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Fast and furious reforms to teacher training will break the system

Vanessa Wilson, CEO, University Alliance
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As a sector we are well practised in dealing with constant review and reform as successive administrations grapple with Higher Education (HE) policy. Though the task of proving why any proposed changes to the landscape could have certain consequences is often frustrating and time consuming, the rationale for review and reform is usually laid out and well-articulated.

This is not the case when it comes to the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Market Review, which has been established to examine how teacher training is delivered within the UK.

As professional and technical universities, Alliance universities have trained the teaching workforce for decades, a heritage they are extremely proud of and passionate about, and one which means they are well placed to engage with the issue. Yet, to many in the sector, including the network of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) leads I have the privilege of convening across our membership, it feels as though this review has come from nowhere; without credible explanation as to its rationale or evidence of the ‘issue’ the government are trying to fix.

Having begun in early 2020, paused for the pandemic, and then restarted, it was surprising to see a suite of reforming recommendations quite suddenly laid before the education sector over the school holidays and with only very sporadic opportunities to engage with the ‘Independent Expert Group’ who created the recommendations.

At University Alliance, our critiques of the review fall into three main areas:

  1. A lack of meaningful collaboration and engagement with the sector in order to build trust and understanding of the true complexities and nuances involved in delivering teacher training.
  2. An absence of clear and compelling evidence to demonstrate what exactly the quality issues are with the current teacher training system that have led to this review.
  3. A lack of acknowledgement of the true challenges of the wider socio-economic landscape facing early years, primary and secondary education and educators.

Experts doubt the recommendations laid out within the review will deliver transformational change for early years, primary and secondary education. Instead, they are overly prescriptive, controlling and present excessive hoops and hurdles for providers of teacher training to navigate.

An example of this is seen in the review’s requirement for providers to develop an evidence based training curriculum as a condition of accreditation – a confusing recommendation considering that current ITT providers in HE already produce this. Clearly, it is a thinly veiled attempt to capitulate all training into becoming identical, regardless of any differing conditions for providers. Far from creating a more consistent quality, these recommendations will serve only to place unfulfilling constraints on teachers and mentors, pushing away many talented and ambitious individuals into less prescriptive environments.

As ITT providers who rely on placement providers (i.e. schools) we genuinely fear that an already stretched education system with considerable teacher supply issues and resource constraints will be brought to its knees. This will likely occur alongside schools exiting en masse from the placement market, the review acting as the last straw for school heads following a period of unimaginable strain and challenge.

This is because the proposed recommendations fail to account for the diversity of socio-economic conditions for ITT providers throughout the UK, which impact on their capacity and resource capabilities. Imperatives such as requiring providers to design and deliver an intensive placement experience of at least 4 weeks (20 days) for single-year courses and 6 weeks (30 days) for undergraduate, over the duration of their course, as a condition of accreditation, is a key example.

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It fails to accommodate the individualistic nature of each school’s capacity and resources, which impacts on their ability to provide such intensive placements – undoubtedly leading to the aforementioned exits from the ITT ecosystem. This then leaves ITT provision to only the most affluent institutions with the most generous resource budgets, meaning the diversity of teacher training and thus teachers themselves would take a steep decline.

This approach borders on ignorant, especially when sector providers have fought and continue to fight to provide a frontline of service to ensure that all our children remain educated throughout the pandemic and are able to progress to the next level. All this while picking up the other constraints brought on by socio-economic issues along the way.

One of the most concerning factors of this review and its resulting recommendations is that they appear to have been developed in complete isolation from the HE sector, leading to a divide between the reviewers and the educators. This has created a worrying culture of mistrust and fear.

Having a model for ITT that is so reliant on schools to deliver more than their capacity can afford to, means that schools’ core business – which is ultimately educating children – will suffer along with the quality of teacher training, if this line of thinking is to endure.

That’s why as University Alliance we are calling on the Department for Education to stop and reflect, recalibrate timescales for implementation, and rebuild trust and collaboration with the sector: with schools, with universities and with expert teacher training representative bodies.

We are not against change; we all want a first class teacher training system that results in providing a world class education for our children. But not one that creates a culture where fear of failure will see valuable placement and training providers exit the market, resulting in fewer places to study teacher training and denying aspiring teachers from diverse backgrounds to apply because they are unable to study away from home. This would undo decades of powerful work to diversify the teaching workforce so that generations of children are taught by teachers who look and sound like them.

We are already facing a massive teacher supply issue. If these recommendations are implemented in the fast and furious pace intended, they could literally break the teacher training system that as society we have come so rely so heavily on.

Vanessa Wilson, CEO, University Alliance

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