Trainee Mutant Behaviour Ninjas

Several people have recently laid into the inadequacy of ITT in preparing NQTs for the task of establishing good behaviour in their classrooms. Sir Michael Wilshaw and Tom Bennett are the two most prominent although obviously Gove wasn’t shy in his views either. I would agree with the basic statement that not all NQTs are ready and able to handle behaviour issues effectively when they qualify. I don’t accept that this is because they are either getting no training, or because that training is all about engaging teaching, restorative justive, praise, etc. I think that would have been a fair charge against my HEI back in the 90s when I trained, and in the 60s when my dad was at the IoE, but it’s out of date.

I guess I can only speak from my own perspective but our trainees get three main sessions on behaviour management as part of their cross-curricular programme. Last year one was run by an assistant head and another by a fairly recently-qualified teacher who has just moved to a HoD post. Both are from (different), local, coastal-urban Outstanding schools. The latter is someone picked specifically because she has had to work on this skill in her own teaching to get really good at it. The final session was run by an external speaker who has worked in a typical, challenging secondary and PRUs. There are also sessions specifically about working with children with ADHD and autism. Within the curriculum programme the emphasis is on getting trainees up to speed on subject knowledge and how to teach their subject. Behaviour issues do appear deliberately in this e.g. how to use routines and manage transitions, and keep pupils safe, and on-task, during practical work; how to plan lessons and differentiate to avoid ‘dead time’ etc. and also there will be a degree of modelling (I start with a seating plan for my first session, for example, and explain why), but it’s a recurring theme rather than the explicit purpose of any curriculum sessions.

I am more than happy to be told that there should be more behaviour training in one or both of these programmes. In fact I agree with that sentiment. But anyone doing so needs to be aware that two-thirds of the course is time in schools; think about whether behaviour training should be mainly telling, or mainly practising; and convince me that they know what we should be doing in these sessions. This is the crux of the problem. It isn’t difficult to get a good idea of what successful teachers and successful schools do to get good behaviour.  Charlie Taylor’s checklist and Tom Bennett’s Top Tips and David Didau’s rules and Stephen Tierney’s collection are examples of most of what trainees should know. It is helpful to get some different perspectives but how many sessions does it take for graduates to learn what to do? The problem is not getting trainees to know what to do, it’s getting them to (all) be able to do it. Managing behaviour is a practical skill and given that virtually all placement schools are Good or Outstanding, the behaviour training expertise ought to be there in schools. In the end, this is the underlying justification behind the move to School Direct. Unfortunately, it isn’t working.

Many trainees are pretty good on behaviour from the off, a few just need to develop a bit of confidence in front of a class and are then pretty good, a few need a hefty nudge to pop their cherry and then never look back (I never actually set my trainees a target of putting someone in detention by the end of the week but I do insist they stop pulling punches at the critical point, which kind of has the same effect; good mentors in school set similar targets).

But the ones who struggle throughout their training do tend to just keep struggling. It’s not that they don’t know what to do, or even that they are not trying, it’s that they can’t do it. Instead of behaviour ninjas, swiftly dealing out hard stares, somersaulting across the room to provide looming presence, whispering in ears, and cutting the worst offenders down without a second’s pause, think Kung-Fu Panda (before he is awesome) – lack of awareness, bad timing, snigger-worthy implementation, no focus. At the moment I don’t think schools have any better ideas about solving this than HEIs or anybody else does. Tom Bennett says “Running a classroom is hard work: it takes time and stamina. But almost anyone can do it, if you follow these simple guidelines” and as someone who believes almost anyone can ace A-Level Physics, I’m with him entirely on the first sentence; not so convinced by the second.

Trawling the research literature is a thankless task at the best of times but I can’t quickly find any evaluations of ITT behaviour training programmes that give us an idea about ‘what works’. The EEF have evaluated research on interventions in schools but not teacher training approaches. The NCTL have some examples of good practice but there isn’t much meat on the bones. My hunch is that just possibly the work that Doug Lemov is doing using video clips, analysis, and very specific practice might make a difference but there is definitely still an issue with adapting this for the UK.

