Democracy is a strange thing. The basic idea – that people have a right to decide is fine in principle, but what if the ‘people’ make the wrong choice? Who decides what’s right or wrong? I voted to remain in the EU referendum. 17 million people disagreed with me only 15 million agreed.
I still believe the choice was wrong, but try telling that to a gloating brexiter. “Who cares what you think”, I’ve been told, “we won so shut up and accept it”. I can argue that there were lies and deceit (actually on both sides) or that the question was too simplistic given the complexity of our relationship. I can even point to the drop in the value of the pound – which, by the way, increased the cost of my short summer break by hundreds of pounds. All I get back is “WHO CARES, WE WON!” Democracy has been reduced to a win/lose game.
You choose your side and hope it’s the winning side.
Education is not a game
The win/lose game has been going on in education for many years. But it’s never been as intense as in the last six years. A politician, by the name of Gove (remember him?), wanted to ‘win’ at all costs. He had enemies that he needed to defeat. His enemies were the enemies of his predecessors who challenged, but never fully won their battles with them. The teaching unions, the local authorities, the university education departments were all ‘bad guys’; ‘the Blob’; ‘enemies of promise’; ‘Trots’, that needed eradicating. Kill these groups and education would be back to where it should be – selective, ordered, pumping children full of facts and full of the traditional academic subjects and none of this trendy, irresponsible child-centred learning.
If it works for them, it’s bound to work for us
Gove’s bullying, autocratic narrative, right from the moment he took office, was breath-taking. He cherry picked successes from all over the world and simplistically and wrongly decided that a simple transplant of ideas would ‘fix’ a system he saw as broken beyond redemption. Only wholesale change would do.
Shanghai maths was lauded as the only reason students in the far east succeed where our students fail. Gove, then Morgan, now Gibb completely ignore the social and cultural context and the conditions under which teachers work in China. The narrative persists today – Shanghai maths is still being touted as ‘the answer’, and still the social context and the working conditions of the teachers is ignored.
Expert panels were hired for a curriculum review and summarily dismissed if they came up with the ‘wrong’ answer – that is, something Gove didn’t like. His tenure became so bad he was considered toxic and a threat to the success of the Conservative party in the 2015 election. He was summarily dismissed. Since then, his fall from grace has been quite spectacular.
The ‘Big Idea’ – every school better than the average
Gove’s ‘big idea’ was the academies programme. Here’s where democracy (not to mention knowledge of averages) really left the building, seemingly never to return. In ‘consultation’ after ‘consultation’, in vote after vote, plans to convert schools were rejected. The DfE response was, to be fair, consistent. ‘The only way to improve any school is to turn it into an academy’. Gove removed governing bodies that objected and put in place puppet governors who would do his bidding. The outcomes of any, seemingly all, consultations were systematically ignored. At the same time, parents were being told how important ‘parental choice was’ how parents should be able to choose where to send their offspring.
This paradox of simultaneously promising a democratic education system where parents have freedom of choice, whilst denying, in an overtly autocratic way, any dissent over the government ‘choice’ of who and how schools should be run did not seem to trouble the political elite at all.
It’s fine to ignore the will of the people, except…
The current government could ignore the outcome of the referendum; it was a close run thing, 52% for exiting the EU – 48% for staying. But, quite rightly the majority would say, that’s undemocratic. However, ignoring a parental vote where over 90% were against conversion to academy status, e.g. at Downhills Primary, was considered acceptable to the DFE.
There have been many controversial academy conversions, Downhills Primary school being an early, acrimonious and bitter fight against academisation which was lost. Others have been able to resist conversion, such as Hove Park school in Brighton. But the key thing in all these fights and in the programme of academisation which still rolls on unabated today is the loss of local accountability and the defeat of democracy.
I know that a consultation and a referendum are two completely different things, but they are both tools of democracy – a way for the people to be heard, listened to and changes made in accordance with those views. But, as I was reminded once by a member of the DfE Press Office, ‘a consultation is not a negotiation. We are under no obligation to change our plans or abide by the results of a consultation. It’s merely something we have to do, consult’. Well the answer to the embarrassment of ignoring consultations is of course to change the law and remove the need to consult at all – which the DfE now plans.
