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?).
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.
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.