Teachers’ Standards as Level Descriptors

Matt Burnage wrote a somewhat devastating thread about ITT on Twitter recently. And he’s also written more about the use of the Teachers’ Standards in ITT .

I completely understand where he’s coming from and I thought I’d get my thoughts down on each of the points he’s made and some reasons why it might seem like ITT Providers, and/or schools, are dragging their feet. These are just my own thoughts. At my place there is a good element of collaborative decision making but my role is more like a HoD than SLT.

I can’t do the thread justice in one go, so I’m going to try to take the points one by one. Number 1 is here.

Matt’s 2nd Point

2) Stop using the Teachers’ Standards as level descriptors. They aren’t a progression model, and the need to use them as such means feedback focuses on surface level features, instead of things that might be more constructive.

I think that Matt is right about the function of the Teachers’ Standards as a benchmark against which the award of QTS is assessed. I can see an argument for something less generic but I think it would create more problems than it would solve, and I think Matt is right to say that, as a common bar – the eight summative assessment criteria, on which the award of QTS is based – they are fine.

As various people have pointed out, most notably Christine Counsell in this context, using summative criteria for formative purposes, is often a mistake. I think that Christine has said, on a number of occasions, that the progression model they used at Cambridge (and presumably also at Inspiration Trust) is based on regular, subject-specific, targets that focus on practical and theoretical (epistemological, even) aspects of improving knowledge and practice of how to teach history (or science/maths/English etc.) but I haven’t ever seen examples so I might not have this quite right.

For our science trainee teachers, I think we have three things in place that contribute to the progression model.

The first, and most important, is that we ask curriculum mentors in school to work with their trainee teacher to set up to three targets each week. Here is an exemplar we use for mentor training.


(And, yes, you can see a reference to Teachers’ Standard 7 in there.)

Later on, maybe more like this:


We would then expect the Target Setting sheet from the next week to include a comment on whether this was happening consistently or needed to remain a focus. Sometimes a target might be sustained for many weeks if it takes that long to become embedded – lots of things do.

Secondly, in conjunction with the science mentor team, we have started a Stepping Stones model that tries to help mentors with expectations. You can see the whole thing here but as a sample:


It’s obviously very simplistic but the intention is to ensure less experienced mentors have some guidance about what to focus on at first, and also some idea of when they need to be concerned about progress. My experience is that teachers new to mentoring sometimes assume that the list above should be a starting point for the first week, rather than an aim for the end of the first term.

Then, thirdly, come the dreaded Teachers’ Standards. We ask the mentors to work with the trainee teachers to highlight Grading Profiles. These are the ubiquitous UCET/NASBTT ones, available from the NASBTT website and I think you should also be able to access the video we use to help mentors do this.

This is the bit Matt hates. Why do we do this? Three reasons:

  1. When we’ve asked them, the feedback from trainee teachers is mostly that they want to know where they stand in relation to the standard against which they will be assessed for QTS. That is not universal, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they know what’s best for themselves, but this is a professional training course and I think we would find it hard to persuade them all that they didn’t need this information until Easter.

  2. We need to know when trainees are struggling. That ought to be a collaborative effort between subject and professional mentors in schools, and the relevant provider personnel; it should happen naturally as part of the conversations in schools about trainees, but sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe inexperienced subject mentors are being kind or protective, or lack confidence in their own judgement, or are feeling over-run by workload and don’t manage the communication. Sometimes professional mentors are being pulled a hundred ways as SLT and aren’t actively checking. The Grading Profiles help ensure this information is getting through.

  3. FOO (Fear of Ofsted). The current/outgoing ITE Framework makes two relevant statements:

It’s not an absolute requirement but the Framework says it “would be helpful” to have pen potraits of any trainee teachers being observed and suggests these would be likely to contain “the ITE partnership’s evaluation of the trainee’s progress…” and “the record of evidence against the minimum level of practice expected of teachers as defined in the Teachers’ Standards


Additional evidence related to the quality of training may include: the feedback they receive and the developmental targets they are set in relation to the Teachers’ Standards”

This is at least part of the reason that the Teachers’ Standards are so ubiquitous in ITT. Quite whether this aspect of the Framework has developed from widespread common practice, or whether the common practice has come from the Framework (and its predecessors) I don’t know. I do know that, at the moment, only introducing the Teachers’ Standards around Easter, and doing so as a dichotomous evaluation (to just identify anything short of the standard for QTS that needs fixing) has some appeal but isn’t going to fly.

The other thing – and I think this is pants – is that the ITE Inspection Framework states quite explicitly that, for an ITT Provider to be Good (and stay open!):

All primary and secondary trainees awarded QTS exceed the minimum level of practice expected of teachers as defined in the Teachers’ Standards by the end of their training.

Now, I know a small number of ITT Providers demonstrate this without grading trainee teachers against the Teachers’ Standards. It is obviously possible to just say they are, show a record of target-setting that implies that’s the level the ended up working at, and invite inspectors to watch them teaching. On the other hand, if you look at the UCET/NASBTT approach, highlighting of all the Standards at (3) and at least some at (2) is a very obvious approach to trying to demonstrate you’ve met this expectation.

What I hope, is that our scientists, are focused on the subject-specific, practical, targets they identify with their mentors, in order to improve their teaching. At the same time, I hope that they feel in touch with their progress towards QTS, and we have some checkpoints that help us know when there is an issue, even if that doesn’t come through the usual communication channels. So far, I haven’t seen anything I’m sure will work better in my context, but maybe more sharing of pratice will help.


5 thoughts on “Teachers’ Standards as Level Descriptors

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