Recently we were told about the Lilac Sky Schools Trust which, having failed to improve schools under its control, has just ‘handed back’ to the DfE control of nine academies across Kent and Sussex. Here we also see another complete failure of democracy. These schools will be brokered to new Multi Academy Trusts – most likely at a considerable cost to the taxpayer – with no consideration of what parents or teachers would like to see happen.
The academies programme has systematically failed to live up to its expectations as the sole tool of school improvement. This fact has never been admitted or entertained by Gove or Morgan. Whether Justine Greening succumbs to the will of her party, and is still intent on destroying the State Education system via the academies programme (most likely with the goal of full privatisation) remains to be seen, but surely failure after failure must raise serious questions about the academies programme? Perhaps she could be honest with the electorate just once and admit that academisation is not a magic bullet, but a vast vat of snake oil sold by a charlatan salesman with no experience or qualifications.
Where lives matter, democracy is essential
The future of our education system is not a win/lose game to be played by politicians settling old political scores against their perceived ‘enemies’. With matters such as the future education of our children at stake, an autocratic approach that ignores the key stakeholders cannot be seen, even remotely, to be democratic. It is quite simply a dictatorship. By all means where matters are relatively inconsequential be autocratic – a democratic, consultative approach for every decision would result in no decision ever being made. But these are not inconsequential decisions, they are major decisions that will alter the educational landscape for decades, perhaps permanently.
As Mr Spock says at the end of Star Trek III: The Wrath of Khan (1982), “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh…” Kirk finishes “…the needs of the few.” Spock continues, “Or the one.” Since 2010, the needs of the one – the Secretary of State for education – have vastly outweighed the needs of the many. It’s time democracy was restored to our education system and the needs of the many become the driving force for change.
I’m no plumber, nor am I a professional stunt driver, but I do know the difference between a U-turn and a U-bend.
Today Nicola Morgan announced that no longer would she be seeking to bring in legislation to force all schools to be or on the road to being an academy by 2020/22.
Predictably the twittersphere erupted with joy at this apparent U-turn. Except it is no such thing. The objective of full academisation remains. It will be achieved in other ways.
The press release making the announcement has some disturbing detail which people need to be aware of, especially as it shows this is by no means a U-turn.
Looking at the press release in more detail exposes the concession that’s really an admission that it was never going to succeed in the first place.
…the government is committed to every school becoming an academy. This system will allow us to tackle underperformance far more swiftly than in a local-authority-maintained system where many schools have been allowed to languish in failure for years.
So no change here from their direction of travel and their mistaken belief that academisation achieves improvements in schools faster than leaving them in LA hands, a claim that has been refuted time and again.
Since launching our proposals in the education white paper, the government has listened to feedback from MPs, teachers, school leaders and parents.
It is clear from those conversations that the impact academies have in transforming young people’s life chances is widely accepted and that more and more schools are keen to embrace academy status.
I don’t know about you, but either this is a sign of delusion or bad hearing. Where is the evidence to support these claims? All the feedback I’ve seen and read about is negative towards forced academisation, including many, many Conservative LAs and MPs.
The ‘listened to feedback’ is of course the important phrase. It’s Nicky Morgan’s hopeful ‘get out of jail free’ card. It’s not a U-Turn but, a listening government that cares about what the experts think and is willing to change things.
And now we come to the sting in the tail – the devil in the detail or whatever you wish to call it.
In addition, the government will bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in 2 specific circumstances:
- firstly, where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted. Under this mechanism a local authority will also be able to request the Department for Education converts all of its remaining schools
- secondly, where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools, demonstrating an inability to bring about meaningful school improvement
These measures will target those schools where the need to move to academy status is most pressing. For other high-performing schools in strong local authorities the choice of whether to convert will remain the decision of the individual schools and governing bodies in question.
And this is how they think they can achieve the full academisation without the need for legislation.
