Initial teacher training (ITT) has often been subject to radical reform. Until recently the most significant example of this was in the 1990s, when the Conservative government introduced new employment and school-based routes into teaching and laid down requirements about the content of training and the amount of time trainees had to spend in school. Programmes also became subject to regular inspection by Ofsted.
While these changes may have reflected the government’s determination to improve quality, they were also at least partly motivated by lingering suspicions that teacher education was dominated by out-of-touch academics hell-bent on brainwashing new teachers with irrelevant and damaging child-centred theories of education. Or, to put it in Michael Gove’s pejorative term, the “blob”.
The fact that the content of training has, since the 1990s, been strongly informed by central government, together with evidence from Ofsted, has made little difference.
That is not to claim that everything in the teacher training garden is or was rosy. However good they are, PGCEs only last for nine months. That is not long enough to equip new teachers with the full range of skills and depth of knowledge they need. All too often, new teachers are thrown off a cliff edge into teaching with limited support. What they need is an entitlement to structured early CPD that builds on their initial training. Evidence shows that this will make them better teachers and help to keep them in the profession.
Furthermore, Mr Gove is right in seeking to enable schools to take more ownership of teacher training – something universities have been advocating for years.
It came as no surprise that teacher training was again the subject of reform in 2010. Mr Gove had in opposition made comments about teaching being a “craft” best learnt by working under the supervision of experienced practitioners. To that end, he has led a shift in teacher training away from what he called “teacher training colleges” into schools.
This could potentially weaken the relationship between training and research which underpins effective teaching. A marginalization of the university role could also remove the scope student teachers have to spend time away from the classroom to share experiences and reflect, and cut them off from the resources and support that universities can provide.
The new reforms have resulted in a level of turbulence in teacher training not experienced since the 1990s. That in itself is no bad thing. The government’s move to secure greater school engagement with ITT and CPD is welcome and the development of a “schools-led” ITT agenda has potential. However, the threat to teacher supply and the existing infrastructure from a too rapid an expansion of policies such as School Direct is a real cause for concern.
Notwithstanding these concerns, across the country, new models of partnership between schools and training providers are emerging to meet the needs of local schools. Some of these are being developed under School Direct and others through existing provision.
We are working to identify what the characteristics of “school-led” teacher training actually are and find examples of innovative partnerships. One key characteristic will be the governance of collegiate partnerships, which we believe should include a majority school voice, without the need for detailed prescription from outside the partnership.
The teacher training sector is trying to engage constructively with the direction of travel and make it work. This task is not always made easy by the pace of change, or by provocative statements from those in government or elsewhere. But we are doing what we can to integrate the contribution of universities to partnerships more responsively and in a way that acknowledges how schools themselves wish to engage in teacher education.
What does the future hold? There is a real danger that the reforms will lead to a fragmented teacher training and supply system and the loss of much excellent provision. They could also result in a lack of consistency and the inability to respond to national priorities. On the other hand, if they are implemented carefully and collegiately, it could result in stronger teacher training partnerships that are more responsive to the needs of schools locally and nationally.
James Noble Rogers is executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers.