Reform that delivers what we already have, but at a damaging cost to University Education Departments
By James Williams
School direct was heralded by Michael Gove as innovative; more training will take place ‘on the job’ and training will be led by school partners rather than universities. But we have to question just how radical a reform this is and what the motivation behind the shift of funding from universities to schools for teacher training is about.
It seems logical that training to be a teacher requires a significant ‘on the job’ element. Sitting in lecture halls learning ‘theory’ being examined by essay, exam even, will not produce good teachers. The description given by Michael Gove and the anonymous ‘DfE ‘spokesperson’ is of a university academic education community of lecturers and researchers which is less than flattering. We are, it seems, hot-beds of ‘leftist indoctrination’; ‘enemies of promise’; ‘teaching useless theory’ or insisting on a form of progressive education that is ‘anti-knowledge and anti-examination’.
The training and qualification routes for professional teachers are woefully misunderstood. For example on more than one occasion Toby Young – who seems to be a regular stand-in for Michael Gove on news programmes giving his considered opinion on all things education related – talks of the PGCE as the ‘union certification’ for teaching that shows how the profession, far from being free is actually a closed-shop. He is wrong on both counts. The PGCE does not qualify anyone to teach and they are not union led, awarded or administered.
As hatchet jobs go, Michael Gove, the DfE and Toby Young have done a good job. Regardless of how inaccurate, wrong or simply misguided they are, they stay right on message. The road to School Direct they assure us is paved with gold for schools. They will grow their own teachers, training them to be exactly how the school wants them to be with none of the ‘silly’ influences of universities.
In addition to this shift from university to school also comes a very worrying freeing up of education which means that no longer is Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) a necessary part of gaining a job in teaching. Any graduate, indeed even a non-graduate, can now be employed on a full teacher’s salary carrying out all the duties of a teacher, provided they can impress a selection panel and meet the various checks on suitability.
This erosion of the fundamental principle of professionalism is potentially one of the most damaging changes to our education system. It will reduce teaching from a profession to a ‘come one, come all’ job that only requires a basic knowledge of a subject with little to no professional training.
So what are the roots of such change? Is it simply that Gove is de-professionalising teaching, weakening the grip of unions and universities to make the state sector more attractive for private enterprise to come into the market place take on schools and reduce the taxpayer burden by running state education provision for profit? I don’t dismiss this, but I think the roots are much deeper and far more ideological than simply selling off state education.
Modern reforms of teacher training stem from the early 1990s when the then DfE put a greater emphasis on a practical training for teachers. School Centred Initial Teacher Training was introduced, which effectively had the potential to cut out university involvement. There were concerns over teacher supply, accountability and the professional status of teachers. Conservative governments of the 80s and 90s wished to extend free market principles to education. They began with new types of school (Grant Maintained), free from Local Authority control, as well as local financial management and league tables. The press were scathing of initial teacher training with, for example, the Telegraph arguing in 1996 that low educational standards was the fault of teachers trained by institutions ‘that fill their students’ heads with rubbish’. There seemed to be a consensus that rather than improving teaching, training did the reverse. Schools should be free to recruit whoever they wish, trained or untrained.
1997 saw the era of ‘Education, Education, Education’ which heralded a new shift in teacher education. New Labour didn’t reverse entirely the idea of free market principles, but they were the architects of a much more prescriptive mode of teacher education and, for that matter, more prescriptive learning for children. Initial teacher education had to deliver to set standards for QTS and inspection was concerned about compliance to centrally defined rules. There was and still is no time for any ‘leftist indoctrination’ or ‘progressive teaching methods’. Delivering what the DfE requires, our schools demand and our trainees need in 12 weeks is hard enough.
Where does that leave us today? The current reforms in teacher education are no more than Michael Gove finishing the job that previous Conservative governments failed to do. The excising of what is seen as a cancerous, unhealthy institutional training that goes against free market principles. What’s ironic is that the changes to initial teacher education are nowhere near as radical as Gove would have his supporters and voters believe. The time spent training ‘on the job’ for a secondary teacher, 24 weeks in total out of a nominal training period of 36 weeks is identical to the time spent by those on a traditional university PGCE with QTS route.
Despite what fearful Government supporters would have the public think, teaching is not a union closed shop. They have no control over the certification of teachers or teacher training. It is central government – the National College for Teaching and Leadership only who grant Qualified Teacher Status. Providers, such as universities, merely recommend certification. The PGCE is not a qualification to teach, it’s an academic award for students, either a professional or post graduate certificate in education, for those who reach a minimum standard of academic achievement, often at Master’s level, in studying educational theory and practice. Teacher Training is inspected by OFSTED and graded just as it always has been.
What Gove’s reforms have done is place a very heavy extra administrative burden on schools – a burden that was previously handled by providers (and which, in honesty, still is, though mostly duplicated in schools). Providers already had well established partnerships with local schools and an element of ‘free market’ choice was exerted anyway as schools chose which providers to work with and would be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of any teachers produced by their providers.
The DfE talks up the success of school direct, usually in terms of the numbers of applications received. Success in converting these to actual confirmed places is less impressive with only just over two thirds of places being filled, compared with 95+% success on traditional routes. Even Gove’s promise of only ‘high quality graduates’ being funded for teacher training has been reversed – in shortage subjects a graduate with a third class degree can still attract government funding for teacher training.
Much of School Direct’s success is down to the longstanding well-developed school-provider partnerships and the positive nature of this relationship. Funding is going to schools and that will be very welcome to them, I have no doubt, but with that must also come the realisation that the economies of scale involved in providers centrally providing training could be lost. A greater loss will be those initial teacher educators who have moved from school-based teaching into university education departments and who, along with their track record of success in teaching, have developed further skills in mentoring, research and training.
Staffing cuts and redundancies due to reduced income from core teacher training allocations is a real issue.
At a time when school budgets and funding is being cut, a shift of funding from universities to schools with more autonomy over that funding must surely be one way of tempting sponsors to invest in the academy programme. But with that extra funding comes a huge responsibility to provide not just people trained to do a job, but deliver well rounded professionals who have a capability of operating not just in the host school or chain, but across various educational landscapes.
Follow James on twitter @edujdw