Having starved LAs of funding and making them pay for schools that wish to convert or absorb the debt of any school in deficit it forces to be an academy, it’s clear that many LAs will have a real problem. It’s likely that the leafy Conservative LAs will be far less affected by this than many other LAs struggling in areas of high deprivation etc. Cheekily they say that they will grant an LAs request for remaining schools to convert – and you can bet that they will shout out loud that they weren’t ‘forcing’ it was a ‘free (Hobson’s)’ choice.
The performance threshold will also be a smoke screen. Having seduced as many high performing schools as possible to convert – often with the lure of cash, what’s left is bound to be ‘underperforming’ so the system is gamed towards LAs ultimately losing their schools.
No doubt there will also be the spectre of forced academisation for schools that don’t meet the DfEs ‘targets’ (even though they can change a target to an aspiration on a whim and duck any requirement to meet it – I give you the National Broadband target and, today, the target for forced academisation becoming an ‘aspiration’).
Recall that GCSEs, and National Tests at KS2 have, by the DfE’s own admission become much harder, more rigorous. It’s likely that pass rates will fall. After all that’s what they wanted when they took office. Pass rates were too high, they said, artificially high as exams were dumbed down. This being the case, finding ‘failing’ schools will become much easier – especially, I suspect in the primary sector where the KS2 tests seem to me to be ridiculous for 11 year olds.
So why a U-bend and not a U-turn? It’s all about the direction of travel. In a U-Turn the direction of travel is reversed. In a U-bend the direction of travel of the water detours, but ultimately still it goes down the drain. It seems the DfE is willing to flush our education system down the drain in an effort to fulfil their education ideology – regardless of the evidence and even the protestations of their own more moderate MPs and supporters.
One thing is sure. This is a huge climb down and humiliation for the Secretary of State who only two weeks ago said there is “no reverse gear” on the government’s plan to turn all schools in England into academies by 2020 well, she found the reverse gear on the legislation bus, but the academy car is still going in the same direction, no reverse gear there it seems.
By announcing that all schools will be expected to become academies, George Osborne has foretold the death of local authority involvement in education.
Born on December 18 1902, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) will likely have their life support switched off sometime in 2022, by which time all schools will be expected to be on course to becoming academies. The local authorities will leave behind a number of precious local services, their future somewhat uncertain.
Despite their long life, LEAs have not been universally popular, making a number of enemies: the late Margaret Thatcher and former education secretary Keith Joseph, to name but two. Between them they killed off the Inner LEA, but the behemoth that was the remainder of the local education authorities remained.
The death of local education authorities then seemed inevitable after they lost many of their powers of control over schools with the 1988 Education Reform Act. For many years since, their role has largely been one of scrutiny and support, but for some this will be very badly missed.
This time, the Conservatives intend to deliver a fatal blow. But there are five ways that schools and children will lose out from the demise of local authority control of education.
1. A local champion for vulnerable children
Local authorities must currently engage with parents and schools to ensure that the right provision for every child is available locally. Ensuring the specific needs of every child are met is hugely complex and even local authorities struggle to meet their responsibilities at times.
As education is fragmented, there will be concerns over how parents will be able to negotiate the minefield that is school admissions, with each academy or trust being its own admissions body.
Legally, local authorities have the responsibility to provide a school place for every child. If every school is an academy, local authorities or councils will have no power to require schools to expand their intake or take on any child. Already, LEAs are warning that finding school places for all is becoming “undeliverable”.
Currently, parents can take a local authority to a tribunal if they feel the needs of their child are not being met. It’s unclear how this will work if the local authority in effect ceases to exist.
2. A local vision for schools
With the demise of LEAs, many schools will be run by multi-academy trusts (MATs) – chains of academies run by the same sponsors. Many trusts operate a number of schools, sometimes in different local authority areas. Some may know more about the local community than others.
The only answer the Department for Education has for under-performing academies or trusts is the transfer of schools from one trust to another. This is likely to increase, alongside the incorporation of standalone academies into existing and new trusts.
The governance of academy chains has been questioned, most recently by the current head of schools inspectorate Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw, who highlighted several underperforming MATs.
