Proposals for initial teacher training – welcome to ITT Squid Game

David Spendlove draws parallels between the Department for Education's plans for initial teacher training and the gruesome Netflix show

David Spendlove is professor of education at the University of Manchester.

The government response to the initial teacher training (ITT) market review, based on a ludicrously short seven-week consultation across the summer, set out in December how their decisions and recommendations will be implemented over the next two years.

Regrettably, while there are some very minor concessions, all university and other providers must now go through a process of (re)accreditation, which will determine their “future engagement” in teacher training.

Given such a challenge, the existential resemblance with the Squid Game, the highly commended dystopian Korean drama of enticement to compete in a high-stake financial game in order to survive, is woefully familiar.

As such there are three significant games ahead that providers will have to navigate in order to survive.

Game one: accreditation

In game one providers have to submit a 7,000-word statement on their future provision, which will be graded 0-5 based on an overly simplistic and vague rubric. Forget about your history, research culture, or long-standing reputation of training teachers; if your testimony is insufficiently convincing of how you will adhere to the Department for Education’s myopic vision, then you will no longer be able to deliver teacher training courses beyond August 2024.

To increase the drama the department has stated that the bar is to be set high and if an aspirant provider scores lower than the stated pass mark, their application will not have met the quality bar required to deliver accredited ITT and are therefore out of the game. Through “raising the bar” DfE is effectively leveraging its control over providers by getting them to commit to placing the flawed Core Content Framework (CCF) as a central feature of their training.

Game two: Content and partnership

The second game is the further requirement to display an ongoing commitment and adherence to the Core Content Framework, despite this being an unsound policy that was rushed out in November 2019. The CCF has unfortunately now become central to the government prescription and as part of the game providers must pledge allegiance to a narrow and prescriptive view of how children learn and how teachers should be “trained”.

In addition to previously demonstrating (through written statements and exemplar material) in game one their adherence and willingness to be coerced by the DfE, providers will then engage in the next game of “joint working with DfE.” This is to ensure that the new courses meet the ITT criteria for 2024-25 and are of the highest possible quality through a further doubling down on implementation of the CCF.

DfE’s micro-management of content is however only one facet of game two, as providers will also have to demonstrate how they will meet both the comprehensive mentor and extended partnership expectations. With the latter, providers will be required to work with “Teaching School Hubs” who themselves will be increasingly expected to extend their remit into ITT and if they are not already designated providers’ will be incentivised to become so.

As such, in game two, universities will effectively be adding fuel to a burning platform, compelled to set up their potential future competitors who will inevitably be encouraged to seek academic accreditation through the newly created “flagship” Institute for Teaching and therefore bypass future university partnerships.

Game three: Ofsted

The final game involves Ofsted which has been commissioned to make the accreditation judgements on winners and losers – ironically making judgements on those providers that they have previously judged through the existing Ofsted inspection game.

Apart from both the limited capacity and capability of Ofsted to make the accreditation judgements, it would also appear to be a conflict of interest and genuinely makes little sense that Ofsted could be identifying a provider they have recently judged as “outstanding” as no longer suitable to train teachers or vice versa?

Ofsted at the very least should be making judgements by drawing on previous inspection findings and significant records that they hold on each existing provider. Instead, Ofsted is to develop amnesia and will rely on a well-crafted written submission and simplistic rubric while ignoring a wealth of records and data.

This however is still not the end of game three, as in a hidden twist that emerged from the ITT Market Review response is the move to a three-year Ofsted inspection cycle to ensure further compliance checks against the new ITT criteria.

Winners and losers

The challenge and disruption from the new games that providers of teacher training will have to play should not be underestimated, given they place an entirely unnecessary burden and jeopardy upon universities.

However, re-accreditation is the means chosen by the DfE to finally leverage universities into confirmation of their willingness to relinquish autonomy and pledge allegiance to promote future content and methods based upon misappropriation, ministerial preferences, and government fixations.

As a consequence, there are few winners in the ITT Squid Game. Ultimately some providers may simply not participate in the DfE game playing as, analogous to the moral of the Squid Game (spoiler alert), once the desperate take the “opportunity” proposed, they open themselves up to be increasingly demeaned and manipulated due to their increasing desperation and dependency.

This may be considered a stretch of the metaphor but the parallels with ITT accreditation are clear. By signing up to the new ITT accreditation university providers will not be guaranteed of their future and once in the game it is then up to the DfE and Ofsted to manipulate as much as they wish.

5 responses to “Proposals for initial teacher training – welcome to ITT Squid Game

  1. Good article David. Fun to read but with serious and worrying undertones. A bit scary really 😳

  2. I was at university with William Bickford Smith, the DfE advisor whose remit under Nick Gibb was ITT reform. I am not surprised by the comparison to Squid Game given his Thatcherite pro-market views but ironically the problem with the ITT proposals is how statist one-size-fits-all they are. My university is one of the largest providers of ITT so I think the government would struggle to close our programmes, but we need re-accreditation like a hole in the head. It is complete distraction.

  3. Once again, so glad I left ITT behind and no longer involved. Your analogy is a good one if (for someone now out of touch) somewhat horrifying. I’ve been vaguely aware of the implications of the review but you bring it into sharp focus here.

    Being very familiar with HEIs and how they work, I can well imagine some more will decide it’s just not worth it and get out. As the OU decided before. But that may well be part of the plan. Force schools to work with school hubs and Institute of teaching to maintain the supply of freshly trained recruits they depend upon. I mean – Now we have the Core Content Framework, who needs universities and experts anymore? What could possibly go wrong 😆

  4. Teaching how to tech without actually teaching is a difficult one. My teacher training was very good from a personal point of view but as the old saying goes, “no plan survives contact with the enemy*”. They can give you all the theory they like but you soon learn on your feet is better than on your seat when it comes to teacher training.

    I found my 2 years as a supply teacher gave me more confidence to try new teaching methods without the anxiety of jumping through hoops or being overly scrutinised at every turn. “Nobody got told off and they managed some work? Get that guy back in tomorrow!” This is how you know you’re doing it well; they ask you back the next day.

    *Young people are obviously not the enemy but any class can break up a well made lesson plan. Supply teaches you to think ahead and pull out ideas at the drop of a hat. Improvisation is not taught by the DfE.

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