Initial teacher education “providers” are not unfamiliar with facing difficult challenges but the year ahead may prove too much for some.
Few areas of life have remained unchallenged in dealing with Covid-19 and like many in education, those involved initial teacher education (ITE) were able to adapt and successfully navigate the remainder of the last academic and calendar year. Having managed to supply the teaching workforce with approximately thirty thousand new teachers, and then having successfully adapted programmes to start the new academic year providers might have considered that the worst of the challenges were over rather than they were only just about to begin.
However, the recent severe cutting of bursaries, from the majority of subjects, and news of a further review of ITE and the creation of a new Institute for Teaching means that ITE providers face further instability from these additional challenges at a time when certainty and clarity is needed.
Fixing old mistakes
If the challenge of bursaries and a pandemic were not enough the additional distraction in the form of another unnecessary review of initial teacher education is clear. Ironically, the focus of this latest review is to tackle the “overly complex” nature of the sector, apparently in order to create a “more efficient and effective system”.
The immediate irony being that it is the current government who from 2010 have dramatically attempted to diversify ITE whilst exponentially increasing the number of providers. As such, the review would appear to confirm the failure of the engineered free market approach that has been central to the Department for Education (DfE) mentality of deregulation and competition through diversifying and growing alternative initial teacher preparation programmes.
Predictably the usual suspects of handpicked “experts” have been chosen to provide a completely unrepresentative input for the sector. It seems that DfE, while proclaiming the value of domain specific knowledge and evidence informed approaches, still doesn’t value these attributes when establishing their panels and in the development of policy.
Cloak and dagger
Lack of integrity and subterfuge are now so deeply interwoven into the government’s machinations that I suspect that DfE has forgotten that authentic, intelligent and considered sector reviews can be enlightening and beneficial rather than an echo chamber for reproduction of rhetoric.
Therefore, rather than the latest stage managed review taking place in the middle of a pandemic, what is really needed is an independent, informed and considered in-depth review of initial teacher education. After a decade of treating applicants as a commodity, continual tinkering and market driven principles DfE has ultimately done little to create stability or ensure quality for both applicants or providers within initial teacher education.
Accordingly, a thorough review of ITE, rather than the poundshop variety, would be timely for a considered evaluation of provision that solves problems rather than creates them through placing applicants and providers at the heart of a stable, collegiate, intelligent and high-quality process of recruiting and developing excellent teachers.
Such a review would therefore start by considering the impact upon new teachers, schools and providers of the major reforms which have so far failed to be reviewed or appropriately evaluated. Additionally, we also need to question whether we genuinely want autonomous, critical, reflective and adaptive practitioners who can shape their own teaching repertoire and pedagogy and if not, ask why not, given the current direction of travel is towards a technicised and centralised view of teaching.
Take back control
Most importantly, we need to question what the role of government whims and personal minister’s prejudice should be in policy making, given an unjustified and sustained attempt to marginalise the autonomy and contribution of universities in preparing and supporting teachers.
Any review would also need to examine whether the continuous changes within teacher education can have the desired impact in addressing both the lack of equity with the education system or sustaining improvement in the quality of teaching and learning, as there is little robust evidence to suggest either has been achieved so far.
Inevitably, the challenges of Covid-19 remain significant for all involved in education and the additional unnecessary complexities of changes to bursaries, a new Institute of Teaching and a further review of provision simply adds additional needless challenges and uncertainty to those involved within initial teacher education.
Quite simply it appears that after a decade DfE still does not know and has yet to establish a clear way of managing the direction, demand, supply and quality of education for new teachers and at the end of this next review this is likely to remain the same.