Concern is growing over the number of university and college-based initial teacher training (ITT) places that are under threat of closure because of the school-based programmes being introduced by the government.
In the past week a number of organisations have started to carry out surveys into the impact of the policy, which will potentially see higher education having less involvement in the training of teachers.
Only ITT institutions that achieved an “outstanding” Ofsted rating will continue to have a short-term training allocation. Those who failed to meet this level are having their student numbers severely cut, causing fears that many will simply become unviable and close.
Some educationalists believe the new system is not sufficiently robust or quality-assured to be an effective trainer of the 40,000 or so teachers needed every year.
Concerns have escalated in recent weeks as the allocation of places has become apparent and it has been revealed that hundreds of university and college-led places have disappeared, and almost a quarter – or 10,000 – of primary and secondary ITT places have been allocated through School Direct.
The move comes despite the all-party House of Commons’ Education Select Committee concluding in a report last year “that a diminution of universities’ role in teacher training could bring considerable demerits, and (we) would caution against it”.
Last week the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) started to survey the views of its members. And earlier this week the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), together with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), launched their own study into the possible impact of the changes.
Dr Simon Gibbons, the chairman of NATE, said the introduction of Schools Direct would mean a huge shift in the way teachers are trained. He explained: “There is a strong possibility that many higher education institutions will close.
“It is not just the initial teacher training courses that will be affected but also CPD courses. Once you have lost that expertise, it will not be recovered and if you close courses, you can’t (then) suddenly re-open them. The theory that each school has to have a university partner is still up for discussion and no one is clear exactly how this will work.”
Dr Gibbons said the changes also raised questions over how much experience student teachers would receive.
“Currently they get to go into a range of schools, but under School Direct they will be tied to one school potentially picking up the bad, as well as the good, practice in that school.”
The ATL, meanwhile, is concerned that tipping the balance of responsibility and resources towards schools could pose such significant challenges to universities over planning and funding that universities may decide not to run any teacher training courses at all.
This would leave schools with the task of recruiting and training the 30,000 to 40,000 student teachers required every year just to maintain the necessary teacher numbers.
With schools very unlikely to be able to fill this gap, the union is warning that schools in England could face a massive teacher shortage in the next few years, forcing increases in class numbers and pupils staying at home for part of the school day.
Last month, James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the UCET, said in a speech that even on a small scale, School Direct would raise a number of issues for higher education institutions. These included being accountable to Ofsted for the quality of training provided, resulting in “accountability, without control”.
Unless handled properly, the reforms to teacher training could “prove disastrous in terms of teacher supply and the readiness of NQTs to teach in the classroom”.
Mr Noble-Rogers added: “I really do fear that … ITT providers, faced with a situation where they cannot plan from year-to-year, or even guarantee the quality of their provision, will decide that the game is not worth the candle and withdraw from teacher education.
“From a Vice Chancellor’s perspective, there are much less troublesome ways in which to attract students and fee income.”
Professor Chris Husbands, director of London University’s Institute of Education, the largest and most prestigious ITT provider in the country, told SecEd he was concerned about volatility and how numbers entering different subjects would be monitored.
But he added: “I am not aware yet of any institutions that have withdrawn their courses in this climate and if we keep saying that courses will close and then they don’t, I am concerned that it will be seen as crying wolf.
“The Training and Development Agency had already been concerned about the viability of some courses and I believe had it not been abolished we might have been left with a more robust approach to course management.”