Stability at Last? Guaranteed longer-term allocation of places for the best providers

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence. ~Lin Yutang

This is the third in a hopeful series of posts about things I can possibly envisage happening in ITE following on from the Schools White Paper 2016. All depends on the quality of implementation and the DfE don’t have a great track record so this may represent a triumph of hope over experience but you never know…

2.28 We will seek to recognise both the best university and school-led ITT through guaranteed, longer-term allocation of training places, allowing providers to plan their provision into the future.

Guaranteed, longer-term allocation of training places, allowing providers to plan their provision into the future is an enormously welcome proposal. Everyone delivering ITE – HEIs and schools – has been facing the same problem of inability to commit to long-term development because of the level of uncertainty around allocations and therefore income. At Southampton we had a year with a PE PGCE running for one trainee teacher, RE numbers went down to 0 and then back up to 10, Chemistry dropped to 3 and then went so high we couldn’t fill it, and one of the best local SD alliances had their allocation cut in core subjects because they refused to put quantity over quality the previous year. However, the DfE need to be very careful not to think this is about protecting Cambridge rather than, say, Southampton. Although Cambridge History had a major fright this year, they had previously been protected for several years as a Grade 1 HEI whereas our allocations have been all over the place since the inception of SD. The problem of planning and development is probably most acute for providers like us and right now is not the time to be imagining that it might be possible to sort Grade 1 wheat (plenty of whom haven’t been inspected under the new, tougher Ofsted framework) from Grade 2 chaff.

I’ve been reading a bit recently about Professional Development Schools in the USA. There is a fine potential model (and some bitter experience) there for the Centres of Excellence for ITE proposed in the White Paper. Third hand murmuring suggests that the NCTL and DfE haven’t got much of a clue what these Centres of Excellence might look like: whether they would be pretty ubiquitous with most existing providers involved, or rare and exclusive; whether there would be strict criteria based on Ofsted reports, academic credentials, ITE Performance Profiles, etc. or some kind of ‘making the case’ bidding process; whether there would be a regional aspect to the allocation, or ten in London and none in the north-east, say.

It is clear to me that ITE in this country is currently too fragmented. As the number of both routes, and providers, has multiplied by several times, it has left large numbers of small organisations (including the relatively small education schools at many universities) struggling to cope with the adminstrative and organisational burden of running teacher training. All these small organisations are operating in parallel and endlessly duplicating work. There is a clear case for consolidation into more formal and semi-permanent partnerships, not only schools with an HEI or SCITT but actually between several HEI/SCITTs and the schools across their combined partnerships. Ideologically this may go against the grain of fierce local competition allegedly driving up standards but the economies of scale could provide the capacity to really develop the quality in a way that is difficult at the moment. Quite rightly, partnership quality has tended to be at the heart of evaluation of ITE provision and there is evidence from PDSs in the USA, and various programmes here (not least Teach First) to suggest that the Centres of Excellence policy could be a really important driver towards this better state of play. It needs a bit of time to develop ideas, to get some initial models up and running and learn lessons from these, but an end goal of large, strong, local but world-leading partnerships, in which school leadership and coal-face expertise combine with high quality academic research and experience of supporting trainee teachers, is worth taking the time to do properly. As long as we don’t have a ridiculously rushed bidding process, set up before anyone actually knows what they’re looking for, this could be something to celebrate. DfE, don’t let us down!

Solving the Puzzle by Finding the Pieces: New quality criteria for ITE

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence. ~Lin Yutang

This is the second in a hopeful series of posts about things I can envisage happening in ITE following on from the Schools White Paper 2016. All depends on the quality of implementation and the DfE don’t have a great track record so this may represent a triumph of hope over experience but you never know…

2.29. New quality criteria will focus on areas such as the quality of training programmes, the effectiveness of providers in recruiting high quality trainees, and the impact of those trainees on standards of teaching in schools. We will assess providers’ ability to meet these criteria and will, in future, factor this into the allocation of training places.

