There’s a Dangerous Narrative About ITE That’s Harming the Profession

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Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in Universities was characterised by Michael Gove as being run by ‘The Blob’. People like me were all ‘apologists for failure’ and ‘raving Trots’. Life’s too short (as is this blog) to explore in detail the history of Tory Education Ministers’ mistrust of university involvement in teacher education. Over the decades, many attacks have been initiated, but this Government, and the previous coalition, really have tried to deliver a fatal blow and sever what they see as the serpent’s head of Marxist teacher trainers.

From asserting that the ‘theory’ we teach is ‘useless’, to being blamed as the main perpetrators of teachers using edu-nonsense and wacky progressive pseudoscience coupled with idiotic neuroscience in their teaching, ITE in universities has been saddled with all the blame. The onslaught has been relentless.

The Race to Recruit

Today, instead of a full-on attack of our methods of training teachers, (methods which OFSTED consistently say work and can deliver high quality teachers – what Gove once called ‘The best generation of teachers ever’) The current Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, through the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), has set up a race for recruitment where there is only one institutional loser – university provision.

Ultimately there will be many losers, schools unable to recruit high quality teachers, graduates put off teacher training who embark on another career and children who will suffer from high teacher turnover and possibly unqualified staff.

We have already seen university provision for PE stopped this academic year, less than a month after it opened. Now we are on the brink of shutting History provision, with English and, possibly, Primary following swiftly.

Schools who have asked for places under the new School Direct route can relax, they are in no danger of being shut down. Their provision – regardless of how good it is, how new it is, how effective or ineffective – is protected. There is excellent school-based provision out there, there is also some that is poor.

We hear a lot about the ‘law of unintended consequences’, where making a change can have a result you never intended, perhaps never envisioned. However, the NCTL and DfE have set up the ITE recruitment cycle this year using,  it seems, another ‘law’, the ‘law of intended consequences’.

Can this cutting of University Provision be anything other than deliberate?

I cannot accept that the NCTL and DfE couldn’t foresee the consequences of shutting off university routes, the most popular ones that often fill their places, while letting the unpopular places that never recruit to target overall as safe.

I cannot accept that intelligent people in charge of securing the supply of good teachers just did not envisage a situation where excellent providers would have their numbers cut off, almost at the drop of a hat.

I refuse to accept that they could not see that universities would have no option, if they have not recruited enough students to sustain a cohort once the axe falls, but to close the provision.

Conservatives Have Abandoned their Core Values, Simply to Destroy University ITE Provision

Cambridge is an outstanding provider. It naturally attracts some of the best graduates. It has long been the envy of other ITE providers because of the ease with which the Cambridge ‘brand’ coupled with excellent practitioners in teacher education will attract the best candidates.

I thought that the Conservative way was that of the ‘free market’ where those who offer a product that people want will succeed and those who don’t fail. I was under the impression that Conservatives were all in favour of ‘choice’ e.g. parental choice in where they send their child to school or a choice of private over state-maintained, academy or free school.

The new recruitment rules for ITE seem to defy all Conservative values.

The Age of Free Choice under the Conservatives is Over

No longer will graduates have a ‘choice’ over which ITE route they take, in many subjects it will be School Direct or nothing (I fear that many will choose ‘nothing’). Teacher training is becoming a ‘closed shop’, something that many Conservatives abhor.

The Free Market is Dead under the Conservatives

The current recruitment rules are specifically designed to shut down the most successful routes to ensure that the less popular route succeeds – almost at any cost, certainly at the cost of high quality providers.

Lies, Damned Lies and Ignore the Statistics

The narrative that justifies the wholesale reform of ITE recruitment is built on a bed of lies surrounded by a continuing narrative that misleads and misinforms.

Constantly the DfE ‘spokespeople’ and ministers talk about university training versus school-based training. The deliberate choice of words here is designed to infer that Universities somehow do not use schools or involve schools in ITE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

ALL initial teacher education takes place predominantly in schools.

ITE cannot take place without school involvement. In secondary ITE for example trainees must spend 120 training in schools, working with teachers, teaching children, being mentored by experienced teachers.

No University provider would gain any positive OFSTED grade if it ignored schools, did not have effective partnerships and did not involve schools in designing and implementing the ITE programme. No provider could ever achieve an ‘Outstanding’ grade without the strongest of school partnerships.

Universities Value their School Partners and their Input to developing excellent ITE provision

Schools regularly tell university providers what they would like to see in the training programmes, what sort of training they feel suits the partnership. Their knowledge and understanding is vital to our success.  We succeed because of our partnership, not in spite of it.

ITE teaches ‘useless theory’ to students

‘Theory’ in education is difficult. With my scientist ‘hat’ on I could argue that there is no such thing as ‘theory’ in education – there are ideas, concepts etc. But scientifically acceptable theory (as in an evidenced explanation of ‘how’ or ‘why’ of a natural phenomenon, which can generate testable hypotheses, confirmed by repeated and repeatable experimentation or observation that is valid and reliable), no.

It’s true we teach about Vygotsky, Piaget, Bruner, Bronfenbrenner, Maslow etc. But none of these is taught without criticism, as uncontentious and so highly evidenced that it could attain a ‘without exception’ status and must therefore be trusted and applied without question.

What’s important is that we teach trainees how to critique what they read, how to not take a face value something that’s been told to them.

We are not the wholesale sellers of ‘snake oil’ pseudo-educational activities.

I will not absolve all university ITE from having delivered ‘learning styles’ as a valid classroom pedagogy in the past, perhaps even now. That said I do not believe that the source of learning styles in teaching can ultimately be traced back to university ITE.

For the past 18 months, I have been informally trying to ask teachers where they hear about the ‘wacky’ classroom based edumyths and why they use them. Some do say they were taught about it during their training (often many years ago), but increasingly I am being provided with anecdotal evidence that such edumyths have in fact originated in business and often it is the ‘consultants’ engaged by schools to run INSET and CPD who are pushing such pedagogies. As Paschler et al (2008) say,

“There is a thriving industry devoted to publishing learning-styles tests and guidebooks for teachers, and many organizations offer professional development workshops for teachers and educators built around the concept of learning styles.” (p.105)

In my years in university teacher education, I’ve spent more time correcting edumyths peddled to trainees by teachers in schools than I care to recall.

In a bid to ‘prove’ that I (or indeed my university) ‘endorses’ edumyths. I have been called out on twitter for having some books on our reading list that do indeed have sections on Learning styles for example.

If we were to eliminate every book on education that contained something that teachers object to, the reading list would be very small. So small I doubt we would have one. What the critics never seem to appreciate is that books on education will always contain chapters/sections or ideas that are contentious. What is important is how the book is used and how we educate our trainees not to accept at face value everything that is written (or indeed said), but to critically analyse what they see, hear and read. In a book that ‘endorses’ (wrongly) learning styles, there may be 100 pages of excellent reading on other aspects of teaching and learning.

I am not a censor who tears out the pages I disagree with and I don’t believe that we should become censors in ITE.

In conclusion

I hope that Cambridge does not have to close any of its provision. I hope that no good ITE provider has to pull out of the ITE market (and that includes good School Direct provision and Good SCITT provision). I would prefer the DfE and NCTL supported all good ITE provision and routes into teaching and stop the negative narrative of there being two different routes into teaching – one based in schools and the other not.


Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R.  (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 9.3 103-119.


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