Tom Bennet’s contributions to the Carter Review are full of good suggestions but there are issues with implementation. As I said in my post on the Carter Review, the quality of partnerships between providers and placement schools is critical and several of Tom’s suggestions need this in spades. The other issue is time. We probably need to start thinking about a system whereby trainees start slowly but are then not under pressure to hit a 35% timetable within a few weeks; many will be able to do so as now, but any with even a hint of behaviour issues probably need to keep their planning load really low and just get it right with one or two classes, using the extra time for observation, maybe some team-teaching where they can do some behaviour work, video feedback etc. The trouble is, the training year flies by and they need to be ready for an NQT timetable by the end. Some help from the NCTL and Ofsted to allow us to extend their training if it takes longer would be great. I also think placements where there is a really comprehensive SoW help a lot, and of course the quality of school mentors is critical – but beggars can’t be choosers and there are barely enough placements to go round as it is. We can do better but unless your money is where your mouth is – don’t tell me it’s easy.

 kungfu panda




Is Ofsted helping to improve ITE? Part II

My first post on Ofsted inspections of ITE set out where I am coming from, and considered the purpose of these inspections. It concluded:

“So if Ofsted were to step back from reporting on good practice, and if the difference between Grade 1 and 2 (over 80% of providers) has a rather arbitrary effect on available provision, that leaves Ofsted as an effective enforcer of absolute minimum standards and a possible pressure, and possible guide, to improving the quality of training. The former role requires reliable differentiation between Grade 1/2 and Grade 3/4; the latter two require valid measurement of training quality, and the ‘guide’ bit requires accurate identification of strengths and weaknesses. In this second post, I’ll try to dig into the issues of reliability, validity, and accuracy that my original comment alluded to.”

For those of you who are not aware of how an ITE inspection works, the call comes first thing Thursday, with the inspection starting on Monday. For the two years the previous Framework operated, this could be at any point in the academic year. The inspectors look at statutory requirements; data (on outcomes and tracking of progress, and NQT surveys about their training); observe training sessions (if there are any); observe trainees teaching to get an idea of their progress, to look at the quality of mentoring, and for evidence of good training showing in their teaching; and observe NQTs (and maybe RQTs) teaching to judge the quality of the final product. That’s my summary, for more information check the Handbook.

When we were inspected, secondary trainees were observed right at the begining of their second placement i.e. day 3, so the ones affected only found out with a weekend’s notice that not only were they going to be teaching a class on Monday, in a school they didn’t know, but it was going to be with an Ofsted inspector observing. I thought that was an unacceptably awful thing to do to trainees. The inspection team handled it sensitively but I just felt grossly unprofessional about the whole thing. It’s less important, but clearly there is also a major issue with reliability here, too. How can inspectors reasonably be expected to judge trainee progress if one lot are observed in their first placement, others on day 3 of their second placement, and at another provider they are observed after many weeks of teaching?

This is one of the main drivers behind my original comment about the way in which Ofsted inspects ITE. However, under the new framework this has been sorted out. Hurrah! The changes are probably best summarised in the revisions to the framework but under the newest framework, there will be a summer inspection which will include observation of training sessions (if there are any) and trainees teaching; and an autumn inspection which will focus on observation of NQTs (and maybe RQTs) teaching. There is still an issue with HEI courses finishing placements at Whitsun, and SDs going to the end of the summer term, and some weeks having training sessions, and some weeks none, so I do think Ofsted really need to get calendar info before setting dates if they want to improve reliability by comparing like with like, but it is a solid step away from ‘dreadful’ and actually I think quite a bold and imaginative idea.

The second thing that really upsets me about Ofsted is the pressure on ITE providers over grading trainees. Under the Grading Descriptors on p.33 the Handbook states that for Grade 1 or Grade 2 ITE providers “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 ITE provider Requires Improvement. I think this is probably a remaining ripple from the big splash casued by the changing of Grade 3 from ‘Satisfactory’ to ‘Requires Improvement’. At Grade 3 a trainee meets the Teachers’ Standards and therefore will be awarded QTS but where once this was Satisfactory, it no longer is. Providers certainly ought to be trying to provide extended placements with extra support to reach Grade 2 before gaining QTS but it also ought to be acceptable for providers to work hard to support Grade 3 NQTs in schools. At the moment, this is a very dangerous strategy because a Grade 3 might not go into teaching (but will still be in the data, and qualified). The incentive to find some spurious evidence and chance upgrading them before awarding QTS is obvious. We have taken the right approach at my university; I will be fuming if that comes back to bite us.

