Grade 2 or bust! Perverse incentives

Two things that the DfE have got right – there may be others – are two of the changes to school accountability systems. The Wolf report quite rightly identified the perverse incentives in accountability measures that led to schools pushing pupils into BTECs and other vocational qualifications. And there is no doubt that the 5 A*-C measures and floor targets focused too great a proportion of a schools attention on the C/D borderline. Now, I’m not suggesting all is rosy in this particular garden – some pupils benefit from doing high-quality vocational qualifications; I’m not convinced that the EBacc is anything other than Gove’s tendency to assume that what worked for him is best for everyone else as well; the changes were handled clumsily at times; and it’s not clear whether long-term planning is anything more than an oxymoron under the current regime, but perverse the previous incentives were, and Progress 8 and the new floor standards just have to be an improvement.

So, this post is about a similar perverse incentive in ITT and the impact it is having on the quality of the NQT you may be working with this, or next, year. In ITT trainees are graded 1-4 on a very similar basis to experienced teachers. A trainee that has not met the Teachers Standards is graded 4 and would not be awarded QTS. A trainee that has just met the Teachers Standards would be 3, and those consistently teaching Good or Outstanding lessons (possibly a bit rough round the edges but more-or-less on the same basis as experienced teachers) would be graded 2 or 1. There is a bit more to it than that, but the quality of teaching is (quite rightly) key. So far, so good. But how is an ITT provider judged? Well, as an ITT provider, to get a Grade 1 or Grade 2 the inspection handbook states that “all trainees awarded QTS exceed the minimum level of practice expected of teachers as defined in the Teachers’ Standards”. That word ‘exceed’ is critical; in other words, if any trainee gets a Grade 3 then an ITT provider Requires Improvement. Is it just me or is this nuts? Of course, the better the training, the greater the likelihood of trainees being 2 or 1, but if they’re a 3 then they’re a 3 and an incentive like this just means providers have to find some way of them being a ‘2’. We get judged on completion rates as well, so while the genuine 4s get weeded out, we can’t afford to take the same approach to a 3. In any case, a trainee at Grade 3 has met the Teachers Standards. If they’re not ready to take their own classes then the Teachers Standards need tightening up. Threatening ITT providers with a big stick is just papering over the cracks. Wilshaw has been taking ITT providers to task over the quality of some NQTs recently but his own organisation is pushing us to overgrade trainees. If these trainees are ready for their NQT year, with the expectation that they improve as they go, then let us say that honestly so everyone knows where they stand; if they’re not ready, then let’s be clear about that too and have a mechanism for dealing with the problem. At the moment, this perverse incentive just sweeps the whole thing under the carpet and that cannot be good for the children in our schools.

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