The top to-do list priority for the DfE

Written by: James Noble Rogers | Published:

Now that the election is over, teacher education and teacher supply must top the to-do list for the education secretary. James Noble Rogers outlines the priorities for the government

The priority for education secretary Justine Greening as she settles once again into her office should without any doubt be the continued crisis in the recruitment and retention of teachers.

Over the last 18 months there have been thoroughly researched and evidence-based reports from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), the National Audit Office (NAO), the Public Accounts Committee, and the Education Select Committee that make it clear that we are not recruiting or retaining enough teachers to meet the needs of pupils in our schools.

Not all of the blame can be laid at the door of government. Pupil numbers are expected to increase in the years ahead, with secondary numbers expected to go up by as much as 20 per cent by 2024 according to the NFER. At the same time the competition for graduates from other employers has been growing.

But that does not absolve government from blame. Even though teacher supply was becoming an obvious problem, under Michael Gove, the Department for Education (DfE) embarked on an unprecedented destabilisation of the country’s teacher supply base.

Ignoring the fact that most training already took place in schools, and that large numbers of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) providers and employment-based routes already existed, the government took huge numbers of training places away from universities to accredit new SCITTs and allocate direct to schools through the School Direct programme.

In some cases this worked well. Many SCITTs train excellent teachers, often in partnerships with universities, and School Direct has sometimes led to the development of new innovative training partnerships. However, the gung-ho and ideological way in which the DfE pursued this agenda meant that places were allocated that had no chance of being filled and that new providers were accredited without regard to their sustainability and their impact on existing partnerships.

Universities are better at filling places than either SCITTs or School Direct: 88 per cent of places filled in 2015/16, compared to 65 per cent SCITT, 54 per cent School Direct fee-paying, and 70 per cent School Direct salaried (DfE ITT census data), and yet at a time of teacher shortage places were moved in the opposite direction. The plethora of routes into teaching and the array of competing providers also prove confusing to potential applicants, a point made by both the Select Committee and the NAO.

The past is the past, however, and it is time to move on. And there are signs for optimism. New sustainable partnerships, sometimes evolving from School Direct, are being developed to supply teachers to schools in their areas and beyond, including those not in a position to take the lead in training and whose needs were often ignored during Mr Gove’s period of continuous revolution. Officials and ministers within the DfE have signalled that the antipathy to university involvement in teacher education, characterised by attacks on the so-called “blob”, have come to an end. There have been encouraging statements acknowledging the importance of CPD, especially for teachers in the early stages of their careers, something that UCET and others have been stressing for many years. The priorities for the government now should be:

  1. To relax ITT recruitment controls and allow for ITT providers and their partner schools to take a strategic approach and plan how many trainees they need to recruit over a three to five-year period. Both the Select Committee and the NAO have raised questions about the Teacher Supply Model used to allocate training places. While the government will still need a supply model to monitor overall levels of recruitment, ITT providers and their partner schools are better placed that Whitehall civil servants to decide how many new teachers are needed in their areas.
  2. To make the routes into teaching easier to understand for potential applicants and rationalise the number of overlapping routes that already exist. Allow training partnerships to vire places so they can direct applicants to the training most suited to them and to where demand is greatest.
  3. To give all new teachers an entitlement to structured early professional development that builds on and complements their initial training, thus help keeping them in the profession and making them even better teachers. Postgraduate training programmes last for less than a year, and however good they are, only so much can be covered in sufficient depth in such a short space of time.
  4. To allow teachers throughout their careers opportunities to undertake meaningful CPD, and enhance their professional standing through a Chartered Teacher programme overseen by the College of Teaching.
  5. To re-introduce the requirement that all teachers in publicly funded schools hold qualified teacher status, and link that to recognised academic awards.

The government should also, in the medium term, commit to teaching become an all-Master’s qualified profession. The benefits of teachers studying for relevant qualifications at Master’s level are well documented, and an all-Master’s qualified profession would represent the greatest step change since teaching became all-graduate in the 1970s. That would secure the secretary of state’s place in history and would leave a legacy of which she could be proud.

  • James Noble Rogers is executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET).


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