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!).