Ultimately, it is likely to be the vision of the trust, not the community, that schools will adopt – and parents will have to live with it.
3. Local forum for school improvement
School improvement arises from the efforts of people, not structures. A structural change will not deliver long-term sustained improvement in itself.
Local authorities have provided a platform for a range of collaborations between heads, teachers, various schools and local and national services. Admittedly, some authorities are better at this than others, but the setting up of a free market competitive model for school governance where academy trusts actively compete rather than collaborate cannot be a good model for mutual improvement.
4. Loss of essential services to schools
Local authorities provide many services to schools, from the vetting of contracts and human resources management, to payroll services and delivering expertise in commissioning, tendering and procurement. They also provide many support services from school transport and peripatetic music teachers, to anti-bullying advice and educational psychology services.
With academies funded directly by central government, local authorities will lose much of their funding as a result of the push to academise. This may well put some of these services at risk or increase their cost. If they are large enough, some MATs may be able to replicate the cost savings of local authorities by clubbing together and contracting such services. But small rural schools who depend on services offered by the council may struggle to afford them.
5. Learning from the past
The Conservatives have learned from Labour’s failure in the 1960s to completely eradicate grammar schools. The process of ending selection was resisted by some, most notably Kent, and the law never changed to ban or force grammar schools to close – it just prevented the opening of new ones.
They also learned from their own failure in the 1980s and 90s to abolish local authorities and establish more independence for some schools under what was called the grant maintained programme. Following Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997, a new act was passed in 1998 that reversed the grant maintained status of schools.
Putting these laments for the demise of the LEA aside, the evidence that academies are the best model for school improvement is severely lacking, especially for the poorest students. Research suggests that underperforming schools actually improve much faster under local authority supervision.
What the future holds for local authorities and education is extremely uncertain. The devil will be in the detail of the government’s planned legislation.
QTS or not QTS, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and arrows of the DfE,
Or to take arms against a sea of Ministers,
And by opposing end them?
To die: to sleep; To teach
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That every DfE policy brings; ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death
When we have but lost to workload and stress
What dreams may come of being free to teach
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
With sincere apologies to William Shakespere
I never understood Hamlet when it was a set text in English at my grammar school. When I got the chance to take part in a production of Hamlet with the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre in 1976 (I was the Player King), I understood it so much better.
My first English teacher – who failed to inspire me, was unqualified – he had a great Oxbridge degree, was a classics man through and through and I swear he wore a gown while teaching (I think that last memory is not real, however, gowns were worn for assembly). I passed the 11+. When the grammar school was shut in 1972, a result of Labour’s blitz on selective education in the mid-1960, many of the teachers, including him, were re-deployed to the new comprehensives. He continued to teach as if it was still a grammar school.
I had a few other teachers who were ‘not qualified’ (many I didn’t know were not qualified until I spoke to a former teacher some years later about my time in secondary education and he told me who was and who wasn’t qualified).
I failed English literature, twice. My chemistry teacher wasn’t qualified – but I had extra tuition to get my O level (Grade C). My best teachers were the young ones, the ‘bright new things’ from the teacher training colleges.
But this anecdote is not the core of my argument for having qualified teachers over ‘unqualified’ teachers.
I have a much more pragmatic approach to the QTS vs No QTS debate.
Why wouldn’t we want our teachers qualified to enter a profession that is so important?
What on earth makes someone think that simply having a degree in a subject makes you suited to be a good teacher? Why would we not want teachers to be trained to understand how children develop and learn and what’s wrong with providing teachers with skills that will help them be good or excellent classroom practitioners?
A Job vs A Profession
Teaching is not just a job. I’m not going down the ‘vocation’ path (that’s not a bad path, but it doesn’t mean those with a passion for being a teacher and wanting to teach will make good teachers). Jamie Martin’s (@jamieamartin1) core argument is to ‘let Heads decide’. If they wish to hire someone to teach who has no formal teaching qualifications then let them.
