities. For example, some apply to postgraduate ITE programmes at the same universities where they studied for their undergraduate degrees, a supply line that would be lost if those HEIs withdraw from ITE. Some student teachers choose an ITE provider because of its reputation and pedagogical, subject and research expertise. Others might prefer a SCITT provider focussed on providing teachers for particular local communities. Effective markets depend on choice. Removing options will reduce applications.

University ITE providers are particularly well placed to recruit student teachers from a range of backgrounds, and are able to provide targeted support (for example through centrally provided university services) to meet the particular needs of students from different groups, including those with disabilities.

The strong partnerships that have developed between accredited ITE providers and schools has been one of the education sector’s great successes in recent years. These partnerships take a number of forms, with the extent of school engagement varying according to the circumstances and priorities of the schools concerned. Schools should have a choice about how they participate in ITE. Their contributions should be nurtured and cherished. It is, as the report itself acknowledges, already difficult for providers to secure placements, particularly in some key subjects such physics and MFL.

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