Month: January 2015

Grim news on teacher training

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John Howson provides a very worrying picture in his summary of the ITE application data. Government needs to sit up and take notice.

John Howson

The first figures for applications to teacher preparation courses starting in September 2015 were released by UCAS earlier today. As far as providers in England are concerned, applications overall are down from 71,980 to 60,890 a drop of around 11,000. Assuming every applicant makes the maximum possible of three applications, this would be a drop of more than 3,500 applicants compared with the same point last year. In fact the drop in applicants domiciled in England is actually 4,540 compared with last year. This suggests not all applicants use their full number of possible applications; presumably some are location specific and can only apply to providers in particular areas. The decline in applicants is reflected across the country and in percentage terms is greatest for higher education courses, where applications are down from 43,000 to 32,000 between January last year and January this year. This is despite the application process…

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Reining in creationists; South Lanarkshire, repenting past mistakes, leads the way

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Some good news on stopping extreme creationist influences in some Scottish schools.

Primate's Progress

Reblogged from the Scottish Secular Society blog here and here. Readers may remember how in Kirktonholme Primary, pupils were handed out “textbooks” saying that the Earth was 6000 years old, old Earth geology a trick by atheists, dinosaur graveyards the result of Noah’s flood, and that humans may well have used dinosaurs as beasts of burden. In the resultant furore, the head teachers were removed from post, and South Lanarkshire set about formulating rules regulating chaplains and other non-teachers in schools. These rules were published on Tuesday, and what follows are comments from the Scottish Secular Society, which more than any other body was responsible for exposing the abuses:

In 2013, the Scottish Secular Society were alerted by a member that a chaplaincy team at a school in East Kilbride had seemingly sent very young children home…

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Carter and after

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Thoughts from John Howson on the Carter Review.

John Howson

Launched into the expectant world on the day the World Education Forum opened in London, The Carter Review of Teacher Training seems to have passed by much of the national media largely un-noticed. That’s a shame as a lot of hard work went into the Report even if its recommendations were hardly earth shattering and probably won’t do much to help solve the teacher supply crisis schools are facing.

I don’t see it as my place to critique the Report in detail, but to highlight the bits that interest me. These are; the return of an understanding of child development; subject knowledge and its importance in teaching; the issue of qualification versus certification; and finally the question of a quart into a pint pot – sorry, that shows my age; a litre into an eighth of a litre jug.
But first, Carter reaffirms that those preparing to be a teacher…

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The Carter Review of ITT is out: does it go far enough?

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The Carter Review of ITT is out. The purposes of the review were:
• To define effective ITT practice
• To assess the extent to which the system currently delivers effective ITT
• To recommend where and how improvements could be made
• To recommend ways to improve choice in the ITT system by improving the transparency of course content and method

A Missed Opportunity?

What the review didn’t do – though it was never asked to – is assess whether or not the current models for training teachers and the in-built timescales for training are really fit for purpose. Increasingly I am of the opinion that, rather than tinker with the current system of training in the belief that what we have is adequate and merely needs minor changes, we should take a long hard look at our teacher training and aim for a paradigm shift in ITT that would meet not just the needs to today’s schools and pupils, but future schools and pupils. Too much change and reform in education is short-term. Are we in danger here of taking a short-termist view of ITT in the belief that the current system is fine and merely needs a few cosmetic changes?

When review is undertaken two questions should always be.

  • Is what we have in place now not just fit for current purpose, but also robust enough to respond to future change and development?
  • Is the reform we aim to make merely a short-term response to current and near-future need, or is the reform aiming to be generational, with a longer term goal of overall improvement in mind?