This one is a bit of a puzzle. At the moment ITE providers are held accountable by Ofsted and, until this year, the inspection grade has strongly affected HEI allocations. Ofsted have already had several goes at adjusting the framework for inspection; there is no reason to think another version will be of benefit. I guess high quality trainees might imply further pressure to only take 2:1 and above but that’s silly at a time of teacher shortages, when the link between academic qualifications and teacher effectiveness is marginal at best. We’re actually sorely lacking in hard evidence about how selection criteria and training experiences relate to teacher effectiveness and/or retention. An excellent outcome from this White Paper would be funding for research to fill the knowledge gap on effective selection; there is plenty of appetite for this work and expertise in the Russell Group universities and other education research organisations like Education Datalab.

Imagine a longitudinal study that tracks teachers from their UCAS application, through their training, and on into their teaching career. If this was big and good enough, it would be possible to not only clearly show how degree classification relates to effectiveness and retention, but also to examine lots of other aspects of selection and training, and their impact down the line. There is potential here for a genuinely world-leading, evidence-based approach to ITE. That would be amazing.

What Might (Really) Work: A clear framework for ITT core content

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence. ~Lin Yutang

This is the first in a hopeful series of posts about things I can envisage happening in ITE following on from the Schools White Paper 2016. All depends on the quality of implementation and the DfE don’t have a great track record so this may represent a triumph of hope over experience but you never know…

2.21. Building on Sir Andrew Carter’s recommendations, an independent working group chaired by Stephen Munday is now developing a clear framework for ITT core content.

Schools White Paper 2016 p.28

I am provisionally in favour of a core content. Leading universities are fiercely independent for very good reasons as far as their core business of knowledge-advancement is concerned but whilst this is essential for world-class research it has allowed some ITE to rather reflect the philosophies of lecturers and, carried too far, that is not a service to trainee teachers who are on a professional training course rather than a degree pathway. Equally, there is some terrific work being done by SD Alliances and SCITTs but there is always a danger that these smaller, and less outward-looking, ITE providers end up narrowly-focused on a few teachers’ personal experience, or deliver training based on vague and distant memories of education theory. Even those of us who like to think of ourselves as highly experienced, totally unbiased, and exceptionally well-read!!! ought to be either reassured that we haven’t fallen into the trap of following limited research threads and then happily confirming these within our own echo chambers, or possibly challenged to address gaps we weren’t aware of in our own work. If this core content is carefully developed by a broad team and if it is based on the best proper academic reviews of research on effective teaching and effective ITE, and wide consultation with both school leaders and a full cross-section of classroom teachers including RQTs and mentors, then it could be a really positive move to ensure that all trainee teachers are on courses that cover the basic ideas well.

I believe very strongly that research on school and teacher effectiveness only ever tells us what works most often and on average; there has to be scope for professional judgement in teaching, and training, to respond to individual needs and contexts, and room for the inspirational mavericks (whether more progressive like Phil Beadle, or more traditional like Katharine Birbalsingh). I would only ever want the core content to be setting out the ideas that fall into the category reserved for the most strongly-evidenced material. I would love to see some funding for several specific reviews along the lines of the one Ian Menter carried out for the Scottish Government, but making use of school effectiveness research specialists as well as more traditional educationalists; this would help to reduce cherry-picking from a limited reading list. Finally I want Ofsted to be looking at engagement with this process, whatever final decisions about programmes are reached by ITE providers, and not some tick-box exercise that forces compliance on the surface and antagonism and “we have to tell you this” attitudes underneath.

At the moment, high performing countries like Finland and Singapore are well ahead but there is an opportunity to not just catch but surpass them here. We are the ones with the world-leading universities; we are the ones with ResearchEd! But it will take time and genuine consultation to get right and everyone involved, from Nick Gibb to Michael Rosen, will need to accept that they haven’t read everything or been everywhere. If we can reach some kind of genuinely evidence-based consensus it would provide a terrific platform for not only high quality ITE, but far more sophisticated professional conversations, and would have an impact not just on trainee teachers but the whole profession. It doesn’t need a change to the Teachers Standards (well done White Paper!); it doesn’t need over-bearing accountability to ensure implementation (are you listening, Ofsted?); it needs to demonstrate its worth through its own unimpeachable credentials and the inclusiveness of the path to its creation.  That may be asking a lot but the rewards could be immense.



