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Promoting Quality in Teacher Education

James Noble-Rogers' address at our Annual Conference

2 November 2022

James Noble-Rogers at 2022 Annual Conference

2022 UCET conference

The last time that we all met face to face was three years ago, in 2019. It seems like a different world in so many ways. None of us could have predicted what the UK as a country, and we as a sector, would go onto experience. It’s probably just as well we didn’t know!

What I would like to do today is look back on what we have collectively, as UCET, experienced in the three years since we last met, what UCET did and why we did it, in the light of our strategic plan, vision and mission, and then consider how we might continue to support the sector during the coming years.

The key challenge, which seemed to come out of no-where, just a couple of months after the last conference was of course the Covid pandemic, where we had to react in a fleet of foot way in response to the national emergency. We had of course no choice but to be reactive, although how we reacted was I think consistent with, and guided by, our core principles. At an operational level all of UCET’s work, like that of our member institutions, had to go on line. Face to face meetings had, from March 2020, to be cancelled. It is testament to the skill and dedication of Amy, Max and Shajna that UCET was quickly able to adjust, and during the whole period of Covid restrictions we only had to cancel one actual meeting outright, the Management Forum meeting scheduled for late March 2020. All other committees and forums met on-line, as did emergency Covid planning meetings. And we also of course held two extremely successful on-line conferences. The lessons learnt will serve us well into the future.

The major challenge that we all faced was of course how to support the sector to continue to deliver high quality teacher education, and supply schools and colleges with teachers, during the period of national emergency. The sector responded to this magnificently, and I was proud to publish a blog later in the year praising ITE providers as the unsung heroes of the pandemic. It was an exceptionally busy and challenging time for UCET as well as for our members. As soon as the pandemic hit, we met with ministers and civil servants to agree a way forward. I was having daily meetings with NASBTT and DfE, and with officials in both Wales and Northern Ireland. Consistent with our strategic approach of working collaboratively and in partnership with government and others where we can, we negotiated a whole range of relaxations to the ITE requirements, and the making available of funding to support student teachers who had to defer their ITE because of the pandemic. We in fact forced the pace. Because of the overcentralized and inflexible Covid communications rules put in place by government during the pandemic, there were unacceptable delays in informing the sector about the relaxation and changes to the ITE criteria that had been agreed. That was at a time when the sector needed information immediately if ITE programmes were to continue. We took the decision to jump the gun and inform everyone about changes to regulations without waiting for the government announcement. It was a risky move, I think the only time that I have knowingly broken government confidences. But it needed to be done.

The sector came though the pandemic with flying colours. And at the same time we continued to meet, discuss and take non-covid related work forward. We produced a strategy paper on effective CPD, an updated version of which is soon to be published. Our core work continued against the backdrop of Covid. The pandemic was the focus of much of our attention, but we did not allow it to dominate. I have never been prouder of what UCET and the ITE sector achieved as I was during Covid. Privately, both ministers and officials, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, confirmed that they could not have coped without the support and advice of UCET and NASBTT. In Wales and Northern Ireland, the sector groups of UCET, ITE providers and government agencies that were established to meet the demands of the pandemic have continued, such was the success of the collaborative working they exemplified.

Despite what was said in private, the public praise from government for what we achieved was in England notable entirely for its absence. In fact, as soon as they could DfE re-instated OfSTED inspections of ITE (‘a slap in the face’ for teacher-education was how we described it in the press), and OfSTED itself published in 2021 a so-called research report into Covid and ITE, which at the time we suspected, and now pretty clear about, was a deliberate attempt to provide pre-justification for the likely findings of the ITE Market Review. But we did have some fun with it. FOI requests put to OfSTED forced them to admit that it was very difficult to match the report’s conclusions with the evidence they collected on the ground. The report has not been referenced a lot since then.

Just touching on OfSTED for a moment, it is, or maybe isn’t, a mighty coincidence that they began to take a harsher, and in some cases aggressive, approach to ITE inspections at the same time as DfE was developing a process that would take ITE providers out of the game. And they weren’t always competent in how they did this. It comes to something when inspectors, despite being challenged on the ground, insist to a provider that they are non-compliant in key aspects of their provision, and UCET then has to get DfE to confirm that OfSTED are wrong and that the provider concerned is in fact fully compliant. And something is clearly wrong, as has happened on several occasions, when ITE colleagues are made sick as a result of the way in which OfSTED carries out its inspections.