The current system (more or less) of ITT that we have is much the same as the training I received in the mid-1980s. Subject knowledge was not addressed during training as there was/is insufficient time to incorporate meaningful enhancement. Teaching theory, child development, and how children learn is still patchy, seen as ‘useless’ by some trainees and serving teachers or as ‘unscientific’ pseudoscience. The most important and useful aspect of teacher training, according to many, is experience in school, in the classroom and learning to teach ‘on the job’. I was certainly of that inclination as a young trainee teacher – the ‘professional studies’ lectures were seen more as a necessary evil than an integral part of teacher training. Over time I realised that far from being ‘useless theory’ they were in fact the basis of professionalism. It’s not enough to what to do and how to do it (on-the-job training) you also need to understand why you are doing what you do. That is, for me, what makes teaching a profession. It is clear from the review that the current time available for ITT is insufficient. For example when it comes to subject knowledge, the review says that “the most effective courses make use of pre-course time for subject knowledge development.” (p.26) Advising trainees on what subject knowledge to acquire, at what level and ensuring that this is what is needed to enhance their teaching requires someone, somewhere, to put in place detailed information, advice, links to sites or even develop subject knowledge materials. Who is paying for this? Yes, providers will routinely ask for ITT students to prepare for the course, but surely something identified as crucial to good teaching (the teacher’s own subject knowledge) should be an integral part of the training. By acknowledging that this has to happen outside the official training time, even before training starts, and unfunded for both trainee and provider, surely is an admission that the time we have for training is insufficient. The Carter review acknowledges that subject knowledge cannot be addressed in the short time a PGCE has, so recommends that this is taken back into schools during the NQT induction year.

Why not Generational Change?

Generational change is not easy and requires institutions and politicians to look beyond the imminent political landscape to plan for change that will, over time, be transformational. For generational change in ITT I would look to have a pathway into teaching that begins during the undergraduate degrees of interested or talented students, which feeds into a postgraduate system that secures training in schools and university and leads to not just qualified teacher status but also a Master’s level academic award.

The two main routes to QTS are an undergraduate route (normally four years to incorporate a degree in education and professional experience for QTS) and a Postgraduate route which is just 36 weeks long (again this will vary on the route, e.g. Teach First with less initial training but longer support, or School Direct Salaried which technically could be a whole school year, but the standard Post Graduate Certificate in Education is funded for 36 weeks).

As school become more complex is a longer training needed?

Our schools have become ever more complex, the demands on teachers more widespread and multifaceted. The pressure to ‘deliver’ results – almost, it seems, at any and all costs, has never been as acute. But entry to this complex profession can be granted in just 36 weeks. The Initial training is, as the name suggests, and as the Carter review very helpfully points out, initial, but have we really got any agreed, validated and systematic pathways of further training and development which produces world-class professionals? Reading the review it’s clear that we haven’t and that is professionally very bad news. Granted some schools have excellent first year training and induction for newly qualified teachers, others have developed CPD pathways that suit the needs of their own schools. But for the profession to succeed and address the problem of early career burnout we have to ensure that the training is world-class.

How much would this cost?

Of course the major barrier to effecting changes such as these is cost. Can we afford to train teachers for any longer than we do at present? I’m no economist and do not pretend to have all the answers, but a route that identifies potential teachers during their undergraduate studies (as they do in Finland) and a steer from professionals as to what content would actually suit their aspiration of teaching would help address some of the subject knowledge issues, this is, again a welcome recommendation in the Carter review. For those who come to teaching after their degree has ended, a six month subject knowledge enhancement course is a must in my view. By combining training (which needs to be paid for e.g. in the same way that the current PGCE is funded) with employment and looking creatively to subsidies and bursaries across subjects to fund M level academic study, we should be able to provide a better training that is cost effective.

