Month: December 2015

Are ministers getting confused between professional training and recruitment?

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Nick Gibb Minister

Nick Gibb – (his evidence to the Select Committee started at about 10:57)

Despite Nick Gibb’s assertions today at the education select committee hearing, that there is no teacher recruitment crisis, it’s merely ‘a challenge’,  the fact is, recruitment of good teachers is becoming more and more difficult. The change this year to the recruitment process, the ‘uncapping’ of numbers to allow the best to recruit as many (within a national cap) teachers as they want is failing badly. Already one subject, PE is closed to all providers, schools, SCITTS and university. History has been stopped for university providers (those above 75% of last year’s allocation can recruit no more, others can recruit up to 75% of last year’s allocation). Primary is on its first warning of closure and English is not far behind. This cap was supposedly to open up the market (after all a free market is a very Conservative idea) but it was a rigged market that will potentially shut off good or excellent provision to ensure the DfE policy of replacing ‘university-based’ training with ‘school-based’ training. As was pointed out, this is a straw man argument. No university provider works in isolation from its partner schools.

The talk from the DfE and National College of Teaching and Leadership is to let schools decide who to take on for teacher training. They are, it is argued, best placed to know who they want and where those people are wanted. Centralised systems of training may not be meeting the needs of schools, it has been argued. But just who has argued this and is it actually true? Again, today, Nick Gibb mentioned that the ‘evidence’ is that schools were not happy with the University training as too many trainees came out unable to deal with basics like behaviour management. This was lacking in new teachers’ training he stated. The obvious conclusion (drawn by some – usually in government) was that the training provided by universities was wrong – not emphasising the right things.

Schools are the places where teachers should train, of that there is no doubt, but fragmenting the system such that multiple schools, with multiple approaches to teacher training, all of which are based on that school’s individual needs, or the needs of a small group of schools, rather than a generic training, is harmful to the profession. Teachers who train in very specific circumstances, indeed for a particular employer, where their experience is limited and they are not encouraged to look beyond the approaches and pedagogies that a particular school uses will result in teachers not fit for the broader workplace.

If we take behaviour management training as an example. At Sussex we deliver training in behaviour management and classroom management (yes, the two are different) at a course level as well as at a subject level. Tied to this is the actual experience the trainees get when they are on placement. Our trainees feel well prepared for managing behaviour (according to our own evaluations and the NQT survey). Yet still we will have schools who berate our NQTs for not being good at managing behaviour. Why? Because they are not doing it the way that particular school wishes it to be done. Anecdotally I have had past trainees come back and say that their current school does not think much of our training programme as the school perceives there to be an issue with the way the trainee is managing behaviour. When you probe a little deeper you find that the school has a particular way of managing school discipline which may be at odds with our training.

In essence, there is nothing wrong with the way we trained that person, but as the school was in a different part of the country, not in our partnership and prefers the hard-nosed ‘crackdown’, no excuses, ‘if it moves put it in detention’ model over our less confrontational approach. The message is we are rubbish at teacher training, especially behaviour management.

Behaviour management is not an agreed ‘course’ that fixes all problems that can be taught in isolation from a school. In our partnership there are probably as many different approaches to behaviour management as there are schools, some more successful than others. We cannot deliver a bespoke training in behaviour management delivering on the immense variety of approaches, but we can talk core principles and allow our trainees to work with different schools to implement different strategies. Even then, I’m willing to bet that we won’t please all of the schools all of the time.

At the moment I think we are in danger of confusing a recruitment strategy with a professional training strategy. Breaking the system down so that individual schools are the marketplace for teacher training is a recruitment strategy, not a training strategy. Too often I hear from colleagues around the country that School Direct interviews are looking more for people who are ‘fit’ to teach as soon as possible, rather than recruiting people who are at the ideal point to undertake a professional training.

Too often I hear stories from trainees across the country who say that their placement in school direct is more cover supply than training. Too little is said about the need for a professional training to meet the needs of the profession rather than the individual needs of schools.

Behaviour management in teacher training, the example I used above, is not about meeting the behaviour policy needs of individual schools, it is about developing a core concept from the myriad problems and issues faced by teachers, pupils and parents and delivering strategies designed to help the new teacher cope. Once the teacher is in a school they can engage with the particular issues that school has and the approaches that school uses.

The crisis in teacher recruitment, and a crisis it is, is going to push schools into demanding very specific outcomes from training that meet their own individual needs for teacher supply over the generic need for good teachers nationally – that is the danger of the current model of teacher training allocation. It will not end well for the profession if it is continued.