Linking ITT and workforce data: a step in the right direction

I had the great pleasure of meeting Becky Allen back at the beginning of the year for a bit of a discussion about the work Education Datalab were doing on matching teacher training records to the School Workforce Census. I suspect a pretty monumental amount of effort has gone into nailing down the final details since then but two of the three linked reports are now published. I suggest you start here to either have a quick look at the key findings, or to access the full reports. So far I’ve just read the NCTL one.

It is immediately apparent that this is something the DfE ought to have done years ago. There is a lot of talk of evidence-based policy-making but any kind of genuine commitment to such a thing would have seen this sort of data-analysis set up prior to the seismic changes to ITT that have been implemented since 2010. Hey-ho; better late than never.

In theory this methodology could be used for a much longer-term project that might start generating some really useful data on the impact of various approaches to training teachers. It is easy to pick up this work and think it is limited to evaluating structural issues about ITT routes but if you consider the richness of a data set that can pretty much link every teacher in the maintained sector back to their ITT experiences, there is almost unlimited potential. Inevitably, for ITT providers, there is a pretty steady (and self-selecting) drift out of contact over the years after qualification. This work potentially solves that problem for research on any aspect of ‘what works’ in ITT. That’s something for the future; what of the findings here?

It would be tremendously easy for a lot of people in ITE to say “I told you so” in regard to the Teach First retention figures. Actually, I think the useful questions are more subtle than that but figures first. Using the lower-bound numbers, traditional HEI-led routes have about 60% of those initially recruited working as teachers in the maintained sector in their third year after qualifying. SCITTs are higher at 70% (but these would have been the early adopters). School Direct hasn’t been running long enough to have figures. Teach First is under 50%.

datalab retention graph

However, there are several things to remember about Teach First. Their qualifying year involves teaching potentially difficult classes, mostly in schools with more challenging behaviour, with variable levels of in-school/in-class support, whereas university-led trainee teachers are supernumerary, on lower timetables, and working in a wider range of schools, and rarely those in a category or Grade 3. Teach First are also possibly more likely to continue to work in more challenging schools although I think that is an assumption I would want to see data on because certainly some participants move from TF schools to schools at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum.

There are also a few things to remember about HEI-led courses. Financial survival, and the need to make up the numbers across all the shortage subjects, probably mean that in these subjects the HEI-led cohort has a longer tail than for any other route. SCITTs may have some of these pressures too but, particulary in the years for this report, are likely to have had the opportunity to be more selective. I suspect it’s the other way round for subjects like PE, English and history where the larger scale of HEIs generates a larger pool of applicants compared to SCITTs. Since shortage subjects make up the bulk of an HEI cohort, you would expect to have a lower qualification rate, and also some marginal grade 2s where support (or lack of it) in their employing school might determine success in their NQT year. As pointed out right at the beginning, the report can’t tell us anything about what would happen to the same trainee teachers if they were trained via a different route.

Teach First recruitment has been astonishingly successful. Having seen the marketing machine in action, and with access to funding that very few providers can match, that is perhaps not completely surprising but it has been terrific nonetheless. This means they probably have the strongest cohort of all at the start of training. For me, the critical question to ask is, if Teach First training was more like the HEI-led route, or a SCITT, would there be hundreds more high quality teachers still in the classroom. There is no way to tell from this report but, anecdotally, the Teach First participants I have worked with would all have had excellent outcomes on the HEI-led course or School Direct programmes I mainly work on. What I don’t know is whether they would have gone into teacher training at all.

If Teach First is mainly putting people who would never have tried teaching into struggling schools with teacher recruitment problems, to do a decent job for two or three years, then that is probably a justifiable use of public money; if they are putting potentially high quality, long-career teachers through training in a way that knocks an additional 10-20% off retention, that doesn’t look so good. I suppose there might be other benefits; I’m unconvinced by these but make up your own mind. Sam Freedman sets out the most positive case here.

What about the other findings?