Hope over Experience: ITE and The Schools White Paper 2016

I find it very difficult to forgive Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, and ministers for the almost continuous barrage of reforms that inevitably add to teacher workload, often deflect attention away from the kind of deep praxis that could genuinely and permanently affect children’s learning, and frequently turn out to be about as evidence-based as a celebrity diet. My last post was a bit of a rant about exactly this reaction to one part of the recent Schools White Paper, where the most unconvincing of evidence was used to support a continuation of the move away from university-led ITE.

However, the thing that really saddens me is that there is a lot of worthwhile thinking and plenty of good ideas throughout not only this White Paper but also the 2010 effort, and many of the other things proposed since then. I always thought Gove’s heart was in the right place (although he was tremendously restricted by an unswerving belief that what worked for him was right for millions of other low SES children, and an ability to consider everyone in disagreement as ignorant). GCSE structures and particularly ‘equivalent’ qualifications did need an overhaul; Progress 8 is better than 5A*-CEM; assessment based on fine levels and vague generic statements did need to go; the pupil premium funding shift has taken a small step to address the inequalities in our education system (thanks to the Lib dems); teachers who find that a traditional approach works for them mostly no longer have to pretend otherwise whenever anyone is watching; there have been some welcome opportunities for interesting experiments within the system; in some ways schools have been freer to make their own decisions based on their individual contexts; and quality of teaching has very clearly and correctly been at the heart, at least of the rhetoric. The sad part is that ministers have repeatedly proven unable to implement reform other than through the creative destruction that (according to David Laws) led to Cameron labelling Gove as a Maoist. Trying to change the whole of the National Curriculum, GCSEs and A-Levels all at the same time is a bit like deciding to perform a major house renovation and then trying to lay expensive new floors and decorate at the same time as re-wiring, changing the plumbing, and knocking a couple of walls down. And living in the bloody thing! Inevitably it has been horrendously disruptive and there are a lot of botched jobs that will take years to sort out. The embarrassing errors in the Science GCSE Core Content, the delay in accrediting GCSEs that are already being taught, the total mess over KS2 assessment guidance, and the debacle over KS1 baseline assessments are some examples that show that even the DfE can’t keep up with their own ministers’ pace, never mind teachers and schools. The introduction of free schools has allowed some tremendous innovation but where a few dozen carefully chosen flowers would have been a lovely addition to the education garden, a thousand of them has been an awfully expensive exercise in random digging and embarrassing weeding.

Attempting to rip up university-led ITE before properly piloting the replacement, just as a population bulge was entering the school system, wasn’t overly clever either. So what of the major proposals for ITE this time around?

There are several ideas in this White Paper that could be really positive developments. I started this post intending to avoid DfE-bashing and the first three paragraphs have been a dismal failure on my part so let’s park that for the moment and try harder.

The White Paper essentially makes five proposals: a clear framework for ITT core content; new quality criteria; guaranteed longer-term allocation of places for the best providers; creation of centres of excellence; replacement of QTS with a new accreditation controlled by Teaching Schools. I’m going to try to look on the bright side, put hope before exprience, and try to imagine the world-leading ITE provision we might be moving towards if these ideas are implemented well. Here are five posts that build of the vision in the White Paper:

  1. What Might (Really) Work? A clear framework for ITT core content
  2. Solving the Puzzle by Finding the Pieces: New quality criteria for ITE
  3. Stability at last: Guaranteed longer-term allocation of places for the best providers
  4. Teaching Hospitals, Professional Development Schools and the Current Fragmented System: Creation of centres of excellence
  5. In for the Long Haul: Replacement of QTS with a new accreditation controlled by Teaching Schools