A Spat with a SpAd Part 2: Choice? Not if it’s forced it’s not!

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Choice, Forced Choice, No Choice


When is a choice not really a choice? When it’s a forced choice. Magicians can do this in card tricks. They force a choice then low and behold stun you by claiming they had magically predicted that choice in advance.

In my conversation with Jamie Martin (@jamieamartin1) his central thesis is that Gove provided Heads with choice. His reforms were all about taking power away from politicians and giving it to Heads. In addition, Mr Martin also defends robustly the ‘superiority of (the) pleural syst(em)’. The problem, I said, was that the implementation of School Direct was so badly done, so rushed that many universities were having to prop up the system to make it work – only for the sake of the schools who had been left in dire straights and in chaos when it first came in.


This pleural system is School Direct, Teach First, School Centered ITT (SCITT), the Undergraduate BEd and the University ‘led’ PGCE. In essence nothing to disagree with on a superficial level. Of course more choice is better than just ‘one’ route. But again this assumes that prior to Gove’s ITT reforms there was less or very limited choice.There was also the idea that the university route was less desirable as it was ‘university led’.

Prior to 2010 we had a number of routes into teaching. For primary the predominant route was the BEd (characterised by Mr Martin, you’ll recall from my first post, as ‘awful’) with also a PGCE route; there was the University PGCE with QTS route; there was the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) the ‘on the job’ training route, for secondary and primary; we also had School Centered Initial Teacher Education (SCITT) which may or may not lead to a PGCE but could recommend QTS and of course Teach First. So choice was always there. Post 2010 the ‘big’ innovation was the scrapping of the GTP and the introduction of School Direct. Heads could now, it was claimed, recruit and train teachers with minimal (or no) partnership with universities. This was the choice that schools, head teachers had.

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.

On the issue of the BEd and low entry qualifications, I have a degree of sympathy with that view. I do think that in some instances the grades required to enter a BEd were set too low in some institutions. The answer is not to shut down the courses, but raise the entry standards.

I could see that the idea of attracting, training then employing your own teachers might be snapped up eagerly by some schools and Heads. Yet after its introduction, School Direct was not the raging success it was built up to be. Alongside its introduction was the scrapping of the requirement for teachers employed in Academies and Free Schools to have any form of teacher qualification. The GTP route last ran in 2012/13 then came School Direct.

And so began the teacher recruitment crisis.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse wrote about a government induced crisis in ITT it’s well worth reading in full. Many of the things he predicts as problems are a reality today.

Places for ITT in HEI were suddenly slashed by a third – no warning, just a cut. The evidence for high quality ITT in school-based training was poor, as Sir Tim noted:

“The 2010-11 Ofsted annual report found that Higher Education (HE) routes into teaching were more effective than employment based routes. Ofsted evidence: ‘shows that there is proportionately less outstanding provision in employment-based routes than in HEI-led partnerships’ (The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2010/11, HC 1633, page 76). The numbers are quite telling: 65 (47%) HEI-based courses gained outstanding whereas only 19 (19%) employment-based providers were found to be outstanding.”

at that point (2010/11), it’s should be emphasised that nearly 50% of all ITT in University provision was not just good or better, but outstanding if you add in the good provision as well, as my previous post showed, very few providers were less than good.

This is the choice provided to Heads, fewer teachers being trained in outstanding provision and lots of scope for setting up new provision that ‘may’ be good or better, but the record shows that just 20% reached the outstanding level. What sort of a choice is that?

In 2013/14 and 2014/15 there were further cuts to university ITT provision despite the fact that School Direct consistently under-recruited while university provision recruited incredibly well despite obvious downturns in numbers applying to teach. Universities still managed to get around 80% of its total allocation filled. In some cases universities had more applicants than places – the NCTL answer was to try and persuade people who had chosen university over School Direct to take a School Direct place – thereby artificially inflating the recruitment figures for School Direct.

When it came to advertising for teacher training – guess what, the advertising was centred on School Direct – there was little to no mention of university routes. That is still the case today. Rarely, if ever, will university routes in teaching be mentioned by any DfE spokesperson or any minister commenting on how there is ‘no crisis’ but just a ‘challenging’ situation.

It’s worth remembering as well that when School Direct was first introduced, the NCTL was not above instigating a dirty tricks campaign to try and poach potential applicants to PGCE courses. In 2013 providers were alerted to the following email:

(Source: Jonathan Savage’s excellent blog on School Direct which can be found here: http://www.jsavage.org.uk/category/ite/schools-direct/ )

If the Government wanted real choice for schools and Heads then they would have allowed the schools to decide where the allocation of teacher training numbers should be. Yes, allow Heads to bid, but then allow the heads to transfer numbers to the providers of their choice. That would be a real choice and to a large extent market led. If Heads do not like the type of teachers trained in a particular institution it could place numbers with another, or trade the numbers for changes in provision that suit the Heads. That would be a real choice. What we have here is a forced choice or no choice.

The teacher training applicant may feel initially that they have a free choice of routes into teaching, but with the current shenanigans resulting in caps on numbers and sudden closures of university routes, we have people who have been invited for interview suddenly being informed that no places are currently available and the only ‘choice’ is School Direct. Stop pretending DfE and NCTL: it’s a rigged market not a free choice and certainly not an open, level playing field. And please acknowledge that the recruitment crisis is real, then work with us to solve the problem. Don’t marginalise us. Tell the truth for once.

In Part 3 I will look at the QTS vs Non QTS debate – hopefully coming later this week.


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