After more than 18 months of heated discussion, tension and turmoil, the future involvement of the higher education sector in initial teacher education became somewhat clearer yesterday.
The not-so-bad news is that more than 80 per cent of universities involved in delivering, in partnership with schools, undergraduate and postgraduate initial teacher education (ITE) to some 30,000 prospective teachers each year will continue to be involved from 2024-25 onwards.
This is better than we feared 18 months or so ago, with reasonable speculation at one stage that DfE intended only to accredit a small number of ITE providers, and any other organisations such as universities or school-based providers that wanted to be involved having to act as junior partners with these approved national providers, who would have been selected by DfE through a formal procurement process.
There is however a lot of very bad news. Firstly, all ITE provision will from 2024-25 have to adhere to a set of detailed new requirements on programme structure and content that many consider to be reductionist, inflexible and a constraint on academic freedom, and will furthermore prevent ITE programmes from being flexible enough to meet the needs of particular communities, schools and student teachers.
While we recognise that government (or, preferably, an independent regulatory body) should have a role in setting frameworks and standards for ITE programmes, for many people the level of prescription goes much too far.
And then there are the implications for teacher supply. Applications to ITE programmes are already struggling, and we predict that DfE will miss its target for the number of secondary ITE students it needs to recruit by more than 30 per cent. That will mean schools will find it extremely difficult to recruit the new teachers that they need, especially if, as is likely, some providers decide to withdraw from ITE in 2023-24 rather than wait it out until 2024.
Cutting the number of accredited ITE providers by around 20 per cent will make it more difficult for those who do want to become teachers to find an ITE provider. The situation in some parts of the country, where teacher supply cold spots are already emerging, will be particularly dire. The pipeline that currently exists between recruitment to postgraduate programmes at universities and non ITE undergraduate programmes will be broken if those universities lose their accreditation.
Bridging the gap
DfE, rather blithely and complacently, assumes that any gaps resulting from the accreditation process will be met by either expanding existing provision or by bringing in new providers. But this ignores the fact that significant barriers, such as the expectation by OfSTED for consistency across partnerships in respect of mentor training, will make it difficult for many to expand. HEIs will also face significant internal and external barriers that would make entering into formal partnerships with other organisations difficult.
Experience shows that student teachers increasingly want to undertake ITE close to where they live, a trend likely to increase as cost of living pressures take their toll. This will be made more difficult. The willingness of partner schools, key players and partners in ITE, to join up with a new provider to deliver ITE over which they have no ownership or influence, is also open to question. Some schools might also, because of expectations in regards to mentoring, choose to work with only one ITE provider. Without school placements, ITE cannot happen. The availability of school placements is already under pressure, not least from other government initiatives such as the Early Career Framework for recently qualified teachers.
Fewer school placements means fewer new teachers coming into the profession. It is as simple as that. The impact of the accreditation process on teacher supply is serious. In some parts of the country, as already mentioned, it will be particularly serious and the government’s whole levelling-up agenda will be endangered.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you
It need not have been like this. Both UCET and NASBTT, which represents the school based ITE sector, have on several occasions put forward pragmatic suggestions to government that would have allowed it to meet its stated policy objectives without damaging teacher supply. The whole accreditation process was totally unnecessary. The government’s new programme requirements could have been introduced without requiring reaccreditation, with an audit and inspection process instead being used to ensure compliance.
Even with an accreditation process, suggestions from UCET and others for “provisional accreditation” for those providers only narrowly failing to get through with a support mechanism in the run-up to 2024-25 to ensure compliance were rejected out of hand. No reasons for this were given. The damage this process will cause to teacher supply is entirely the responsibility of government. They did not need to jeopardise teacher supply to meet their stated objectives.