Of course, the alternative is to find some spurious evidence and fail them. If we are really saying that we don’t want these trainees in the profession then, fine, but the Teachers’ Standards and/or award of QTS needs changing to reflect the standard required. Don’t just tell providers that Grade 3 meets the Standards for QTS but it isn’t acceptable to let anyone at this standard be awarded QTS. And, of course, completion rates are significant data in an inspection. Just like exclusion rates for schools, high completion rates might demonstrate excellent recruitment and training, but they could also reflect over-grading and low standards. Good recruitment decisions obviously help with completion rates but where is the evidence that there is a reliable way to discriminate all the potentially good teachers? Where are the science and maths teachers we need going to come from if we only take dead certs?

Anyway, those are the two points that led to my labelling ITE inspections ‘dreadful’, so it’s one down and one to go for Ofsted on fixing these. I will now try to get some perspective on the issues with reliability, validity, and accuracy, promised at the start of this post.

So here are some of the reliability problems with ITE inspections:

  • Even under the new Framework, inspectors are likely to see different things at different providers depending on when in the summer term they visit. This is not easily resolved but I would like to see Ofsted acknowledging the challenge, at least.
  • The amount of training observed is likely to be tiny (if any). I think the danger of a poor session from one trainer tarring the whole course with the same brush is too high.
  • NQT observations are attempting to evaluate the quality of the finished product. There is no mention of individual lesson observation grades in the Handbook but our inspection team saw only seven secondary NQTs which leaves an awful lot riding on those individual performances. Hopefully the two-part inspection will increase this number but there is nothing in the Handbook to reassure me that Ofsted are clear about how many are required to ensure reliability isn’t affected by random variation.
  • The same reliability issue affects any comparisons drawn between NQT quality when observed, and grading of trainees at the end of training. The Handbook doesn’t appear to require this but it was a clear feature of our inspection (so maybe the framework has changed).
  • Any observation of NQTs is bound to be influenced by the quality of induction and training provided by the employing school, and their ability to pick NQTs that suit their school. Under the previous framework all schools involved would be in the ITE Partnership, so maybe that’s fair game; under the new Framework I’m not so sure that will be the case.
  • Observation of RQTs is hard to justify (although interviewing them about their training may well be appropriate), because so much will have happened in schools since training. Maybe this won’t be a feature of inspections but the Handbook is a bit ambiguous on this. The phrase being “NQTs/former trainees”.

And here are some of the validity problems:

  • There is no evidence-based way to determine the standard of trainees at the start of their training; so any measure of the quality of outcomes will reflect not only the quality of training but also the quality of applicants. It’s not currently possible to measure ‘value-added’ but there is a sense that this is nonetheless what Ofsted think they are doing. Maybe the argument is that recruitment and training quality together are being evaluated but this is pretty advantageous for the providers with the best reputations who get more applicants. Is reputation really a variable that Ofsted want to include in their inspection outcomes?
  • Completion rates might demonstrate excellent training and support, but they could also reflect over-grading and low standards, as described above. ITE providers must, in the end, be gatekeepers to the profession – children are owed that.
  • The Grade 3 penalty means, as described above, that if the best ITE provider in the country correctly grades a trainee 3 and hasn’t sorted it before inspection then that one piece of data will count more than everything else combined.
  • The new framework places a big emphasis on behaviour. Inspectors won’t be seeing the training, only the performance of trainees and NQTs. What they see will depend an awful lot on context. The NQT having a ding-dong battle (that they will eventually win) with a truculent Y10 class could easily represent outstanding training, whilst the clockwork smoothness of another class might be due to smashing kids, or a trainee for whom good behaviour comes as easily as breathing.
  • The NQT Survey data depends a lot on responses and there is no mechanism for validating the data; our inspection was possibly triggered by a drop in the previously high ratings from this survey but that data was flatly contradicted by our exit point survey data so what happened remains an unsolved mystery.

Finally, on the subject of accuracy, inspectors are in for three days maximum; during this time they may be able to make a fair stab at judging the quality of the provider but I really don’t think that they can achieve a level of understanding that would allow an accurate description of not only what, but why, the provider was doing well in certain areas, or not so well. I think inspectors will tend to see strengths and weaknesses in the presence or absence of the things they value in ITE – confirmation bias at work – and I don’t think that is good enough evidence on which to build world-class intial teacher education.