A departure from the norm

The year-long programme of initial teacher education to concentrate on ‘how to teach’ can work much as it does now, with some pressure taken off the need to deliver subject content.
At the end of the initial training year I would depart from the norm. Too often NQTs are employed as if they were fully experienced teachers. Too many schools place too much responsibility on NQTs and expect them to be ‘fully equipped, hitting the ground running’. Rather than give someone full QTS after their initial training I would provide them with a licence to teach – where the Licenced Teacher is part employed in schools and attending advanced M level professional and academic training leading to a full Master’s degree. If their teaching was restricted (along with the roles they have to take on and the responsibility they have to shoulder), Licenced Teachers would be able to carry on their ‘on-the-job’ training with the space and time to fully reflect on their teaching and the pupils’ learning as well as continue to develop professionally. Schools would have employees that they can evaluate over a year for potential posts. Follow this with a supported first year in teaching as a newly qualified teacher – again with a reduced timetable, increase pay from the licensed post but not quite full pay, and the individual further develops as a professional. Finally in year two they will be ready to take on a full teaching post at a full professional salary, with full qualified teacher status and a full Master’s degree. Such an entry to the profession is, in my view, more likely to lead to professional who can not only deliver the best teaching, but who will also have developed a resilience and understanding of the profession, meaning they are less likely to quit.

This is a quick ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the Carter Review – I have skimmed the document and see many valuable recommendations. Already the DfE has published its response – which I am yet to fully digest (though at 8 pages it will be a quicker read!).


Today’s 13-year-olds are not as bad as we’re led to believe

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In 1982 I was toying with the idea of a career in teaching. That year a controversial film, Made in Britain, starring Tim Roth was released and I almost didn’t become a teacher. The film’s central character, Trevor was a dysfunctional, violent, foul-mouthed youth – everything society hates and fears. My natural fear was how would I, as a young teacher, cope with a classroom full of such kids? Of course the film is fictional. It portrayed the 1980s accurately – but did it portray Britain’s youth accurately?

With the way some of the media represents young people, you may be forgiven for thinking that Roth’s character is alive and well and infesting our streets and schools. Different newspapers have their favourite terms for teenagers: the Daily Mail likes “yobs”, while the Daily Express goes with “feral kids”.

Changing preoccupations of Year 9s

But a new longitudinal study of 13 to 14-year-olds has painted a very different picture of the youth of today. They are drinking and smoking less and bullying is on the decrease – despite the inexorable rise of social media making bullying much easier than it was 30 years ago.

More here:  Today’s 13-year-olds are not as bad as we’re led to believe.

Is there hope for education under labour? Part 2

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Initial Teacher Education (ITE)

How to best train teachers exercises many from within and without the sector.

What is a teacher? Do we really need them to be qualified in teaching or is a good degree and work experience enough? Is the current system training or indoctrinating teachers? The questions go on and on. Some will have fixed views that people like me – former teachers – only turn to teacher training because they fail to hack it in the classroom.

In Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw wrote “Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” I’ve heard this elaborated on as “and those who cannot teach, teach teachers” Ha Ha. Good joke, but untrue.

There is also the myth that all we ever do in ITE is pass off the next fad as the next ‘big thing’ in teaching. I’ve heard tell that we promote ‘learning styles’, ‘Brain gym’, ban trainees from direct teaching of core subject matter, only wish to see ‘discovery based learning’ in classes we observe, insist on objectives being written in exercise books and eschew good old-fashioned  learning by rote and abhor phonics.

Again, not true.

OK, I’ll be realistic, I cannot confirm with 100% accuracy that none of the above is never taught to any student, ever, on any teacher training course. But in my 17 years experience in teacher training seeing and external examining in a range of institutions up and down the country, I have never seen such teaching in action nor, in my discussions with hundreds of trainees, heard tell of such teaching.

What I have heard about is the insistence of mentors in schools advocating such teaching as a result of ‘consultant CPD’.

So what is Tristram Hunt’s attitude towards teacher education/training. On the whole it’s very positive. He certainly feels that the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is “not good”. Anyone in the sector will tell you that the rush to excise ITE from universities and foist it on schools has not been a success, everyone that is except Charlie Taylor who seems to think it is a great success with huge demand from schools for places – what he fails to say is that many of these are unfilled and the applicants often include many who would not pass the simplest scrutiny for gaining a place on an ITE course.

