Crunch Time for Teacher Training Recruitment: After the storm

There wasn’t going to be a 5th part but now that the dust has settled on the chaos that has marked the closing of university-led recruitment to PE and history, with further controls put into place for English and primary, I thought it was worth a moment to take stock.

My earlier posts, written as UCAS opened, are here:

  • Part 1: Bear or bull? is a broad view of the implications of this year’s radical changes.
  • Part 2: Small losses, describes a particularly effective selection process used by one SD alliance to ensure a good match between trainee teacher and training school.
  • Part 3: Hedging our bets, is a little idea about how we might heal the fractured teacher training landscape
  • Part 4: Show me the money, is about my concerns around fees and bursaries for trainee teachers

I wasn’t the only person to suggest that the NCTL decision had the tragedy of the commons stamped all over it (although I did beat Chris Husbands to it) but I still under-estimated just how damaging this was going to be. I know for certain that some providers have been making offers without interviewing, although I don’t know how many. We haven’t, but when the Cambridge History PGCE was sitting on a shortlist of 21 applicants with the NCTL almost certain to close history nationally before the Cambridge interviews, that was my suggestion to save their course.

Fortunately, the NCTL used their emergency control measures to allow Cambridge, and the other seven universities that hadn’t reached 75% of last year’s allocation to continue to recruit up to that level. Even I hadn’t predicted just how fast the final flurry of offers was going to be and the NCTL have very sensibly put the 75% rule in place in advance for English and primary (although a 25% cut in primary will still be someone’s job, just not the entire course).

Now I want to be absolutely clear that I am very pleased that those eight history PGCEs have been given a stay of execution. But I would also like to point out that others have not been so fortunate. How many PE courses have been killed off because they didn’t see the writing on the wall sufficiently clearly? No-one knows because there wasn’t a highly favoured, knowledge-rich, PE course with national clout and a strong Twitter presence, about to get clobbered when PE went over 50% of target. Equally, this is the second time policy-makers have chosen to protect Oxbridge teacher training. The Southampton History PGCE is very, very good too but our allocation has been cut, and cut since the expansion of School Direct. As a consequence we have been turning away excellent applicants from our university-led course whilst struggling to help schools recruit to a decent standard. The demand for university-led means that, ironically, this year’s free-for-all has taken our university-led numbers right back up again without any compromise on standards. I think that is excellent news for the children and teachers in history departments in our area but it’s certainly not what the NCTL wanted and I’m pretty sure that nationally this debacle has had the opposite effect on quality.

There seems to be this perennial blind spot for policy makers that leaves them oblivious to the unintended consequences of policy changes, particularly attempts to set up or fiddle with quasi-markets within the public sector (well, actually universities are private sector but you know what I mean). Because the immediate consumer isn’t the one paying the bill, policy-makers have to add controls but when hospitals are given targets to get patients off trolleys, someone takes the wheels off the trolleys and calls them beds; when police are given crime reduction targets they re-classify crimes as suspicious occurrences; when FE colleges are paid by volume and pass rate they put students through lots of additional, easy, worthless courses; when Ofsted suggest that feedback is important, head teachers introduce unsustainable triple marking policies.

This is rubbish. Please, please, please, can we work on clarifying what is most effective in initial teacher education. I wrote a long post about this a while back but actually it is large, strong and very well-integrated university-school partnerships that are focused on providing curriculum expertise; varied, supernumerary and carefully supported classroom practice; and top quality mentoring. And then can we move gradually and sustainably in that direction without this ridiculous combination of ideological preference for school-led routes, unhelpful competition, fragmentation of the ITE landscape, and constantly changing recruitment policy that prevents anyone making long-term plans.

The NCTL have damaged ITE this year: badly and prominently, but not for the first time.

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