  • Three regions of England – North East, North West and South West – appear to have large numbers of new qualified teachers who do not join a state-sector school immediately after achieving QTS.
    • This is pretty good evidence that the NCTL need to sort out the Teacher Supply Model, but that was already very apparent. We are waiting on tenterhooks for the announcement on allocation methodology (so presumably they are desperately trying to invent something at the moment; let’s hope they don’t make another almighty cock-up!
  • Those studying on undergraduate with QTS courses have low initial retention rates in the profession, though we cannot know whether this results from subsequent choices made by the individual or recruitment decisions made by schools.
    • They do, but the data also shows they catch up later. I suspect that if you have a B.Ed. sooner or later it becomes the best option for a professional career whereas PGCEs have their UG degree as an alternative option (depending on subject a bit)
  • Teach First has very high two year retention rates, but thereafter their retention is poorer than other graduate routes.
    • I’m hoping, perhaps in vain, that the move away from QTS  might link teacher development across from ITT into the first year(s) of post-qualification employment for other routes and get a bit of the 2-year TF programme effect into other routes.
  • Ethnic minority teacher trainees have very low retention rates.
    • I suspect because they are much more likely to have limited experience of the UK education system if educated abroad, and are also more likely to be EAL, both of which, in my experience, can affect classroom relationships. It would be enormously useful to have data that separates UK and non-UK educated teachers and drill down a bit. In my part of the world, UK-educated BME applicants are thin on the ground but I don’t notice anything that would lower their retention rate.
  • Individuals who train part-time or who are older have much poorer retention rates, which may simply reflect other family commitments that interfere with continuous employment records.
    • UoS doesn’t do part-time. I have a hunch that retention might actually be better for older trainee teachers on our Science PGCE – they do mostly need a proper job to pay mortgages whereas younger trainees often don’t have that commitment. On the other hand, whilst they are nearly all tremendous people to work with, developing into a good teacher is partly about developing habits that are effective in the classroom and I think changing habits gets harder as you get older. It’s also a very fast-moving environment when you are a novice and again I think adapting to this gets harder with age. They are quite often particularly good at developing relationships with teenagers though, so it’s swings and roundabouts, maybe.

So those are my first thoughts. I think we have some way to go to get stable and effective initial teacher education that is structurally sound and therfore with the potential for continuous improvement. NCTL have tried quite hard to break what we had; now we need to take the best of the many pieces and put them back together again, hopefully to end up with something better than before. High quality evidence is a key part of this process, as are people in high places that are prepared to pay attention to it. This report is a very important step in the right direction.




Venn and the Art of Categorisation Maintenance

This post is based on my presentation at the Durrington High School Teach Meet #DHSTM16. It was the best TeachMeet that I’ve attended so far. Massive thanks to @shaun_allison and everyone else involved. Do follow the DHS Class Teaching blog.

Although I now work on the PGCE courses at the University of Southampton, I used to be a proper teacher, and this is the TRUE story of how I learned to teach the photoelectric effect.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the photoelectric effect. Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on this, and it represents a crucial step in the development of quantum mechanics – trivial stuff – but it is only a very small part of the A-Level spec. It might be helpful to know that, at it’s core, is a simple conservation of energy concept (KS3) but the photoelectric effect sets this in an unfamiliar and complicated sub-atomic context.

The first time I came to teach it, I knew it might be hard. Reviews of cognitive psychology suggest there might be about six techniques that pretty consistently improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning. One of them is pairing of words with graphics to support explanations.

The idea is to provide students with graphics and then link oral explanations closely to these. It seems to be important to keep the graphics as simple diagrams without lots of lebelling or other text. So that’s what I did; it was a great explanation! Then I added complexity with a practical demo. Then assessment. And they hadn’t a clue.

I did my best to repair the damage, went back over the explanation, asked scaffolded questions, modelled exam questions. It wasn’t awful but my experience is that, once students think something is difficult to understand, it’s very hard to come back from there.

The second time I came to teach it, I knew that pairing words with graphics wasn’t enough. Reviews of cognitive psychology suggest there might be about six techniques that pretty consistently improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Another of them is that abstract concepts should be linked to concrete representations. Perhaps I needed to do that more effectively. After some hard thinking I came up with a great analogy based on a coconut shie. This activity took about five minutes for the students to do, and another five to review with them, and then came my killer explanation (pairing words with graphics), some complexitiy was added with a practical demo. Then assessment. And this time they all understood.

So we moved on to do some past paper questions and suddenly they were all at sea again. Despite taking a step back and modelling some of the exam questions for them, I couldn’t completely shake off a feeling in the class that the photoelectric effect was just too hard. It was very frustrating.

The third time I came to teach it, I knew that linking abstract concepts to concrete representations, and pairing words with graphics helped a lot with understanding but there was still a problem. I reviewed the past paper questions and started to wonder whether the rather odd term ‘photoelectron’ might be causing difficulty. Because I thought they were clear about what an electron was, and what a photon was, they would have been fine with me telling them that a photoelectron was just an electron. But what if they weren’t completely happy with electrons and photons?

So I tried this, giving the students a list of features to add to the diagram.

venn electrons photons

And, at the third time of asking, I finally nailed it! This time they not only got it but could handle past paper questions; they didn’t even find it hard.