And that brings us nicely onto the Market Review, something we have lived and breathed for the best part of two years. Apologies to colleagues from outside England, but we do have to focus a bit on the Market Review, and in any case using it as an exemplification to how UCET operates will I think be of interest to everyone here today.

The review of the ITE Market was originally announced in the January 2019 DfE Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. Interestingly, one of the things that it said was:

‘We will support and protect the vibrant ITT market and ensure that it supports schools in more challenging areas’

When I questioned DfE about what the review would entail is at the time I was told it was about simplifying the routes into teaching. Maybe the first example of the kind of gaslighting brought into play throughout this whole process.

The review re-emerged in the period between the two main lockdowns, when in the Autumn of 2019, during one of our regular catch-ups, DfE told NASBTT and UCET that the review was about to begin in earnest, with the focus being on securing greater consistency in the delivery of ITE. This pretty much coincided with a Schools Week article which referenced DFE concerns about the quality of ITE, a statement which some DfE officials denied had even emanated from within DfE, while others said that they though it was from a rogue and un-informed SPAD, and that we had nothing to worry about. Gaslighting example number 2.

There followed a series of private meetings between the Chair of the Review Group, DfE officials and Emma Hollis and myself to talk about the review, although these mostly involved them asking us questions rather than sharing any plans. They were at pains to stress that they had no preconceived idea about the direction the review would go in. Gaslighting number 3.

It soon however became apparent the type of models they were thinking about. One option, what I considered to be ‘the nightmare scenario’, was the introduction of an ECF type contracting model under which some 25 or so national providers of ITE would be accredited, with any other organisations wanting to be involved acting as subservient partners delivering curricula designed and owned, in the context of DfE approved frameworks, by those national providers. Despite the fact that one SPAD told us that it would be ‘batshit crazy’ to introduce such a system (Gaslighting number 4) we do know that not only was it an option, but it was the favoured option of some of the key people involved.

Let that sink in for a moment. 25 accredited ITE providers for the whole country. And university and SCITT involvement restricted to being junior delivery partners for someone else. That is the world that we could all have been living in from 2024/25.

It was becoming clear that the sector, yet to emerge from the challenges of Covid, was about to face the most serious challenge it had faced in more than a decade. UCET and the sector had to think carefully about how we should respond.

Consistent with the strategic plan that was in place at the time, we continued throughout the whole Market Review process to engage in discussions with ministers and senior DfE staff. During these open and frank discussions, we articulated our concerns about the impact that the review would have on academic freedom and the ability of ITE providers to develop intellectually robust ITE that could be contextualised to meet the needs of local schools and communities. And then there was the significant threat to teacher supply. Any significant reduction in the number of ITE providers would, for a variety of reasons, impact negatively on teacher supply and the availability of school placements.

The work of organisations such as UCET often takes place behind closed doors and in private. This approach has led to significant policy change over the years and did help to make the MR proposals less damaging than they would otherwise have been. Such progress by its nature is often not visible to the wider membership. But it is real, nonetheless.

We were however clear that private discussions about the MR would not be sufficient, and we decided to go public. Either side of Christmas 2020 we issued some press notices and blogs warning about the implications of an ECF type contracting model for ITE. We also complained about the secretive nature of the work of the review, and the fact that there had been no public discussions whatsoever. Within days of us issuing a press notice about this, DfE did organise the first public discussion forums with key stakeholder organisations.

We arranged, before anything substantive about the review went public, for the first set of parliamentary questions to be tabled. We began to hold meetings with other organisations and, with the support of others such as NASBTT and some key individuals, helped to build a coalition to challenge the likely direction of the review. This involved meetings with unions, parliamentarians, professional associations and sector representative bodies. We met, and have continued to meet with, opposition spokespeople, including the Shadow Secretary of State and Shadow Minster for Education. We issued a briefing paper to members of the Education Select Committee, and briefed peers in advance of the House of Lords debate on the Review which was instigated by one of our key allies, Baroness Donaghy. If you listen to the debate, you can in fact hear parts of the UCET briefing being quoted verbatim, including the call for an ‘open, transparent and equitable’ accreditation process, something which the DfE minister in the Lords committed the government to during the debate and in a subsequent follow-up letter to Baroness Donaghy. We contributed to, and helped to draft, the report on the MR issued by the APPG on the teaching profession.

