A Spat with a former SpAd Part 1

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It started innocently, but ended up as a very revealing conversation about Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and various other education matters. Jamie Martin (@jamieamartin1: former Michael Gove Spad, now doing writing and education consultancy) tweeted that schools have much more freedom since Gove’s reforms.

This is a claim that is often made, but also, is often refuted by Heads who claim that they are less free now than they were under the scrutiny of the Local Authority, or that reforms are forcing the curriculum being taught to a greater degree than ever before.

The twitter conversation was a long one, lasting many hours, across days.

There will be more than just two parts to this account, as to blog about everything in one go would be too onerous and take far too long. It is, of course ‘my take’ on the conversation.

In this part, I look at the claim that ‘schools are in charge of ITT.’ (as if that’s a new and a revolutionary notion) and that Gove removed ‘3rd rate courses based on inspections’

Who’s in Charge?

Schools, Mr Martin tweeted, are ‘in charge of ITT’.

So before 2010 who was ‘in charge’ of ITT? Certainly not the schools if Mr Martin is to be believed. Yet in all my time in ITT (18 years) the notion that Universities control ITT, that we are free to do what we like, comes as news to me.

Perhaps he meant that politicians were in charge of ITT  – that’s something I could agree with. I’ve lived through an ITT curriculum (don’t even go there it was a disaster and a mess), various sets of standards until we get to the current state of play. Each and every time, if we wish to maintain our accreditation for teacher training, we must adhere to what the government (and OFSTED) require from us.

Of course we can create individual programmes, but ultimately all teachers must meet the QTS standards and this is an award not made by the university, but by the NCTL (National College for Training and Leadership and its various past incarnations). The academic award, the PGCE, does not qualify someone to teach, it shows they have met the academic requirements for our Post Graduate programme.

There is also that old canard of ‘on the job training’ something School Direct will do that Uni may not (at least that’s the implication when it’s trotted out time after time). Again I was at pains to point out that 24 weeks of the training is ‘on the job’ with trainees mentored and coached in schools, teaching and doing all the things we expect teachers to do. Even then, the 12 weeks with us at Uni are not spent in ‘lectures’ – granted we do have a programme of set lectures, 1 hour per week (if that), but lots of these involve teachers, Heads and Senior Leaders as well as those of us who have migrated from the classroom to the University.

This year, my most popular ‘lecture’ to date has been on ‘edumyths’ slaying the notions of learning styles, brain gym, left/right brain ideas and other such nonsense.  At Sussex we also have a number of ITT tutors who are part time in school and part time with us working with trainees. How much more ‘on the job’ can we get?

Our steering committee – which drives our programme and any changes or reforms – is made up of Heads and teachers in partnership with University staff. It always has been since I moved to Sussex in 2003. It was in my last University post and at all the places I have acted as an external examiner in ITT across the country. The idea that schools are (just) now in charge of ITT and that this is a ‘new’ freedom is nonsense.

A major issue (and it still is to a certain extent) is getting schools to offer ITT places at all. In my time I’ve begged, sold myself (for CPD) or my books (at a very large discount) to get places. Schools are busy teaching children, they have so many pressures that being involved in ITT is sometimes the last thing they want or need (especially if OFSTED is looming). Luckily in Sussex we have the best partnership I’ve ever known, but even then, getting every student placed is an almighty task that can take months of work.

Gove’s reforms have closed 3rd Rate/poor ITT

Gove’s reforms, claims Mr Martin, stopped bad ITT courses running:

So the view was, under Gove, that there were third rate courses and the ‘old’ PGCE/BEd system was ‘awful’. There were no actual examples of these ‘awful’ courses, but claims that they had been ‘removed’.

When challenged, no actual courses that had been shut down were forthcoming from Mr Martin.

I named Bath as a casualty of the reform in ITT, but of course that was an ‘outstanding’ programme – the exact opposite of what was being claimed. Indeed following Bath’s exit another ‘outstanding’ provider left ITT – the Open University. Two outstanding providers shut their ITT provision as a direct response to School Direct.

So I had a look at all the ITT Inspection reports filed from 5th May 2010 – 1st January 2016. I looked at all providers (current and closed). I could not find a single OFSTED report on a University provider where provision had closed which was rated as a 3 or 4. What I did find was lots of GTP provision closed – we all had to close GTP as it was stopped dead awaiting School Direct.

I found some provision that was also rated as good or outstanding closed, Bath and the OU of course, as well as the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

I found that the Maryvale Institute had closed its RE ITT . This was rated as 4, but is not University provision and they only delivered RE teachers.