I’m not actually saying that I think Ofsted ITE judgements are necessarily unreliable or invalid, I’m just saying that there are all these issues that are fairly obvious and I have no sense that Ofsted are engaged in worrying about these things. Maybe it is possible for an inspection team to accurately grade providers on a 1-4 scale, but I think it’s ambitious, and if these judgements aren’t right then Ofsted could be failing to correctly identify providers offering poor quality training, and they could be creating pressure to improve, and offering guidance, that doesn’t actually lead in the direction of genuine improvements – the problem we’ve been seeing in schools until recently.

There have been some very sensible suggestions that school inspections should move to a three-tier grading system and I think this would make sense for ITE. I’m not sure that trying to distinguish Outstanding from Good is terribly helpful whereas getting really effective at distinguishing Requires Improvement from ‘Good or Better’ is terribly important so we don’t have badly trained NQTs entering the system. And this brings me to the massive elephant in the ITE inspection room.


I’m very aware that the effectiveness of the established system of training teachers has been a moot point but it has at least been pretty stable. Now, ITE is going through a massive upheaval. SCITTs are sometimes, effectively, single schools, and SD alliances can be very small too, or dominated by one school. I’m certain some brilliant things will be happening but also sure there will be some disasters. A lot of this new training is, on paper, quality assured by HEIs or well-established SCITTs but SD has put schools in an exceptionally strong position to plough their own furrows. The chaotic nature of all this is entirely the doing of the DfE but it is Ofsted that are ultimately responsible for enforcing standards. SD should have been introduced more gradually but, given that the seeds were all cast at once, it needs a bit of germination time and there may be a few sickly seedlings that will produce excellent crops so it seems a bit harsh for Ofsted to get the hoe out straight away. For this reason, the complete avoidance of SD in our recent inspection is possibly justified, but Ofsted need to quickly be exceptionally clear about how they are going to engage with SD. In particular, I don’t think it is acceptable to lump SD and provider-led training together. Yes, a provider that allows poor quality SD to run on their watch needs to be pulled up on this, but unless somehow this drills down to the decisions made at school-level, providers will be held responsible for decisions made at the periphery of their control (even when their own training is excellent) whilst the school leaders who should have done better (or stayed out of it if they weren’t sure they were going to get it right) remain largely unscathed. If Ofsted tame the elephant, we might all come out of the SD revolution in some semblance of order and then be able to get on with the question of how to make our NQTs even better-prepared for civilisation’s most essential profession. If Ofsted don’t get this right, children will suffer.


Is Ofsted helping to improve ITE?

A short time ago, I wrote a post about the Carter Review, and my thoughts on the future for Initial Teacher Education. With one casual tweet, the education blogmeister, Tom Bennett, catapulted that post into the limelight (well, maybe into the wings) and several people were kind enough to tweet a smattering of applause, which has provided me with useful encouragement. Thank you.

Sean Harford is Ofsted’s Director, Initial Teacher Education and Regional Director, East of England. He responded to what was possibly not the most thoroughly considered part of my post, by extending an invitation to discuss the Ofsted ITE inspection process. This follows some fairly high profile meetings between senior Ofsteders like Sean, and Mike Cladingbowl, and people like Andrew Smith, Tom Bennett, Tom Sherrington, David Didau, Ross McGill, Shena Lewington et al.

What I actually said was “Do something about the dreadful way in which Ofsted inspects ITE (won’t go into details here but it really sucks)”. That is not terribly nuanced so I think the first thing I need to do is to clarify my own thinking about this. And since it is possible that the university I work for will become known, I should start by stating unequivocally that our most recent inspection, which was under what at the time we were calling the new framework but is now the old framework (i.e. the one that ran from September 2012 to June 2014), was highly professional, very well-led, produced a report which reflected strengths and weaknesses in our courses, and the grade was probably about right. I am making this statement partly to attempt to show that my thoughts on inspection of ITE are not just the rumblings of someone who feels his chips have been pissed on, and partly because the inspectors’ names are obviously on the report and I don’t want anything I say to reflect badly on them.

