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.