Response to Department for Education consultation on reform of Initial Teacher Training by Professor Barnaby Lenon

On 5 July the Government published a consultation on reforms to initial teacher training in England.  The proposals, which come from a panel of only five people, represent a radical change to the current system and envisage all teacher trainers having to apply for reaccreditation early next year.

In common with many universities we are very disappointed with the proposals.

1 Reduced supply of teachers

Teacher supply is already quite poor

The quality of teacher training in England is quite good and, in many cases, is very good.  The problem in England is not the quality of teacher training.  It is the supply of teachers who are willing to be trained in the first place.

According to the Education Policy Institute report (Sibieta, 2020), in 2020 disadvantaged schools reported greatest difficulties in filling teaching posts. 22% of schools in the most affluent areas reported vacancies or temporarily filled positions – but this increased to around 29% of schools in the most disadvantaged areas outside London and 46% in the most disadvantaged areas inside London.

This research looked at the proportion of Key Stage 4 (GCSE) hours taught by teachers with relevant degrees. In London, 55 per cent of maths teaching hours are taught by teachers with a relevant degree in the least disadvantaged schools, 44 per cent for the most disadvantaged group of schools.  Outside of London, 51 per cent of Key Stage 4 maths hours are taught by teachers with a relevant degree in the least disadvantaged schools, but only about 37 per cent in the most disadvantaged schools.

Only 15 per cent of physics teachers in disadvantaged schools outside of London have a physics degree.

So there is serious shortage of subject specialists.

In primary schools, growth in teacher numbers between 2007 and 2019 (13%) fell behind growth in pupil numbers (16%). Overall pupil numbers in secondary schools were about the same in 2019 as they were in 2007, but teacher numbers had fallen by 7%. Whilst pupil numbers in primary schools are now stabilising, the challenges are likely to become greater in secondary schools, with further growth of 10% in pupil numbers between 2019 and 2023.

The market review proposals will make it worse

The proposed accreditation process will lead to some existing providers of teacher training losing their accreditation.

Some might withdraw from initial teacher training anyway because:

The Market Review implies that some providers will have to partner with other organisations if they are continue in teacher education, with the implication that they will form part of larger accredited providers, or act as subsidiary partners without holding accredited status. There is no guarantee that they will be interested in doing this.

The uncertainty of having to go through an accreditation process might lead some to conclude that teacher training is not a secure enough activity to be involved in. Universities might, in particular, conclude that their resources might be better directed towards more stable, predictable and cost-effective areas of activity.

Some trainers, for example research intensive universities, might not be willing to deliver programmes that have to include content which they are not allowed to critique or question.  A number of universities who have done teacher training for years are baulking at the fact that the consultation is clear that there should be a strict, uncritical adherence to the DfE syllabus.  In the Daily Telegraph on 12 July Gavin Williamson wrote ‘We need academics to…respect each other’s academic freedoms rather than seeking to enforce a single, narrow lens upon the curriculum.’

That is exactly what universities believe.

Reducing the number of accredited ITE providers will reduce the choice prospective teachers have about where to train. Many prospective teachers choose, for family or financial reasons, providers that are close to where they live.  Increasing the distance to be travelled will result in fewer applicants. Many student teachers choose to train at specific universities. For example, some apply to postgraduate teacher training programmes at the same universities where they studied for their undergraduate degrees, a supply line that could be lost if those universities withdraw from teacher training. Postgraduate teacher training programmes also draw on the subject expertise of colleagues in the university. Some student teachers choose a teacher trainer because of its reputation and its pedagogical, subject and research expertise. Effective markets depend on choice. Market reforms that artificially constrain choice are perverse.

2 Timescale

The consultation period is confined to the summer holidays, just as schools close after a very hard year.  For most schools these proposals come out of the blue and there will be no opportunity for teachers to discuss the implications with colleagues.

The consultation suggests that by early next year all existing providers of teacher training will need to have gone through a process to achieve reaccreditation and will, in many cases, have formed legal partnerships with other providers of teacher training.  This is a completely unrealistic timescale.

3 A reduced role for universities

There is nothing necessarily good or bad about universities as providers of teacher training.  It all depends on the calibre of the staff and the quality of the courses they offer.  But the advantage of a university-based course is that very existence of a campus and university life can be an attraction in itself.  Many trainee teachers like the idea of seeking their professional training or development in a university.

Within most universities there is a body of staff who are expert teacher trainers; we would not want to lose them.  Many will have a better grasp of the research into ‘what works’ in schools than anyone else.

The Government likes the idea of teacher training happening in schools.  All universities base their training in good schools.  At Buckingham our trainee teachers teach classes in schools for the whole of each academic year.  They are supervised by mentors (expert teachers) in their schools that we have helped to train.  They are visited by university tutors to check the standard of teaching is what we would expect.  They attend talks given by experts in specific fields, including individual school subjects.

We take trainee teachers from all over the country but the thrust of the proposals is teacher training in local areas through Teaching School hubs.  We use employment-based training – our trainee teachers are employed by schools while being trained; such provision is not considered within the market review.   So it is difficult, without more detail, to know how the proposals apply to us.

I have spent my life working in good schools, independent and state.  Poor quality teacher training was never an issue – but teacher supply was.

Of course it is reasonable for the Government to monitor the quality of teacher training, as they do through Ofsted inspections. Some of the proposals made in the market review consultation, such as the notion of increasing focus on the quality of mentors in schools, are sensible.

But rushing through a raft of proposals which threaten the supply of teachers must be a mistake.

Professor Barnaby Lenon

Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Buckingham

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