So, moving on from the preamble, it seems to me that the starting point for thinking about either the ITE Inspection Framework or the wider role of Ofsted in teacher training, is to decide what the purpose of inspection is. At the moment, it’s primary function is to grade ITE providers and report on the strengths and weaknesses of their provision. What purpose does that serve?

Ofsted grading affects allocation of places to training providers; this is set out clearly for next year but is not new. This is pretty crucial; in schools the difference between grades might have some implications for SLT careers but only an Ofsted disaster usually leads to redundancies. In HEIs the difference between Grade 1 and 2 might well be the difference between financially viable or not, and therefore everyone’s jobs. The impact of the Grade 3 for the University of Leeds will be worth monitoring. This could all be seen as a drive to higher standards – sorting the wheat from the chaff – but this assumes both that the grading is reliable* (at least to within about 1/4 of a grade) and that Ofsted grading has a direct effect on the future of ITE provision (it doesn’t – ITE is much more precarious in a Russell Group or 1994 Group university than in an ex-teacher training college or SCITT because it’s not the main focus of the institution).

Secondly, Ofsted grading might affect trainee choices. I can’t produce any evidence to support this claim but I think that the most astute trainees probably do look at both Ofsted grade (and HEI reputation if relevant) but it is difficult to see how anyone not familiar with the system would correctly compare reports for HEIs, SCITTS, and SD lead schools. The less astute trainees are often thoroughly confused by the variety of training routes and have done shockingly little research before making their decisions so Ofsted reports don’t have any impact on their choices, and even for the first group, I think a lot of decisions are based on geography in the end.

Thirdly, within any given institution, there is likely to be pressure to aspire to an Outstanding grade (even if this pressure is not the same for every provider). This will drive standards up if, and only if, inspection outcomes make a valid measurement of the quality of training. In the end, the reliability* of the grade doesn’t matter for this but it does matter if Ofsted divert attention away from the quality of training towards other things that might influence the inspectors.

Finally, an Ofsted grade of Inadequate would lead to the removal of accreditation by the NCTL so Ofsted inspections have a role in setting a minimum standard. I don’t think there has been a Grade 4 since 2010 but a Grade 3 will lead to a further inspection within 12 months and might lead quite quickly to improvement or annihilation.

Actually, not finally, but it’s instructive that all my first thoughts were focused on the grading. An Ofsted report, of course, also identifies what the inspection team think are the strengths and weaknesses of the provision. If these are accurately identified then the report would be a useful guide to making genuine improvements; if these are not accurately identified then they become a ticklist of things to fix before the next inspection and may have no positive impact on the quality of training. And accurate or not, if the tutors don’t buy in to the conclusions then it will definitely be an exercise in papering over cracks, whether these are structural or cosmetic.

Ofsted also has a secondary role in identifying and reporting particularly good practice but I think these reports tend to be too superficial to do more than point out a direction – with the emphasis at the moment strongly focused on effective partnership. I guess there are some suggestions here for ways of managing partnerships that seem to be working but there isn’t the detail needed to understand why some partnerships work better than others. I think the danger with this secondary function is that ITE providers will start looking for “what Ofsted want” which has been the scourge of many schools and colleges, and we don’t necessarily want every provider running an EAL session in Hungarian, as Durham do, so maybe Ofsted should restrict itself to commenting on themes emerging from its inspections e.g. that the quality of partnerships is often an important difference between the more and less effective providers, with the best providers identified. These providers might then be in the best position to explain to the rest of us exactly what they have done, perhaps with UCET or the TSC etc. helping to co-ordinate this; I think that might be a more effective way of disseminating good practice and it matches the model that hopefully schools and teachers are moving towards, of taking professional responsibility for their own development.

So if Ofsted were to step back from reporting on good practice, and if the difference between Grade 1 and 2 (over 80% of providers) has a rather arbitrary effect on available provision, that leaves Ofsted as an effective enforcer of absolute minimum standards and a possible pressure, and possible guide, to improving the quality of training. The former role requires reliable* differentiation between Grade 1/2 and Grade 3/4; the latter two require valid measurement of training quality, and the ‘guide’ bit requires accurate identification of strengths and weaknesses. In my second post on this, I’ll try to dig into the issues of reliability, validity, and accuracy that my original comment alluded to.


*Yes, science teachers, I know this should be “reproducible” but this is social science, not GCSE Physics, so I’m going old skool.


