A Spat with a SpAd Part 3: QTS, or not QTS, that is the question

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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.

(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:

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!


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: )

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.

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: )

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.

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.

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.

First Past the Post Teacher Recruitment

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So, it seems that the NCTL (National College of Teaching and Leadership) has stopped Universities from recruiting PE trainees. Just a month after the process opened. Great news eh? The Teacher crisis is on its way to be solved, surely. Well, not quite. My understanding is that although there is no crisis in the supply of PE teachers, we have not yet got all the recruits we need. It’s just that one route has effectively been cut off, the traditional University PGCE route.Word on the grapevine is that History is not far off being stopped in universities.

Call me a cynic (and many do), but I cannot help wondering if the new recruitment model, which can, at the stroke of a Civil Servant’s keyboard, stop all recruitment into the University route, but keep the channels open to the far less successful School Direct route, which has consistently failed to live up to Minister’s expectations, is a cold and calculated policy to excise universities from having any role in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) other than as a minor partner who can carry the can for any failures.

On November 13th a missive from the NCTL stated that “whilst recruitment is looking healthy – especially in some of the popular subjects such as Physical Education (PE) and Primary – there is no need to panic as we are not close to stopping recruitment just yet.” Fast forward 10 days and PE is now closed to Universities. So much for the reassurances that universities will be told when levels hit 50%, 75% and nearly full in good time to plan.

What this current policy will lead to is, potentially, an extremely worrying and damaging situation. Universities will be forced into a recruitment situation where ‘first past the post’ in applications will get the offer of places, rather than what normally happens which is quality over speed of application.

In my mind quality should be at the forefront of any decision to allow entrants to the teaching profession, not how quickly you can get an application into a provider.

The pressure from above in universities will be to recruit first and fast, or your job is on the line. Worry about quality later.

Schools, on the other hand have a luxury – time to reject and look for the best or simply not bother to recruit with no worries or penalties. Even better, universities will now be forced to re-direct applicants to schools as there will be no choice and no way to accept them on a training course.

The government seems to be cutting off the most successful route to teacher recruitment simply to satisfy its desire to brand us all as failures. If our quality in recruitment does go down, the government will simply see this as ‘evidence’ that it was right all along, to shift recruitment to schools. The fact that they have manufactured the evidence with a cynical policy will be ignored.

“The One Show”: BBC perpetuates the myth of Learning Styles

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Pie chart of learning styles


I was interested in an item recently broadcast on “The One Show” featuring advice on memory and how to improve your memory. The show item was, in itself, fine and provided quite commonly available advice on one way of improving memory. Viewers were directed towards a BBC website for more information.

Section 6 has highly disputed information, presented as if it were accepted ‘fact’. It’s our old enemy Learning Styles! You know, the thing that ‘progressive’ university types are trying to indoctrinate trainee teachers with? Except of course many of us fight the Learning Styles guff we see in schools at every opportunity.

Creative Commons with attribution licence

 So this is how the BBC iWonder website supported the item on “The One Show”

Section 6  Live and Learn

The section begins with the statement (attributed to Dr Jess Quirke, a clinical psychologist).

“When you want to learn specific information, before an exam perhaps, it’s best to know what style of learning is your strongest.” Clinical psychologist Dr Jess Quirke says: “By using your preferred learning style you are more likely to retain and remember information. These usually breakdown into three areas: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning.”

In education we are fighting hard to dispel the myth of learning styles which seem to pervade our schools. The reality of learning styles is that there is no such thing! People may describe or provide a ‘preference’ but research shows that this in no way aids their learning.

In a published peer reviewed paper in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Pashler et al (2008) state in their conclusion that: “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing. If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.”  (full text available by clicking here).

Riener and Willingham (2010) state, “students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning” (p. 35). A careful review of literature suggests that, while learning styles are prominent in education, there is nearly no supporting evidence of their existence, and that the theory should not be used in education.

A meta-analysis of research into learning styles by Coffield (2004) also concluded that “learning style researchers do not speak with one voice; there is widespread disagreement about the advice that should be offered to teachers, tutors or managers. For instance, should the style of teaching be consonant with the style of learning or not? At present, there is no definitive answer to that question, because – and this brings us to the second problem – there is a dearth of rigorously controlled experiments and of longitudinal studies to test the claims of the main advocates.” (p.140)

Baroness Susan Greenfield is also a critic of learning styles, stating that “The rationale for employing Vak learning styles appears to be weak. After more than 30 years of educational research in to learning styles there is no independent evidence that Vak [visual, auditory, kinaesthetic], or indeed any other learning style inventory, has any direct educational benefits.” She goes on to state that “We do students a serious disservice by implying they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose, depending on the context.”

Additionally, while learnings styles is also common in business management, its use there has also been severely criticised e.g. by Reynolds (1997) who states that there is inadequate research to support the use of learning styles and that there are considerable doubts about its validity (full reference available by clicking here)

There is a considerable body of evidence to show that learning styles are a popular myth, with no empirical research that conclusively shows the advantages of such categorisations for individual learners.

I’ve submitted a complaint. I wonder if W1A will take note…


Bjork, R. A., Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: Beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 417-444.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre (pp. 1-182). London, UK.

Dekker, S., Lee, N.C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology: Educational Psychology, 429, 1-8.

Henry, J. (2007) Professor pans ‘learning style’ teaching method Daily Telegraph

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B. L. (2010). Students learn best when teaching styles are matched to their learning styles. 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior (pp. 92-99). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science,9(3), 105-119.

Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The myth of learning styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42(5), 32-35.

Rogowsky, Beth A.; Calhoun, Barbara M.; Tallal, Paula (2015) Matching learning style to instructional method: Effects on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 107(1), Feb 2015, 64-78.