Until Gove abolished the need for QTS in academies and free schools, all Heads could employ ‘unqualified’ teachers – they were called instructors. So, that choice already existed. This is not some new ‘freedom’ that Heads have been gifted by Gove. In some instances Heads found it very difficult to employ someone for a specialist role, or they had difficulty in getting a specialist teacher say for maths or physics. For the latter, they would try to get them on a training route to gain QTS, perhaps via the GTP route. If the specialism was really niche they could employ them as instructors. In the 1970s one of my school rugby coaches was a member of the then almost unbeatable Welsh rugby squad – he took us for rugby and nothing else. He did not fulfill the duties of a full teacher.
Here then is the difference, instructors could not fulfill the complete role of a teacher. All Gove has done is make it cheaper to hire ‘teachers’ by abolishing the need for academies and free schools to hire trained professionals. Perhaps he was fully aware that school budgets were due to be severely cut in time. Staffing costs are a school’s biggest expenditure. This makes it the area where most saving could be made, provided the law was changed to stop any form of early years pay progression and the need for any formal teaching qualifications. The evidence is that unqualified staffing is on the rise.
Teaching is not just a job, it is a profession. The difference between a job – something you ‘do’, where perhaps your training has just been about the ‘mechanics’ of the job the day to day stuff – and a profession is that a professional is educated about the profession and not only are they trained in what to do, they also understand why they do it and they are on a continuous path of learning, greater understanding and improvement.
Who needs training? A good degree is all that matters!
Talking to Heads myself, of course they much prefer trained staff over unqualified staff – no matter how good their qualifications in a subject are. There are exceptions, e.g. Richard Cairns of Brighton College, one of the top private schools, does not believe that QTS confers any/much advantage. He would prefer to hire Oxbridge graduates direct. As a private school Head he can exercise that choice freely – as can all other Heads at private schools. But is this because an Oxbridge or even a Russell Group degree prepares you better for teaching? Or is it more likely that those who have been to Oxbridge are better placed to coach those students in how to work the system to their advantage and get, like them, to Oxbridge?
Increasingly in my time in ITT I see private schools hiring more and more qualified teachers and putting staff through QTS. I do not see them decreasing the number of qualified teachers in favour of the good Oxbridge degree (or any other good degree for that matter).
Then came a bizarre part of my conversation with Mr Martin.
Well, the evidence from the many calls, e-mails and conversations I have daily with Heads and our partnership schools is that most state Heads (including academies) want qualified teachers. I know that our Sussex trainees have been employed in all schools types from top private schools (including Brighton College before Mr Cairns tenure) to high profile free schools, such as the West London Free School. Our employment rate, consistently over 90% with, often, 100% in Primary and many shortage subjects, show our trainees to be coveted by our schools.
I’d be interested if any Head could cite a case where excellent QTS NQTs were passed over for unqualified teachers – excluding of course because of any cost related reason. A newly qualified teacher would start on around £22,244 but the unqualified rate could be as little as £16,298. Mr Martin would also abolish these pay rates allowing Heads (actually governing bodies and MATs) to set their own rates. A free market with choice. But as Simon Jenkins argues well in a recent Guardian article, the free market and schools do not go well together.
But the thing that struck me most was the claim from Mr Martin that he didn’t favour extensive training. Why? Surely you would not want someone who is a professional to not have been trained? He cited many large companies that take people on without training and then train them on the job.
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 7, 2016
(the phrase ‘train on the job’ came up a number of times and I also refer readers back to part one where I show that uni training is as much on the job as school direct). He also mentioned soldiers, but as I reminded him you would not send a ‘soldier’ straight into a battlefield situation to ‘train on the job’ all soldiers have basic training as a minimum before they get anywhere near a battlefield or a conflict zone.
Earlier in the conversation, Mr Martin stated that:
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 7, 2016
It’s still politicians choosing how people are trained. Remember, School Direct is the favoured approach and any limits put on numbers are put on HEIs first and School Direct Last. Politicians are also still determining that more places should go to School Direct regardless of its success rate.
Do ‘Qualified’ Teachers Make Better Teachers?
