Many of those involved in initial teacher education (ITE), particularly in the university sector, will be glad to see the back of the last decade that was characterised by significant turbulence, disruption and fragmentation.
Since 2010 when Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings initiated an attempted radical and rapid transformation of ITE, primarily through increased marketisation and diversification of provision, the sector has had to continually compromise and adapt to increasing uncertainty, poor recruitment and alienation from the government.
Indeed perhaps it is testimony to the robustness (or naivety) of the sector that more university providers haven’t withdrawn from offering ITE. However, with the new decade coinciding with a new Conservative government, ITE is very much at a crossroads. Three key issues lie at the heart of determining how ITE may look at the end of the next decade.
Issue one: resourcing
The resource cost for running ITE within universities is increasingly problematic. Typically, depending on how it is delivered, it tends to be expensive and resource intensive due to the costly burden of high levels of bureaucracy combined with typically smaller teaching ratios and time-consuming – but essential – individual student support.
Equally a significant proportion of student income is spent on supporting partnerships with schools who themselves have been starved of cash. As a consequence the previous decade saw the financial contribution of ITE within universities decrease whilst at the same time ITE providers were dealing with ongoing poor recruitment and increased uncertainty due to the government push on the marketisation of ITE.
As a consequence ITE is no longer the financial cornerstone of many education departments that it may once have been and any likely future cut to student funding, such as that signalled by the Augar review, could see ITE simply become too costly to run in its current form in higher education. To a certain extent many education departments will have already offset their dependency upon ITE but the challenge to financially sustain ITE when funding looks likely to be a major issue across the entire university sector, may prove to be the biggest challenge for ITE in the new decade.
Issue two: rationale
While many university education departments recognise the additional challenges and demands of ITE, these are often offset by the benefits of working with local schools, which demonstrates an ongoing commitment to social responsibility.
These benefits have, however, increasingly become compromised as schools themselves have changed radically over the last decade through both the academisation of the school sector and through schools themselves becoming ITE providers either as standalone School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITTs) or through affiliated School Direct programmes. While these routes into teaching don’t preclude university involvement they have at times potentially compromised relationships with local schools, through the introduction of policy reforms in direct opposition to existing provision. For the moment at least, the existential threat of alternative forms of provision replacing university ITE provision has subsided primarily because of the government failure to meet its own recruitment targets for the last seven years.
However, if and when the current “free for all” recruitment strategy is replaced by a reinstatement of an allocation of training places it will then be for the government to decide where the balance of power lies in the future preparation of new teachers. The trajectory prior to the recruitment crisis was towards bypassing universities through increasing the allocation of training places directly to schools and if this should be reinstated this may be enough for some providers to reconsider their rationale for involvement with ITE.
Issue three: relationships
The tension between various governments and university ITE provision is a long standing one but has been unprecedented in the previous decade, characterised by Gove’s portrayal of the sector as the “Blob” and schools minister Nick Gibb declaring that it was academics in the education faculties of universities, with progressive policies, who were responsible for “our education system slipping down the international rankings”.
Previously the semi-independent executive Teacher Development Agency (which Gove foolishly abolished) had been able to mediate between the government and universities. However, bringing ITE directly under the control of the Department for Education (DfE) meant that kneejerk policy decisions were no longer being moderated by the TDA.
As a consequence the fragmented landscape of ITE, the deregulated provision along with the significant issues with recruitment and retention of new teachers that now exists is entirely of the government’s own making. In moving forward the government now has a choice given the clear blue water of the next five years of parliament of whether it wishes to continue the momentum of marginalising university involvement in teacher preparation and ongoing development.
Justine Greening in her short period as Education Secretary appeared to be making sensible noises of reconciliation. More recently Damian Hinds and Gavin Williamson have done little to signal any change in the previously antagonistic position. The extent to which Gove, Cummings and Gibb legacies are now embedded within the DfE DNA will become clear over the next five years but their dismal record of success would suggest that working with universities rather than against offers a sustainable future for ITE provision and ongoing teacher development.
A decade hence
Ultimately, this new decade could genuinely see the make or break of significant university direct involvement with ITE. Given the absence of any clear policy or manifesto indicators the current unsatisfactory state of limbo looks likely to continue for the immediate future.
Though the future of ITE in universities may look bleak it is very much still a case of there being an opportunity for the sector to take control of its own destiny. One significant impediment to this over the previous decade has been the lack of any clear authoritative voice for the unifying and representing of the university ITE sector which has largely meant that the DfE has had free rein.
While the government may have used this as an opportunity to increase the marginalisation of university ITE provision it is already clear that the establishment of alternative forms of provision have not been on the scale needed. As a consequence there has been reluctant dependence upon the university sector to prop up the governments failed policies.
As such, the perceived value of the university sector ITE provision may now ironically be greater than it was a decade ago when Gove began the rapid dismantling of university ITE. Therefore, as we start the new decade an opportunity now exists for both the government and university sector to collectively reconsider the resource, rationale and relationships of ITE to determine what form ITE may well exist in at the end of this new decade.