We also decided that we needed to bring in extra support. In January 2021 we invested some £100,000 of your money to launch a public campaign, We engaged PLMR who, in March, launched the Teach Best campaign, This led to hundreds of letters expressing concern about the review being sent to members of parliament. It funded Teacher Tapp surveys which demonstrated the high regard that teachers and their employers have for the quality of ITE in this country. PLMR secured yet more meetings with key individuals, organisations and politicians, and secured greater media coverage than we could secure on our own. They collected and published a series of powerful case studies, which people in this room contributed to, showcasing effective ITE. The campaign brought the review to many more people’s attention than had previously been the case. It was money well spent.

And, by the way, the senior PLMR official when we signed the contract with them confirmed that our concerns about the introduction of an ECF type contracting model, with a massive reduction in the number of accredited ITE providers was justified, and that several key players did indeed have that as their referred option. We weren’t it seems scaremongering for the sake of it.

We engaged with the UCET membership throughout this process. We kept them as fully briefed as we possibly could, encouraged their involvement in the Teach Best campaign and shared our emerging thinking. We hope that our formal response to the DfE consultation on the review was a help to UCET members in drafting theirs.

Once the consultation was over and the government’s response published in December 2021, we moved onto the next phase. We continued to express our views and concerns in both in public and in private, particularly in regards the impact a totally unnecessary accreditation process might have for teacher supply. But the focus shifted towards, for example, helping our members prepare for the accreditation rounds, while continuing to speak and negotiate with DfE. We contributed to the drafting of some of the FAQs on the accreditation process, which was of some benefit to the interests of the sector. We very nearly scored a significant success when we proposed that providers only narrowly failing to get through Round 1 would be provisionally accredited, with stage 2 used to support them over the line. This got the backing of some officials, and did go to the minister. But in the event, powerful and ideologically driven voices within government prevailed.

With the support and contribution of our brilliant membership, we held a series of workshops to help member universities through the accreditation process. We continued to press DfE, and right until near the end, on the day that Kit Malthouse was appointed as Secretary of State, were writing to him with pragmatic and sensible suggestions that would have alleviated the teacher supply crisis and would have protected UCET institutions (we did the same on the day that Michelle Donnelan was appointed, but even with email the letter won’t have reached her before she resigned – and yes, I have written to Gillian Keegan!). Alas, to no avail. And we have in recent weeks had further meetings with the shadow education minster and with a representative of the Lib Dem education spokesperson who, following our meeting, tabled some parliamentary questions about the review.

So where are we now? 83% of UCET members applying for accreditation were successful. We have avoided the nightmare scenario of just 25 or so providers. But that is hardly a victory. We share the anger of those of our colleagues who did not, through any fault of their own, get through the accreditation process. We continue to believe that the level of prescription imposed onto ITE programmes is unjustified, and we will continue to press for changes until we secure them, drawing on the excellent work of the UCET Intellectual Base of Teacher Education Group. We have supported unsuccessful providers through the appeals process and will continue to work with them in any further actions they want to take. We have written to the Secretary of State again requesting changes to the appeals process and identifying faults, errors and inconsistencies in the feedback given to unsuccessful round 2 applicants. And, through workshops, will be supporting the membership collectively as it adjusts to the new and emerging reality.

I have said a lot abut the MR because, not only is it such a major thing in its own right, but it provides a case study in how UCET operates.

But how we operate, the strategy we choose to follow, will now have to be reviewed in the light of the world we now live in. We will therefore be working with UCET members and stakeholders to develop a new strategy, review our vision and mission, revise our constitution, evaluate our values, consider our membership, and review our governance and institutional structure.

We want to take you, our members, with us on that journey.

Thank you.