The Carter Review and the future of ITT

With Tom Bennett giving evidence to the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Education here and here, which I hadn’t realised was forging ahead so quickly, I thought I probably ought to finally get round to writing a blog post that has been gestating in my head for a while. I don’t think it terribly likely that it will have any impact on the review process – although you never know which significant person might stumble upon it and find a fresh perspective helpful – so this is more about marshalling my own thoughts about the job I’ve been doing for a year now than pretending I have any influence.

I came out of the classroom and into ITT at what might well be termed “interesting times”. Although I think 30 million deaths will be avoided, there have been, and will be some more, HEI tutors looking for new jobs as ITT becomes increasingly unappealing (mainly for financial reasons) to the VCs of many universities. So far I think Bath Spa, Keele, and OU have gone and Loughborough have jettisoned everything except PE. Leeds just got an Ofsted Grade 3 so must be worried, and I’ve heard that several other Russell Group PGCEs are hanging by a thread. However there are loads of HEIs delivering PGCE courses (possibly too many) so the demise of a few may not matter for children and schools but it definitely does matter when reviewing ITT because a background of declining funding, staff cuts, and increased workload for those who are left, isn’t the best starting point for improving the HEI side of things.

So does that mean that the road to glory lies with the School Direct (SD) model and/or School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT)? The university I work for adopted SD early and keenly, on the back of a very successful Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), so I have had a good chance to look at this option, warts and all. In terms of time in the classroom, SD does have more because it starts at the beginning of September and finishes at the end of July, whereas a typical HEI PGCE starts a week or two later and finishes before the end of June. If there was evidence that this was helpful then there would be nothing to stop HEIs from running their final placement until the end of term as well, except that they would almost certainly have to pay schools more and as noted above, money is a problem. Actually this isn’t the main difference between SD and a traditional HEI course, there are two differences that are much more significant.

Firstly, with an HEI course, there is a good opportunity in the first placement to make some fundamental errors and be nervous, uncertain, and moderately ineffective, before moving to the longer second placement, leaving those mistakes behind, and starting afresh. There is also the option of moving trainees during the longer placement if a mentor, department, or some other issue results in a stagnation of progress. Matching trainees to placements is really hard to get right and the variation in mentoring style (some nuture, others pull no punches) and department (some have detailed SoW, others expect teachers to design their own) means that sometimes a good trainee just fails to find a fit. With SD, although there is a short second placement, trainees really only get the one experience, and if the relationships with either classes, or mentors, don’t get off to a good start, those problems have to be fixed in situ. The GTP worked because the trainees were generally very robust and the small numbers meant that it was easier to ensure a good fit; SD trainees are not the same. Where the fit with the school is good, SDs get a great experience, but some don’t and that’s when the limited options become apparent.

Secondly, whilst some SDs have used a model whereby the trainees train alongside the HEI trainees, a lot of SD courses have most of the training in schools (the HEIs mostly focusing on the Master’s level work for PGCE). In the end, this was surely the intention of SD; to get trainee teachers out of the clutches of “those who can’t teach…” and who fill their heads with ‘progressive nonsense’, and into the clutches of successful schools who would ‘train them properly’. A lot of Teaching Alliances and Teaching Schools are doing a great job with essential training in e.g. SEN, PSHE, safeguarding, talking to parents, data etc. and classroom practice e.g. lesson planning, differentiation ideas, assessment. Some, unfortunately are delivering good basic training but then thinking it’s all done and not pushing trainees once their teaching is satisfactory. Some are also doing a great job with behaviour management training but I’m afraid that some are not. Only a few are providing training that involves engaging with research, and high quality subject-specific training is a real problem. The behaviour management training is a problem where the school doesn’t have a strong, all-encompassing grip themselves – either because they don’t have to (sufficient levels of leafiness) or because it’s handled mainly at department level – or I’m afraid that some teachers who should know better default back to their own PGCE experience and pass on the things that were education orthodoxy some time ago because they don’t feel confident enough to rate their own experience more highly. Even where the training is very good, they still don’t get much chance to try things out with different kids or under a different school system because they are based in just one school. The subject-specific problem is just a reflection of very small cohorts e.g. two science trainees, so this has to be done in departments and is often ad hoc (or non-existent). This is definitely the biggest issue of which SD trainees are aware; a barrage of questions about how to teach x, y, and z plus  “how do we get more of this?” is the typical response to the two or three subject-specific sessions I did with SDs this year. Finally, the engagement with research is just lack of expertise in schools. The big alliances do have the funding to bring in some expertise but most SD is done in-house by people with other responsibilities and only a handful are getting to grips with research as teachers, in the ResearchED mould.