Interestingly I also found the Kent County Council EBITT provision report. This provision was closed, rated 4. This was the report that came out in 2014 after inspection of their School Direct provision. There was no formal university involvement in this that I could see.

It seems that the claims of ‘removing courses’ is baseless and actually undermines School Direct provision as evidenced by the Kent CC Inspection report

I have not had the time to check the OFSTED reports for all the closed provision in ITT since 2010, it would be interesting to know how many good or excellent GTP courses closed (that’s not to say they are not carrying on in a new reincarnated form under SD) and how many were grade 3 or 4 (also perhaps carrying on in a new reformed SD way, as yet not inspected).

It may also be the case that some providers closed courses rather than all their provision. I’m aware of many courses closing, not because of a bad OFSTED, but simply because the numbers given by the NCTL were laughable. This includes Geography provision at Sussex which, thankfully, we have now been able to revive.

As an example, let’s stick with RE and see how allocations decided closures rather than Inspection:

2010-2011 closures

  • Learning Institute: allocated 3 PGCE places
  • The Marches consortium: allocated 5

2011-2012 closures

  • University of Warwick: allocated 7 PGCE places
  • University of Hull: allocated 5
  • Maryvale Institute: allocated 8

2012-2013 closures

  • University of East Anglia: allocated 7 PGCE places
  • Oxford Brookes University: allocated 6
  • University of East London: 5 allocated

(The source of this can be found at: http://www.religious-education-wales.org/news/itt-pgce-secondary-re-allocations-by-teaching-agency-ta )

The infrastructure needed to support high quality ITT means that the income for just a few trainees will never pay the bills. Courses had to close regardless of how good (or bad) they were.

We Don’t Trust Experts – but is a novice any better?

I asked what expertise Mr Martin had in ITT or education, or schools in general. His reply was quite revealing:


So, no expertise, just a ‘belief’.

I support Mr Martin his statement that teachers and Heads do know better than politicians what should be happening in schools, including ITT. But so far he has not provided the evidence that it was Heads and Teachers en masse who were calling for these changes to back his claims. He also forgets that the vast majority of ITT tutors are themselves former teachers, senior leaders and heads – not career academics who have never had any experience in the classroom. He has no direct experience of education, teaching or teacher training other than talking to ‘grassroots’ teachers and visiting some providers.

Good, I’m glad they talked to teachers. But, and here is the problem, how were the teachers/schools/heads selected? What was the structure of such conversations? how were they recorded? How were they analysed? I could go on, but you get the picture. I never take advice on my writing from my mother as she is biased and has no expertise in education. She thinks everything I write and do is wonderful. Did Gove visit his critics? Listen and take on board their comments? Those from ITT and HEI he did commission to advise him he seemed to ignore as their ‘answer’ didn’t fit his ideas. He called the education academics who attacked his curriculum reforms ‘prejudiced’. He even by-passed and ignored his own appointed expert panel.

Mr Martin makes a partially valid point, that you cannot exclude someone from making comments or decisions just because they have no experience. The view of an outsider can be informative, revealing and interesting. But how much weight is given to such comments and how any suggestions for change are assessed and backed, by evidence and scrutinised by a cross section of those who it affects on a day to day basis is something to carefully consider.

‘We spoke’ is not enough evidence on which to base fundamental reform of a system, especially if it is so critical to the whole sector. The reforms were rushed. I do not accept that there was a systematic analysis of the sector with properly gathered evidence that was unbiased. If there was, then please let us ( The ITT and teaching community) see this mountain of evidence and see for ourselves how wrong we are. I’m sure the counter claim will be that there was much much more that we cannot possibly see or know about.

In part 2 I will look at the notion of how much ‘free choice’ Heads and others actually have when it comes to education.

The central tenet of Mr Martin’s claims that Gove’s reforms (being carried on by Nicky Morgan) are working and good is that Heads should be free to choose and decide. If only they could.


2 thoughts on “A Spat with a former SpAd Part 1

    aftabsinghgujral said:
    January 10, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    Excellent article, James

    […] Given the claims that it was the profession – the grassroots teachers and heads – who had cried out for this very reform, it should have been an instant success. If the BEd and PGCE was so awful and the 3rd rate programmes were failing to supply the teachers that Heads wanted then surely schools would be ditching other courses and embracing School Direct and making it a success. Of course the notion that there were many 3rd rate programmes in ITT that Gove shut down was refuted in Part 1 of my blog. […]

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