Teacher Training - the new ideological football

Richard Harris's picture
Having previously expressed some concerns about various initiatives within teacher education, we continue to be contacted from those involved in teacher education with further worrying stories. Given the importance of ensuring a supply of highly trained teachers, it is hugely disappointing that teacher training has increasingly become an ideological football.

Our previous comments about Teach First elicited some response via Twitter from the organisation - they denied that any evaluation of the programme had been carried out. This seems strange given the fact that the University of Durham’s website carries details of having done an evaluation for Teach First, costing nearly £200,000. We have contacted the researchers involved in the evaluation who confirm they have done the work but have not been given permission to release it by Teach First. Details about the evaluation are obviously not known publicly, but the concern is public money is being given to Teach First (which presumably helped to fund the evaluation report) and potentially critical comments are being kept quiet to avoid any negative publicity, given the government’s commitment to promote Teach First.

We have also learnt that universities, who provide some of the training for Teach First have to sign a contract forbidding them from publicly criticising the organisation and its work. This hardly seems conducive to helping develop quality in teacher training; surely organisations should be open to scrutiny.

Queries were raised about the figure we reported of the cost to train someone via Teach First. The figure we reported of £40,000 was passed on to us by a Headteacher, who was given the figure at a meeting organised by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), the government organisation with oversight of for teacher training. It therefore continues to appear to be an expensive way to train teachers, thus our concerns about the cost of Teach First in relation to other routes remain. We would welcome a detailed comparison of the costs to train teachers via different routes, as relying on hearsay and anecdote is clearly unhelpful.

New concerns have been raised with us about the government’s School Direct programme, which is being expanded rapidly as a favoured way into teaching. Some schools have embraced this route enthusiastically but others are being forced into adopting this, despite their strong satisfaction with existing university based provision. It now appears that the NCTL, as a way of encouraging more schools to participate, is telling schools to apply for School Direct numbers but the NCTL would then turn a ‘blind eye’ if the schools passed these numbers on to their local university provider so nothing actually changes - on paper it will look like the programme is growing, and the government can point to its popularity, but in reality nothing will change. This beggars belief – the government has thrust change onto a system that many school are already happy with, costing huge sums of money in the process, and are having to create a pretence that the new system is popular.

The concern is that the ‘reforms’ to teacher education are ideologically driven rather than based on a sound evidence base. Recently, Nick Gibb, the former Schools Minister, blamed the ills of education on those in universities involved in teacher education, and previously Michael Gove has branded university staff involved in teacher training as ‘enemies of promise’. Yet as Schools Minister, at a meeting, which Richard attended, about the history curriculum, Nick Gibb argued children should only be taught about facts, and should not be expected to do anything too challenging – believing such low aspirations to be appropriate surely begs the question who are the real ‘enemies of promise’?

The ideological stance can also be seen in the Troops to Teach initiative. A laudable programme, heavily funded by the government, with provision for thousands of places – the reality is that in the South-East region only 38 former members of the armed forces have been recruited via this route.

The government’s policy on recruiting teachers by diversifying routes does not seem to be working. Overall applications are down this year, fewer people have been recruited onto courses for next year, and there is a concern amongst schools and applicants that the whole process is unduly confusing and unnecessarily complicated. Yet the government seems to be more intent on denying training places at universities rather than see them as a means of helping with the problem. Places to train at universities, which are controlled by the government through the NCTL, are at best static and at worst in decline. Other routes are being promoted at considerable expense but with limited success – it seems ridiculous, at a time of growing concern about teacher shortages, that university provision is being undermined. Recruitment into teaching is difficult, and allowing universities to recruit more is not necessarily a panacea, but at a time when universities are able to attract applicants and are having to turn people away because of restrictions on their quotas this seems to be an absurd situation.

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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 14/07/2014 - 18:17

A cynic might say there is deliberate undermining of teacher training in progress. When the teacher shortage happens, as it undoubtedly will, then untrained personnel can be parachuted into classrooms with nothing more than a few tricks and no understanding of pedagogy.

John Wadsworth's picture
Mon, 14/07/2014 - 19:13

The government cut the number of University places for Initial Teacher Education this year by 50% to force people to apply to Schools Direct. They have had to ask Universities to pick up the pieces due to SD under recruitment. It's a crazy policy driven by dogma, all the research evidence points to university based ITE being the best route in terms of quality. In 2-3 years it won't exist!

Grannie Wise's picture
Mon, 14/07/2014 - 21:20

Interesting that nurses are expected to be trained now via university route, but govt. is bent on keeping teachers out of the place!

FJM's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 11:00

Not quite true: almost all teachers have a degree, so have already spent at least three years at university. It is the teacher training year that might not be university-based.

Jenny Collins's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 12:47

Devaluing proper training ultimately devalues teaching and this devalues the teacher. This is simple enough to understand but needs to be emphasised: cheap teachers are good for business; in the fully marketised system that we are moving into it is the bottom line that stands triumphantly above all, despite its name. Teachers' salaries are the biggest cost in any school, attacking proper high quality teacher-training helps to fix the idea that teachers are just low-skill curriculum-deliverers.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 15/07/2014 - 13:24

And putting them on short, fixed-term contracts so the don't get paid for holidays. Or zero hours - so they're not paid unless standing in the classroom.

Or "deliver" the curriculum via computers (often described as "personalized" learning) - all you need then is a technician to keep the hardware going.

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