Finally. nothing to do with the quality of training but shifting 50% of ITT from HEI to SD is creating a recruitment crisis. This is a partly a fragmentation problem, and partly a selection problem. The first issue is just that if you take a fixed number of potential teachers and present them with a lot more training choices, they get spread more thinly. This matters because they don’t spread evenly. (Whilst mentioning fragmentation, the administration burden of SD has nearly finished off some schools, who now have to do all the UCAS work, dozens of interviews, and all sorts of things that HEIs do but without the benefits of scale). The second, more serious issue, is the number of potential teachers that I have seen who are being rejected by schools but would have made perfectly good, if not instantly outstanding, teachers, and the odd dodgy one that somehow gets chosen. I think schools are better at choosing NQTs to fit their school, than identifying trainees with potential.

So was SD a mistake – was all rosy in the HEI graden?

No, there are problems here too. The charge that “those who can’t teach, teach teachers” is way out of line but it is true that a number of my colleagues haven’t taught children for a long time. I can see a scenario in which this wouldn’t matter if there was really good and effective collaboration between very experienced tutors, deeply engaged with an overview of relevant research, and very effective teachers with a vice-like grip on behaviour management and effective classroom practice, with the two things feeding into each other, but at the moment the divide between theory and practice is too big. We do get people in from local schools, for example all the early BM training is done this way, but although these people know exactly what they’re talking about, it’s too remote from practice and doesn’t follow through into placements. I have a suspicion that there are some examples of excellent collaborations out there (I don’t know first hand but if the Carter Review doesn’t speak to Michael Fordham and the other Cambridge history mentors I think they will have missed a trick). It seems so obvious that the best ITT would come from really great collaboration between HEIs and effective teachers in effective schools, that it is worth looking at why this isn’t happening more. The first issue is that research-led universities have other priorities. The best academics have to make an effort if they want to engage with the PGCE, it’s not the default position, and even if they did, many have very specific research interests that might not be relevant to training new teachers. From the other end, PGCE tutors are a lot busier than anyone can see from the outside looking in, and the time for identifying, engaging with, evaluating, and using the research is very limited. In this respect most PGCE tutors are in exactly the same position as most teachers apart from having done more work at Master’s level at some point in the past. Secondly, there is no obvious reason for successful teachers to make career moves into HEIs because the pay and career structure is a lot better in schools (I make about £35K with zero chance of promotion, which is less attractive on both counts than my previous middle management position). At the moment, taking a few years out of school to train teachers is unlikely to be the thing that cracks open an assistant headship. There are reasons to make the move (in my case the flexible hours have solved a child care problem) but then the requirement to teach and assess at Master’s level will prevent many effective school teachers from making the transition. Finally, from what I’ve read online, the Cambridge history collaboration sounds tremendous; we are a million miles from that level of engagement from our mentors. Just getting them out of school for an afternoon twice a year is like getting blood from a stone. Sometimes just trying to communicate by phone or email is a trial. Unfortunatelywe are so tight for placements (always an issue for maths and science here) that it is very difficult to put pressure on schools to give mentors more time because if we lost two or three we might not be able to place all our trainees. For me, the most striking thing about my new job is the way I hand over nearly all responsibility for my tutees to school mentors once they are on placement; the quality of each trainee’s experience depends enormously on the mentor and yet that mentoring is probably the thing I have least control over.

So I think what I’m saying is that, although there are elements of SD that could really improve ITT, the fragmentation of expertise and the current lack of accountability over standards is a major problem. Like Joe Kirby I worry about consistent quality; unlike Joe, I think the answer lies in improving what HEIs do, not going further down the school-based route because if the DfE continue to drive ITT out of HEIs we are going to have a short-term recruitment crisis and in the long-term I think that we might have some dazzling examples of fantastic training and a lot of low-quality, uninformed ITT, delivered by alliances that just don’t have the personnel or capacity to do a great job. In the end, even Teaching Schools do not have teacher training as their raison d’etre. Whilst PGCE may be pretty low on the Russell Group food chain, teacher training is the reason I and my colleagues have a job, and that means the quality of what we deliver drives every decision we make. What we need is to find a way to incentivise Teaching Schools and others to work more closely with HEIs rather than to be in competition with them. We want experienced HEI tutors to provide the continuity but then to have others moving more freely between the classroom and the university. We need to establish what it is that education research can tell us about effective teaching, and not leave it to those leading the training to all individually try to squeeze this work into their evenings and weekends. Can I be specific?