My main question to Tristram Hunt on ITE was not a squabble about School Direct vs University Training, but whether or not any politician has ever stopped to think about how long we actually take to train a teacher? Teach First puts graduates into the classroom very quickly (some may argue far too quickly foir their own good). Even a traditional PGCE is just 36 weeks long – in reality a very short time to take a graduate and turn them into a rounded fully functioning professional. I’ll save my model for ITE for another blog, but suffice it to say that I feel that ITE students should spend longer in the classroom, have more subject knowledge input and also more basic educational theory on teaching, learning and child development. I would also advocate Masters level entry for teaching. It would take longer to train, but not necessarily be that much more expensive and would not mean trainees and early teachers taking longer to earn a salary – but more on that in another post.

Tristram Hunt was very positive about ITE, he recognises that good teaching raises standards, but exactly how he would improve the training was not fully explained in this short meeting. I would like to press him further on this before I make a positive or negative judgement on his plans.


OFSTED needs reforming. To the audience that was a no-brainer and there were no cries (that I heard) of “No, we love Sir Michael – OFSTED is great!” even from schools judged Good or Outstanding. One good thing Tristram Hunt supported was the return to in-house inspectors rather that outsourced inspection teams. Here I am again in agreement. As Tristram Hunt pointed out after a conversation with the new Chair of OFSTED, David Hoare, “what business outsources its core function?” That is a very silly thing to do. Tristram also said that OFSTED must be about more than data – they must look at the broad curriculum schools offer and its impact on the children. He sees schools ars places where creative arts, sports, history, music science maths etc all form a central role in a rounded education. Again I’m in agreement, but worry about an overcrowded curriculum.

Post 16 English and Maths

We need to shift our notion of schooling/education from one where there is a leaving point at 16 to one where the leaving point at 18. This opens up the debate on the need for GCSE as a public leaving certification and what should/must be on offer post 16. I’ll leave the GCSE debate to one side as this did not form part of the meeting, but Tristram Hunt is in favour of every student studying English and Maths at post 16 – not just retakes of failed GCSEs in the subject, but a post 16 qualification. He pointed out (rightly I think) that many countries require their 16 – 18 year olds to study some form of further maths and English equivalent so why disadvantage our students in the international jobs market?

Of course here are real problems here when it comes to staffing and serving post 16 maths (to a lesser extent English). We have a catch 22 situation. We do not have enough maths graduates training to teach maths so fewer students take up maths and do a degree in maths. Add to this the intense competition from business for the best maths graduates and we have a real dilemma. Here it is ITE that is in the spotlight – how do we attract more maths specialists? This is a subject too long to debate here but I will touch on this in a ITE blog later.

Vocational vs Academic Education

There needs to be much more parity of esteem with regards to the vocational and academic subjects. As Tristram Hunt pointed out, failure to tackle vocational education and to deliver skilled workers has an impact on wages and immigration. Low skills mean low pay, a lack of skilled workers also means higher immigration and we seek such skills from overseas. When it comes to Further education, he would also like to see a new category of institute of technical education (is this a hint at a return to the old Polytechnics?).

Work Experience

In my school-based days I used to run work experience for my year 10 pupils – we had a local project called Project Trident that hooked up employers and schools and offered work experience to all pupils. It was very hard work matching the demands of pupils and parents and employers, but it was successful. I’m a great believer in work experience for children towards the end of key stage 4. It does change attitudes and minds. When children enter the world of work the experience can be life changing sometimes life confirming, rarely is it neutral. Tristram Hunt also wants to bring back work experience. He is also, it seems, committed to improving careers guidance (given the hash the current government have made of this) in schools. He is also in favour or more and better apprenticeships. Once again nothing here to disagree with, but as ever, it will also come down to funding.


