Teacher education faces five big challenges in coming years

The government is more committed to disrupting than developing Initial Teacher Education within universities, says David Spendlove

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

The recently ended Department for Education (DfE) Initial teacher training (ITT) Market Review consultation ran for a mere seven weeks – yet this was sufficient to demonstrate an overwhelming and united opposition from teacher unions, the Chartered College of Teaching and the wider initial teacher education (ITE) community.

The preliminary consensus of the review appears that the proposals would ultimately prove damaging to the sector due to increased prescription of content and structure, increased financial costs and additional requirements for accreditation being added to the existing burdensome compliance and quality assurance procedures.

Should most of the review proposals be approved in the final report, then it will be the most significant challenge ITE has faced – with some universities already indicating they could not envisage remaining within ITE.

Whilst the outcomes of the flawed ITT Market Review consultation will rest with Nick Gibb (Minister of State for School Standards), who has held a longstanding grudge against “the academics in the education faculties of universities”, the reality is that the review is only the first of five key challenges that ITE in universities face.

2. Finance

Oddly, whilst framed as an ITT Market Review the consultation stayed clear of discussing funding. However, the finances of ITE will become increasingly strained should the recommendations be accepted due to the additional administration and organisational costs associated with provision.

One significant cost will be the potential additional time that trainee teachers will have to spend in schools alongside renegotiating of partnership and governance arrangements depending on how these are finalised.

The additional anomaly of PGCE courses being linked to undergraduate fees also means that the ongoing concern of Augur’s post 18 Education Review recommendations would place additional strain on finance should they be implemented.

3. Ofsted

ITE remains one of the most regulated aspects of university provision which will increase further with the recommendation of introducing additional accreditation procedures based upon curriculum, mentoring, assessment, quality assurance, structure and partnerships.

However, these new requirements are in addition to a new Ofsted Inspection Framework which has recently seen five of the first 11 published inspections identifying aspects of provision as inadequate or requiring improvement.

Under the previous inspection framework all ITE provision had been identified as good or outstanding which suggests the new framework will add additional uncertainty to provision given that successful Ofsted outcomes will likely be part of the new accreditation process.

4. New Institute of Teaching

The introduction of the DfE’s £121 million Institute of Teaching, which ironically the DfE have claimed will be a “world-leading faculty of expert teacher educators” (whilst at the same time closing the door on world leading faculties of education) will create additional disruption to the sector.

Four regional campuses will be established which will directly ‘compete’ with existing provision whilst the institute will also likely provide additional competition to universities through offering validation of school based ITE provision.

DfE’s establishment of the Institute of Teaching is entirely provocative and confirms the government’s deficit view of existing provision and opposition to the autonomy, criticality and intellectual base that underpins existing university provision.

5. Allocations

It is ironic that a review that was meant to examine the “ITT Market” did not discuss finance, student “bursaries” or the allocation of students to ITE providers, which have all been part of the artificial and highly manipulated market the DfE have created.

Nevertheless, the survival of the remaining ITE university provision will rest almost entirely on how the DfE ultimately decides how to balance where trainee teachers will be distributed in order to train to become teachers.

In the last decade, ITE “allocations” have gone from a highly regulated process of allocating specific targets for each subject to individual universities, to a skewed distribution based on “quality criteria” with preferences given to “school-based” provision, followed by a free for all given the DfE failure to consistently meet its own recruitment targets.

As we emerge from the pandemic it is likely the DfE will need to use allocations to incentivise provision in the new partnership arrangements and compliance with the new accreditation procedures (if implemented). As such accreditation and allocations will likely be used as a reward for those “partnerships” who comply with the content and methods prescribed by the DfE.

Unfortunately, we appear to have a government that is more committed to disrupting rather than developing Initial Teacher Education within universities and consequently the future looks challenging.

The disruption to universities is, however entirely political – based on whims and anecdotes and risks the marginalisation of high quality provision unless the DfE pull back on some of the issues identified.

The proposed direction of travel very much challenges the autonomy of universities through overly prescriptive (and questionable) content, structure and governance whilst further issues of finance and additional regulation means that universities are now sitting ducks, waiting to see if DfE will take on board the ITE sectors rejection of the ITT Market Review proposals.

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