  • Establish stability over the allocations so that universities can make informed decisions about whether or not to continue to offer ITT and so that schools can work out how they want to operate.
  • Find an incentive that will get universities and schools working together more closely, so SD and HEI routes share good practice and build on each other’s strengths.
  • Make it a clear expectation that all schools offer training placements, through whatever route, and that they allocate appropriate time to match e.g. releasing mentors for training or to collaborate better with providers.
  • Provide some decent education research or other funding, specifically for those involved in ITT, or T&L in schools, to give them the time to engage broadly with the research base as part of their job rather than on top of everything else.
  • Establish a clear core framework for what teachers should know and be able to do to be awarded QTS (and this absolutely has to be owned by the profession and not imposed by the Carter Review or anyone else – if that requires a Royal College, fine, but if a respected group like Headteachers’ Roundtable or some prominent school or university, or ResearchED or something can get this established so it spreads across schools and HEIs that could also work). David Weston has been prominently saying this for some time and Rob Coe recently too. This should be based on a combination of research and existing good practice, and will take time and money to get right.
  • Do something about the dreadful way in which Ofsted inspects ITT (won’t go into details here but it really sucks).
  • Start holding training providers to account through the online community i.e. do for ITT what Old Andrew has done for Ofsted. I don’t think insisting providers publish their training materials – as Dominic Cummings has suggested – is viable but if the online community work with trainees and NQTs to name and shame genuine garbage, HEIs will sit up and take note pretty sharpish.
  • This one is specific to science but I would like to see the majority of trainees doing a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course before training so we can fix those who currently start with rudimentary six-year old GCSE in one or more of the three subjects they have to teach.
  • And finally I would like all ITT courses to include just one Master’s level assignment (20 credits) in the form of a literature review. I think 60 credits is too much and distracts from classroom practice but one assignment is the chance to get a good grasp of research methodology in education. This would mean the end of the ITT year would be QTS but then I think teachers should do the other 40 credits in NQT+1 or NQT+2 when they’ve got the head space for it, to complete PGCE. This would help to keep HEIs and research in touch with schools and early career teachers.

Some of this is about systems, and some about incentives. As always, tinkering with the systems is only important to the extent that it provides stability for people and organisations to make commitments and the long-term investments of time that lead to higher quality outcomes. The DfE often forget this (possibly that is a charitable interpretation) operating as they do on a five year election cycle. I hope the Carter Review doesn’t.


Post script:

There are three other models of ITT that I’m aware of. SCITTs, Teach First, and Troops to Teachers. The latter is very small and specialised and probably isn’t relevant. SCITTs I know very little about but I should think what I’ve said above still holds with SCITTs taking the place of HEIs if they are big enough – I don’t have any really strong views about whether an HEI or SCITT is better if the tutors are the right people. Teach First, I know a bit more about, and they deserve massive credit for the very significant glamour they’ve added to the image of ITT. The details of the training I can’t comment on except that I like the idea of front-loading the training (the SD programmes that get trainees in front of classes after 1 day need to take note) although I think it’s essential to also have time for reflection after trying things with real children and after watching effective teachers in the classroom, and I’m not sure how much time there is for this with Teach First. The emphasis on getting the teachers with high potential into tough schools is brilliant. The vagueness over subject-specialism and Teach First’s apparent option to ignore the subject allocations that everyone else is constrained by, worry me a bit. And I suspect that Teach First have issues with things like mentoring quality, that are also problems elsewhere. The final issue with Teach First is that whether or not the preparation and support in school is first rate, there will still be failures, and if it does all go wrong then everyone involved takes a big hit. I think what’s important is that Teach First isn’t seen as some kind of beacon of hope that everyone else should be emulating, but an example of an alternative training route, meeting a particular need, with elements to be admired and elements to be improved.