A question came that related to Ed Miliband’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday 11th January. There was, it seems (I didn’t see the programme) no committment to ‘ring-fence’ education spending. The questioner asked if this was true, or would labour ring-fence education funding? Tristram’s answer was that while it is true that DfE spending overall may not be immune to cuts, it does not necessarily follow that spending on sectors of education would also be subject to cuts, but of course the politician’s standby of ‘we won’t know the state of the finances and what we have until we are in power’ comes in to play at this point. He also told us that he was due to meet Ed that afternoon to discuss the issue.

What was interesting was another question over VAT in education. Sixth Form colleges unlike schools and private education must pay VAT. For a middling size sixth form that could be as much as £200K per year. What, the questioner asked were Tristram Hunts views on this? “Unjust” he said, there was “no logic” in a system that exempted private school and state school sixth forms but not state sixth form colleges. The problem however was whether or not Labour could ‘find the money’ to right the wrong.

In Summary

To sum up the short meeting, I was heartened by Labour’s approach. decentralize, give choice and power back to the local community (although he didn’t go so far as to say LAs would once again take control, the parallel Directors of School Standards would, it seems, take on that role). LAs would be able to bid for new schools to satisfy the need for local places. Academies may be able to opt back into LA control (if legal agreements/contracts can be sorted).

The Diplodocus in the room (I’m fed up with elephants), is that it all depends on the money. There were a lot of ‘if’s and buts’ surrounding what Tristram would Like to do, provided they have the money. And of course we are in danger here of the ‘same old same old’ party in power simply blaming the last party for all the things it cannot do as they spent all the cash.

Is there hope for education under labour? Part 1 Schools

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Tristram HuntShadow Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt MP’

‘Education is the solution to social mobility and social justice. It was also the way in which we can secure our place in the competitive international economic scene.’

I may be an old cynic, but for me schools succeed in spite of political interference rather than because of it. Teachers, school leaders and those of us working in associated areas of education are usually very creative. We work around initiatives that we see as flawed to deliver the best that we can for our students. Yet politics plays a big part in our lives – more so over the past 5 years where the pace and extent of educational reform has been unprecedented. With a general election looming thoughts are now focussed on what the political parties are planning for education. Will education budgets be protected? Will the reforms currently in the pipeline be carried out? Have the major parties got sensible policies for the future of education?
At a meeting yesterday I got the chance, with a group of school leaders to hear first-hand what Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education had to say. The meeting took place at the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) one of the few academies in Brighton and Hove. The meeting was brief, but afforded us the opportunity to ask questions about his views and the direction he would take if he became Secretary of State for education.

Where do we Start?

The place to start, naturally is with Early Years education and he hoped to re-boot the Sure Start scheme – this is the way to prepare our children for future education. He saw children’s centres that involved not just schools or nursery specialists, but the involvement of other services as well such as the NHS. He wants to commit to 25 hours free childcare for every family.
So far, nothing new; nothing that hasn’t been reported elsewhere.

Schools Policy

Moving on to schools policy, here we start with a condemnation (with which I wholeheartedly agree) of the “structural chaos” wrought by the current government on schools. The proliferation of Academies, the experimental free schools and sheer volume of different school types has missed the point of how we achieve educational change and reform. He mentioned the map in the DfE with its different coloured spots indicating which schools were academies, converters (forced academies even?) and state schools. The type of school, said Tristram, is not the important factor it’s the strength of leadership and teaching that is the engine of change. Here, at least I can agree with him. I’m guessing that this is his rationale for not reverting academies – they are what they are and changing their name or status is not the issue, it’s how it is led and how good the teaching is that’s important.
He supports the College of Teaching – as do I. No profession should be without a professional body, but (and this is where the GTC went wrong) it must be built from within not imposed from outside. The campaign to ‘claim your college’ is the right way to go. Teachers must reclaim their profession from the politicians. Already I see the cynics stating that such a college is pointless as it will not represent ‘real teachers’ with some claiming that only teachers who have regular contact on a daily basis with teaching classes of children should have a say in how the profession is run. I understand this view-point, though I disagree that whole swathes of professional expertise should be shut out and an ‘exclusive club’ created whereby membership is suddenly withdrawn because you simply move to a senior post, or circumstance means you end up not doing the ‘right type’ or ‘amount’ of teaching to qualify for membership. Of course a College of Teaching should be dominated by teachers who teach on a regular basis. Yet the fact that such teachers will become active in running a College of Teachers will also take them away from the classroom and involved in many other aspects of educational policy and reform. It’s likely that some of these would then fall foul of the ‘rule’ that they must be classroom based teachers to qualify for membership/office.

