Sometimes it’s not just Cheams Mindset

The ITT Market Review report looks like a dog’s breakfast to me. Having done a bit of tweeting about it, I’m going to try to properly explain why. Please note, this is entirely a Secondary perspective although the report is trying to cover EYFS through to FE.

So, here’s my starting point.

  • I think teaching is complex but it’s well worth giving trainees some explicit suggestions for ‘best bets’ based either on weight of research evidence, or classroom experience, or – preferably – a bit of both.
  • I note that virtually all ITT Providers are Good or Outstanding but I have no more faith in Ofsted’s judgement of ITT than I have in their judgement of schools and colleges, regardless of whether they are deep-diving into curriculum, observing NQTs in their employing schools, or trainees on placement, looking at data, observing training sessions, or anything else they’ve tried. I have direct knowledge of only a tiny proportion of providers and there are clearly ECTs claiming that their training was great and others claiming it was dire. Maybe they are right – who knows?
  • I have no particular attachment to the idea that universities should be involved in ITT, nor that it should include assessment at Masters level. I do work at a university, though, so my colleagues and I would lose our jobs if they pulled out (or were forced out) of ITT; I guess I may still be biased.
  • I think it’s essential for secondary trainee teachers to be learning about, and practising, and teaching, within their specialist subject. I know very little about any other phase.
  • I believe strongly that there is often too quick a transition from observing whole lessons to teaching whole lessons. To misquote Bodil Isaksen, “A lesson is the wrong unit of training”.

So, maybe I’m not so far removed from some of the people enthusiastically welcoming the ITT Market Review report. How come they think it’s full of good recommendations and I think it’s full of bad ideas?

A report like this needs to properly and convincingly identify strengths and weaknesses, and set out end goals clearly. It should suggest incentives and other policy levers likely to have traction but avoid dictating mechanisms. It should allow time for gestation and development. It fails on all counts.

Firstly it can’t make up its mind whether it wants ITT to be more subject-specific or more school-led. I mean, it clearly wants both, but that’s a problem because the things that have been done to promote school-led training have eroded the subject-specific element. If you are going to put a subject expert with a group of trainees for 40 days per year, you need enough trainees to make that viable and subject experts who are not tied up with a school teaching timetable on training days. The more DfE policy has fragmented ITT, the less viable subject-specific training has become. A lot of school-led training is excellent but a lot of it is also generic. The report does not address that issue. There’s a hint that getting rid of Providers is intended, which might mean fewer and larger, but that’s all.

Secondly, it stipulates really big increases in the work done by schools: intensive placements, longer placements, QA of mentoring, 3-4 days of training for new mentors and mandatory qualifications for lead mentors. We work in a strong partnership with bucketloads of goodwill and support from schools but the slice of fees schools get for placements, over a year, is maybe just about enough to cover 1/20 th of a salary with on costs i.e. 1 period/week. About half our partnership schools give mentors that remission, and the other half don’t. Either way, it doesn’t fully cover the work schools do. Even without all the potential damage to existing partnerships that would come with the report’s recommendations, the current arrangements would not be sustainable in schools with all this extra work. Maybe there is some thought that if schools and particularly lead schools are doing more, Providers will be doing less, and that will create the necessary slack in the system. I have looked at everything in the report and I can’t see a single thing that would reduce my workload, or our administration costs. There is no slack.

I love that fantasy table of mentor training hours. I doubt there is anyone in ITT that wouldn’t like to see that happening. But for as long as I’ve been doing this we’ve had mentors unable to get cover for one afternoon in September. If the report had been recommending that the DfE cover the cost of all mentor release for training, that might be different, but even then there are all sorts of issues that perhaps aren’t apparent if this isn’t what you do all the time. My colleague has done some wonderful work with schools to improve mentor training; the idea that a magic wand will be waved in Sanctuary Buildings and make all that had graft look miniscule against what is being suggested is not believable.

Then we get into incentives and policy levers. It’s like it’s written in a vaccuum. It doesn’t need to dictate new mechanisms. All those specific but incomplete details about the ITT curriculum for re-accreditation, when the CCF is just sitting there oven-ready. The whole idea of “robust re-accreditation” done in a jiffy. How on earth is this going to be a valid process? It takes Ofsted something like 6 years to inspect all ITT Providers. To do the same in 6 months means it can’t be more than a paper exercise and maybe an interview with the programme director, can it? I imagine it would be a little more sophisticated than counting the number of times “cognitive” appears in the Provider’s documentation but if anyone thinks this is going to sort the wheat from chaff, they need a good threshing themselves. Ofsted have just re-written their ITT Framework and are the obvious policy lever to at least bring some experience and a track record to checking compliance. All that time and effort that has gone into establishing strong partnerships and it’s like Teaching School Hubs and the Institute of Teaching are all that exist (well the IoT doesn’t exist yet, but hey, it’s coming). This is the Mao-style of decorating. If you don’t like the John Lewis sofas, then just chuck a grenade in (no need to evacuate the occupants) and then you can hang your Lulu Lytle wallpaper instead.

Densely and opaquely written as it is, I don’t have a fundamental problem with the vision of ITT that I can discern within this report. I’ve written about this before. I don’t really give a hoot about the academic freedom argument; there’s masses of scope beyond the CCF to explore whatever you want. What bothers me is that it’s poorly thought through, on a ridiculous timescale, and is more likely to damage ITT than transform it. I don’t think this is just cheams mindset.

So, those are my main thoughts. If it’s implemented in full, on the proposed timescale, with a genuine wrecking-ball approach to re-accreditation, and compliance, then it will be a disaster. I think much more likely is that there will be some rowing back by the DfE, just as there was on the push for school-led training last time. A few universities will drop out – not the big ITT institutions but maybe some of the Russell Group. There will be some realignment of partnerships. There will be superficial adherence to the minimum hours and mentor training. Schools will come under pressure and the number of placements will fall. Teacher recruitment targets will be missed. There will be a further shift from subject-specific to generic professional training. And there will be little fundamental change to the substance of a typical ITT experience. How much of that list looks like a bright future to you?

One thought on “Sometimes it’s not just Cheams Mindset

  1. I think universities should have a key role in initial teacher education and training. When it is done well, the level 7 work encourages people to think. I realise that university tutors don’t have the monopoly on encouraging thought, but they do provide an important counterpoint to the very fixed ideas about good teaching one encounters from some. Without critical thinking, it’s hard to see how education in England can be improved. There’s a very real danger that ‘what works’ won’t work (any) better than what went before, because education is much more complex than that.

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