I’ve used Venn diagrams as a categorisation exercise a lot since then and found them very valuable. They’re really good for when things are similar or related but with important differences. I think, as a teacher, it’s easy to assume that the distinctions are clear when, for students who have less certain concepts, actually the overlap is a major source of confusion. The Venn diagram forces them to focus on the similarities and differences; it makes them think hard about these; and possibly it reduces cognitive load because there are no other distractions.

I usually give students the points to go on the diagram (on the board or a slide, although you can cut and stick if that floats your boat) but for revision, or possibly in a few cases if you are setting up a debate, this can be left open.

You can also do diagrams with three sets but my experience is that this only works if it’s fairly straightforward or familiar.

The other categorisation exercise I use a lot I don’t have a name for but looks like this:


Students draw this on a sheet of paper and then have to put crucial factors in the middle, moderately important ones in the outer ring, and unimportant ones outside. It works for the same reason as the Venn diagram but this time it is about relative importance rather than similarities and differences.

If you haven’t already tried this kind of categorisation exercise. I recommend having a go. Sir Tim Brighouse was talking at the beginning of the TeachMeet about low effort, high impact, and I think this fits the bill.

It is also easy to ask probing questions around these exercises. “Why did you put X there?” is all that’s required. And that takes me back to those six or so techniques that pretty consistently seem to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning. I guess you might want the full list.

  • Pairing words with graphics
  • Linking abstract concepts with concrete representations
  • Posing probing questions
  • Repeatedly alternating worked examples and problems that students must solve
  • Retrieval practice
  • Distributing practice

The review comes via the What Works Clearinghouse at the Institute of Education Sciences – a branch of the US Department of Education. It reviews evidence on the effectiveness of interventions (similar to what the EEF does in the UK) using a very high minimum standard of evidence. This list has been around for nearly ten years but several items haven’t been picked up elsewhere until pretty recently; perhaps it should have been.

Best wishes

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










The Schools White Paper: Evidence, my arse!

Before I start ranting, there are quite a few potentially good ideas in the Schools White Paper around ITE. The proposal to extend some stability to at least a few providers for multiple years is very welcome although until this year’s debacle those most likely to be categorised as ‘best providers’ have largely been protected anyway. I understand the market-forces argument but allowing the rest of the sector to slowly wither isn’t going to drive up quality in this particular market, nor is it going to help with the recruitment crisis. The proposal to replace QTS with “a stronger, more challenging accreditation” with teachers’ development extending from ITE through into their first teaching job has massive potential to improve both the retention, and the quality of teaching, of early-career teachers. The recognition of problems with the teacher supply model and regional imbalances in ITE places is overdue. Mentoring skills in school are frequently undervalued and the time for high-quality training is often not made available so moves to raise the profile of this critical skill are important. A core content could be a good thing with such a fragmented ITE landscape, althought it will depend what it looks like. Coherent, evidence-based contributions on behaviour management preparation for trainee teachers can only help in an area where best practice still seems very anecdotal. That’s a lot of potential here but the possibility of taking good ideas and cocking them up completely is a real worry, not least because I’m still not convinced that anyone at the DfE really understands ITE. I’ll try to look at some of the specific issues later but there follows an illustration of the problem: rant starts here!

The word ‘evidence’ crops up about 80 times in the White Paper. It’s certainly a good thing that the DfE are talking about evidence-informed improvements but it would be a revelation if they actually started listening to their own rhetoric.

Despite some placatory words about “an important place for high quality universities in ITT” the real message is that “we will continue to increase the proportion of ITT delivered and led by schools”. Justification for continuing to lever training away from universities comes at the top of p.29 “We know that when teachers have extensive ITT in schools, they perform better 8”. Look: a footnote! Quite how anyone thinks it’s okay to cite research papers and reports without a proper reference is beyond me but I tracked down Musset (2010); Reinhartz and Stetson (1999); and Menter (2010) after a bit of detective work. Presumably you are thinking these are major reviews of ITE provision in this country, or international comparisons of the outcomes from different systems, all strongly suggesting that teacher training programmes are more successful when they are controlled by schools and maximise time ‘on the job’. Hmmm…

Musset (2010) is a report for the Mexican government on the strengths and weaknesses of Mexican teacher training in comparison with other systems within OECD countires. Before even looking at the conclusions, on p.39 it states “Initial teacher education in the United Kingdom since the mid-1990′ [sic] is mostly practicebased.” There’s a surprise – our ITE systems are already more school-oriented than most. The conclusions are worth reading carefully as, despite the slightly obscure source, and clearly different reference point from within the Mexican system, they do summarise what I’ve read elsewhere fairly well. However the key point that “field experience in schools… shouldn‘t take over completely on [sic] the theoretical part of teacher education, fundamental to obtain [sic] high-quality teachers. Countries should establish shared responsibility between teacher education institutes and schools in the training of teachers, in order to fill the ‘theory-practice’ gap” is hardly a justification for HEI pruning in ITE.

