Children and schools need good teachers more than ever

Peter Neil and Alex Bols argue that government proposals on teacher training bring risks not worth taking as children and schools come out of the pandemic.

Peter Neil is vice chancellor of Bishop Grosseteste University, and chair of the Cathedrals Group and the UUK/GuildHE teacher education advisory group.


Alex Bols is Deputy Chief Executive at GuildHE.

Universities play a critical role in supplying a highly qualified teaching workforce for the nation’s schools and making sure our children get the best education possible, as we have previously highlighted.

The Teacher Education Advisory Group (a joint group between Universities UK and GuildHE bringing together universities that deliver Initial Teacher Education) response to the DfE Initial Teacher Education Market Review Consultation re-states higher education’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing standards of teacher education but flags several risks of these proposals.

Children and schools have suffered significant disruption during the pandemic, and the government’s proposals should not create additional risks or destabilise the supply of high quality teachers when we need them most to support the post-pandemic education recovery.

Testing times

The response highlights three key tests:

  • that the reforms improve the quality of newly qualified teachers;
  • that we maintain and enhance a strong pipeline of teachers into the profession;
  • and that we ensure the most effective use of resources so that as much funding as possible is going into the student learning experience and isn’t being wasted on unnecessary administration.

There has been significant concern across the sector at some of the proposals that they do not currently meet these tests. I believe that by taking more time to consider the future of ITT in more detail will give schools and universities time to build back following the pandemic and develop a more robust evidence base for the reforms. We should be aiming to produce a set of reforms that stand the test of time, rather than having to be subject of major reform every 5-10 years.

Our consultation response suggests that reforms must be implemented well and not just quickly. In practice this means for new students starting in September 2024 at the earliest, to be properly tested and meet various internal and external quality and compliance processes. This additional timing will allow further evidence gathering, as well as ensuring a more strategic approach to collaboration between some – particularly smaller – providers.

Where’s your evidence?

The consultation goes on to emphasise that any reforms must be evidence-based, and where a robust evidence-base doesn’t exist then reforms should be modelled, piloted and evaluated before being implemented.

The government consultation makes a number of proposals for new developments including introducing lead mentors, intensive placements and minimum timings for different activities such as placement lengths, time in classrooms and with mentors.

Each of these proposals will have unintended consequences, as well as significant cost and other resources implications, and so should be further piloted and evaluated before being implemented to ensure that they meet the three tests.

A key feature of the proposals is that existing providers would need to go through re-accreditation. We do not believe that this is necessary for many high quality ITT providers, but if this is deemed absolutely necessary by DfE then any re-accreditation should be risk-based to minimise burden and cost on high quality providers.

At a time of other major education reforms, and building back from the pandemic, now is not the time to be diverting key resources to processes that do not directly enhance the student learning experience and risk destabilising teacher supply.

Keeping it flexible

Finally, we argue that curriculum should be evidence-based and within a broad framework, but not so inflexible that it does not allow tailoring to the needs of individual trainees and different contexts.

We acknowledge the need for agreed national standards for example, as set out in the Market Review, such as those required for the award of qualified teacher status (QTS), and agree that ITT partnerships need to design and develop a curriculum that prepares trainees to meet these standards.

However, providers should have autonomy over how they meet these standards especially in regard to the curricula they set and the manner in which courses are taught, supervised or assessed.

There are good reasons why a more tailored approach is being taken in most providers, based on the needs of the individuals, schools and communities involved.

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