It would be nice if there was research which showed that teachers who were qualified (i.e. trained and certified as teachers) had a more positive effect on student achievement than those who were not. One extensive piece of research which shows just that was carried out 15 years ago in the US. It concluded, amongst other things that:
Among variables assessing teacher “quality,” the percentage of teachers with full certification and a major in the field is a more powerful predictor of student achievement than teachers’ education levels (Darling-Hammond, 2000 p.32)
In other words, by all means strive to hire those with good degrees, even masters or PhDs if you like, but combine that with training and certification as a qualified teacher and you will get better teachers overall.
What About the Trainee Teacher – do they have a choice in this?
There is also a fundamental ‘missing element’ here – so far the conversation has been all about Heads (and teachers) choosing how teachers should be trained, with his insistence that School Direct is the preferred choice of some (many?) Heads – though evidence as to how many actually wanted the system initially is glaringly absent.
What about those who wish to train to teach – they must have choice also. Prior to 2010 they had choice and many choose the University PGCE route. The BEd route is often the preferred route to primary. Post 2010 their choices have actually been reduced. The massive switch of provision to school direct only, the capping of places for ITT in university in favour of school direct for popular routes e.g. English, History, PE, primary forces candidates to choose school direct even if it is their wish to train in a university. They often do this, seeing the benefits of M level study and not just (in some cases) QTS. Heads must also ‘choose’ school direct and bid for places in the hope that a university partner will support and deliver what they want – even if they do not really wish to take on the extra burden of administration etc. involved in school direct. It’s either that or hope that enough trained teachers come out of the system that they can employ.
The ‘free choice’ market, beloved by Mr Martin is also not really a free choice. There is evidence that a number of school direct teaching schools are pre-selecting those who they perceive to be the best trainees and signing them up to jobs while other schools, who may be in partnership, but who are not leading or teaching schools, lose out.
At present there is a teacher recruitment crisis and it was amply predicted by all sectors well in advance. The DfE even to this day ignores the evidence from all the teaching unions and Heads leaders – their response to the ‘crisis’ is, in the words of one twitter user (not a teacher I may add, but a school governor) ‘delusional’. In a BBC report on 11th January 2016 the DfE response to the teacher recruitment crisis is as follows:
A Department for Education spokeswoman said it had worked with the profession to “raise the status of teaching”, adding that that a record number of highly-qualified graduates and “experienced career changers” were now teaching.
She added: “But we are determined to go further, and recognise that some schools find it harder to recruit the teachers they need, which is why we are expanding the great Teach First and Schools Direct programmes and we are launching the National Teaching Service, which will mean more great teachers in schools in every corner of the country.”
I’m sorry, but this is a pitiful response to a national teaching recruitment crisis.
How does abolishing the need for any formal qualifications in teaching ‘raise the status’ of teachers? It does just the opposite.
Pay has been massively eroded with a further 4 years of a maximum 1% rise – a rise which some schools are withholding due to budget cuts. This does nothing to ‘raise the status’ of teachers – again, quite the opposite.
The National Teaching Service – as far as I can see – is not about training more teachers, but taking good or excellent teachers from one school to place them in another.
Notice also, in the DfE comment, how university training routes does not even warrant a mention.
Teach First is still a very minor route into teaching and I doubt has the capacity to expand to adequately meet the crisis. And in all this chaos, the best recruiters, the majority recruiter with nearly 50% ‘outstanding’ provision, is being stopped from expanding and is being cut back, all so that Gove’s (now Morgan’s) reform can provide ‘choice’ to Heads – choice that they had before, but which now is no choice, but a forced position to bolster a flagging and failing route that was rushed and badly implemented. As I stated in Part 2, it’s no choice!
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.
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 7, 2016
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.
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’.
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 5, 2016
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:
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 5, 2016
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’.
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 5, 2016
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 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:
- Learning Institute: allocated 3 PGCE places
- The Marches consortium: allocated 5
- University of Warwick: allocated 7 PGCE places
- University of Hull: allocated 5
- Maryvale Institute: allocated 8
- 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:
— James Williams (@edujdw) January 7, 2016
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 7, 2016
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.
— jamie martin (@jamieamartin1) January 8, 2016
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.
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.