No School is an Island

This is something that should not need saying. Yet in my time in education we have always had a tension between competitiveness and collaboration. We have, in the past been told that schools must compete with each other for pupils, to climb the ‘league tables’ of results. Then we have calls for collaboration – to learn from each other how best to improve our results. And it’s not just state schools, the private sector should share its secrets of success and techniques, at risk of losing their charitable status.
Today, schools are run as businesses – we have schools who no longer have a Bursar but a ‘business manager’ schools have variously sold consultancy, courses, rented out premises, even run leisure centres for profit. All of these things have been at one time or another hailed as ‘innovative’ and as a way for schools to improve their financial situation. Critics say that such ventures can be distractions. We are now in the position of schools, multimillion pound ‘industries’, being issued with Financial Notices to Improve, headteachers and ‘Executive Heads’ being charged with large-scale fraud – some convicted and barred from teaching. My concern is that in all of this we are losing sight of the purpose of schools, to educate. That is the core purpose, not making money.
Schools should collaborate – not because a politician says so, but because as professionals we should share our expertise. If I see the course I write for my pupils as some form of ‘commercial enterprise’ then my option is to not share but sell to the school next door. We already have commercial arms for that, publishers.

Directors of School Standards

Tristram Hunt wants to put in place Directors of School Standards, here I would have liked a bit more time to see how these positions differ from the Local Authority positions – is this just a new name for an already established post in LAs? Or is this a parallel structure or integrated with LAs. I like his notion of devolving away from Whitehall oversight of schools. For me local accountability is the key to an effective education system. If schools are run remotely (e.g. by an academy chain miles away) and local residents have little contact or say in how the schools are run or where they are located it is not a good thing. Tristram wants these new Directors and LAs to be able to bid for funding for new schools to meet local need and he is clear that consultation should also be meaningful and local – again things that I cannot disagree with. Too often we have seen meaningless ‘consultation’ for academisation where there was never any intention of listening to the views of the local people or more importantly the parents. An exception to this, however is in Brighton. Hove Park School started down the road to academisation (not forced, or due to poor performance) and the voice of the local community and the voice of the parents was so strong the school rejected academisation.
In my view, it’s such a pity that the Billion pounds spent on the Academy programme by Gove was not put to better use. If Gove saw the issue as poorly performing Local Authorities (and I have to agree there are some shocking LAs) then attack the problem and reform that structure to make it effective, don’t spend your money on creating a whole new, untried, untested structure that simply gives schools to privatised companies with little to no local accountability. The cynic in me feels that Gove’s plan was always to privatise and allow for profit schools. If the Conservatives win the next general election, that may still happen.
One question I did have was whether or not academies, if they so wished, could revert to Local Authority schools under labour. Tristram’s answer was “yes”, well a qualified “yes”. There are, he rightly states, issues surrounding the contracts that Academy trusts have which means some academies within trusts could not easily go back to LA control. He was also cautious about schools ‘flipping’ their status too often (perhaps MPs flipping their first and second homes and the scandal that ensued came to mind here). But the principle that schools could revert back to LAs was one that he seemed to fully support.

In my next blog I will look at Tristram’s views on Initial Teacher Education, funding the “unjust” taxation on sixth form colleges, post 16 core curriculum and work experience for all.