Reinhartz and Stetson (1999) is a single chapter in a very interesting book reviewing Professional Development Schools in the USA. Like Musset (2010) the emphasis is on integrated partnerships between schools and universities – PDSs are much more like University / Teaching Hospital partnerships than most Teaching Schools and SCITTs. In the school-led parts of our system, the university is quite often chosen to suit and potentially disposable if a better (or sometimes, cheaper) alternative presents itself. The cited chapter is a comparison of outcomes from a traditional university-based teacher education course and a PDS practice-based course. Just before considering the findings, I ought to mention the sample size was 22, the study participants were all elementary level, it was in the USA back in the ’90s, and the comparison was between a ‘bog-standard’ programme and a new, shiny and exciting innovation. Also, no information is provided on selection to the two programmes so we don’t know if there was self-selection or a different entry profile required; I’m pretty sure it would have been mentioned if it had been randomised. And finally, the traditional programme wasn’t like a PGCE with 120 days in school but instead had some ‘field-assignments’ in schools and a 10-12 week placement (50-60 days max). Now I know there’s a tendency in education to read too much into small studies with methodological issues if they have convenient outcomes but this is a bit much for a policy document likely to affect the training of tens of thousands of teachers. Hey ho! What was the conclusion? Well, the PDS programme produced more confident teachers who were evaluated more highly by employing principals as NQTs. So far, so good for the DfE but what did this PDS programme actually look like? Details are a touch scanty but basically, one full semester working in both school and university to develop an understanding of theory and the skills of analysis of practice, followed by one full semester of teaching. I think the teaching was sort-of employment-based, so maybe not all supernumerary, but it’s hard to tell. The importance of the equality of the partnership between schools and university is strongly emphasised in both this chapter and the rest of the book; in fact I’d say it was the central point of the whole thing.

Finally Menter (2010) was the hardest to track down because it is incorrectly cited but as a bonus I am now an email acquaintance of the author and we are both pretty certain this is the report for the Scottish Government. There is a section in that report suggesting that schools need to be much more involved in setting the agenda but, yet again, this is disingenuous because it’s making reference to a problem back in the ’90s when schools were providing placements but taking a rather minimalist view of their obligations in terms of support and partnership working. The suggestion is, yet again, for strong partnerships not for schools to take over ITE. As someone who has referred to “the political rape of teacher education” in England he is hardly a strong proponent of DfE policy. It’s almost as though the best they could do was an out-of-context reference from ‘the blob’.

This is the DfEs own view of the research of effective ITE. Quite apart from the embarrasingly thin evidence-base provided, my real worry is that the DfE still think universities are generally a bad influence. Instead they see an ideal ITE system as a few beacons of research-driven excellence around a handful of universities that are doing things they particularly like, and the vast majority of training being run directly by schools, freed from the shackles of all the other universities, particularly the original teacher training institutions. In contrast, the research they are quoting is strongly suggesting that vibrant partnerships between universities and schools, with time on ITE courses for reflection on the relationship between theory and practice, is the best approach. We know this, and that’s what we are already trying to achieve.

The quality of the partnership between schools and the university is at the absolute heart of what is best about ITE at Southampton. It may be that some credit is due to the DfE for a bit of ‘creative destruction’ at some point in the past, that pushed schools into thinking much more about their role in ITE. A long time ago some other combination of D and E letters was probably responsible for ensuring that the system in this country does involve extended time practising in real classrooms with real children. But we’ve had more than enough Maoism for one generation; please, less destruction will allow more creation.

Musset, P. (2010), “Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Training Policies in a Comparative Perspective: Current Practices in OECD Countries and a Literature Review on Potential Effects”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 48, OECD Publishing.

Menter, I., Hulme, M., Elliot, D., & Lewin, J. (2010). Literature review on teacher education in the 21st century. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.

Reinhartz, J. & Stetson, R. (1999) Teachers as Leaders: A Question or an Expectation? In Byrd, D. & McIntyre, D. (Eds.) (1999) Research on Professional Development Schools: Teacher Education Yearbook VII. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press Inc.