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.




Crunch Time for Teacher Training Recruitment: Show me the money!

This is 4th and final part of a little series on recruitment to post-graduate initial teacher training.

  • Part 1: Bear or bull? is a broad view of the implications of this year’s radical changes.
  • Part 2: Small losses, describes a particularly effective selection process used by one SD alliance to ensure a good match between trainee teacher and training school.
  • Part 3: Hedging our bets, is a little idea about how we might heal the fractured teacher training landscape

The DfE have a new TV advert running. If you really want to feed your teacher soul then you need to watch the original Taylor Mali version, but it’s not a bad effort until the final frame, which has caused a touch of controversy. There may or may not be a few hundred London-based classroom teachers making £65K, and it may or may not be disingenuous to suggest you can earn this as a great teacher (you certainly can if you make head teacher). To me, that’s beside the point. It’s another figure in that final frame that really concerns me.

A tax-free, NI-free, pension-contribution-free, bursary of £30K is the equivalent of a teaching salary of about £45K. Never mind £65K, many of my physics trainee teachers are taking home more money than me, their school mentor, and their HoD. At the same time, I have other tutees who get nothing at all, just an extra £9K on their student loan. Neither of these things seem right to me.

I suppose if one takes a free-market perspective to the teacher labour market then the obvious response to not meeting recruitment targets is to ‘pay’ teachers in shortage subjects more. But that’s not really what those bursaries are doing; they’re much more like golden hellos (or perhaps ‘bait’ is a better word for it) because my physicists go on to pretty standard Main Pay Range salaries as NQTs. A big bursary is obviously cheaper in the long run than starting them on higher salaries but I worry that the experience of my trainee teachers is that their very tough PGCE year is followed by an even tougher NQT year accompanied by a massive cut in income. That isn’t a sustainable formula that encourages retention.

The final problem is “bursary tourism”. Not something we are experiencing at Southampton but I’m starting to hear the term from other providers. On the other hand, we do always have a very small number of trainee teachers that do not go into a teaching career after gaining their PGCE, and some who take independent sector teaching jobs. I know a lot of people are concerned about the taxpayer stumping up so much money and then not getting a direct return. It could be argued that this is just an unfortunate side-effect of a relatively cheap and effective way of boosting recruitment but again, my concern is about sustainability. This feels as though new teachers are being treated like a disposable commodity – buy a bunch and just throw away any that don’t work properly.

I’m not suggesting bursaries are useless. I’m certain that there are a few applicants each year for whom the tempting bursary re-awakens a dormant interest in teaching; I think there are probably a few each year that don’t know if they want to teach but are prepared to have a crack given that the money is good, and then love it and stay. There are undoubtedly many science trainee teachers each year who just could not afford to train without a bursary (it’s not as though you can hold down a PT job during a PGCE) but the size of the curent bursaries, and the very specific link with degree classification, just doesn’t feel like a professional, sustainable model to me.

I don’t think that bursaries that have to be re-paid are the solution. I don’t want to be training people who woke up from their post-finals bender, suddenly realised they needed something to do, and thought “hey, teaching is easy and there’s a great bursary”.  But I don’t think anyone really knows whether teaching is for them or not until they actually do it; prior experience of schools helps with this – inspiring for some and horrifying for others – but that’s not the same as actually taking responsibility for a class. If someone gives teaching a genuine chance and finds it’s not for them we shouldn’t be penalising them, but equally we shouldn’t be paying them an assistant head’s salary whilst they are finding out.

Perhaps bursaries could be tweaked in some other way – perhaps tapering them over a longer period to sweeten the first couple of years of MPS; maybe spread them more evenly rather than targeting just the high achieving science, maths, and MFL graduates who are not consistently the best teachers and are most likely to switch careers away from teaching anyway; maybe have additional criteria, like having to have a certain amount of relevant experience working with children, or passing a difficult pedagogical subject-knowledge assessment, to boost applicant quality. Each of these options would feel more like a sustainable investment in the quality of the teaching profession rather than a desperate attempt to get customers through the door. However, for me they still miss the point that a PGCE is genuinely the first year of a proper professional career; I think that all trainee teachers should be paid a proper unqualified teacher rate. This represents a financial contract that reflects the professional contract they take on as a trainee teacher; it is enough money to live on; it gets rid of the massive imbalance between degree classifications and subject specialisms, which can currently see a mediocre trainee teacher rolling in it whilst a brilliant one is left destitute; it means the transition to NQT involves a pay rise and not a pay cut; and it should end any “bursary tourism” that might be starting to rear it’s ugly head.

Of course, whilst for secondary the savings from mathematicians and scientisists will probably balance out the costs from English and humanities etc. the big difference would be at primary, where only a few subject specialists get bursaries at the moment. On the other hand, the cost of telling parents that their children will have to be in a class of 35, or won’t have a qualified teacher for the year, may be greater (at least if you are a politician and value being in power), and presumably more competition for primary PGCE places will filter through to the quality of primary teaching, upon which everything else in education depends.

What will this mean for physics recruitment, though? Well, I think there are better ways to get more good physics teachers into schools.

Firstly the Subject Knowledge Enhancement route has been a major success and there is some good evidence to suggest that it is pedagogical subject knowledge that matters in teaching, and not graduate level personal subject knowledge; we don’t necessarily need lots more physics graduates – you should see the quality of science teaching from psychology graduates we’ve trained recently!

Secondly, repayment of student loans is an obvious financial incentive. My physics trainee teachers often start the PGCE with a loan of at least £36K and finish with £9K more. The taxpayer is going to have to cover a fair bit of this anyway in 30 years so covering the repayments and/or writing down debt for anyone teaching in the maintained sector seems like a good idea and supports not only recruitment but also retention. Perhaps covering all repayments and writing off the first £9K at the end of the NQT year and then continuing pro-rata would be appropriate; it would certainly send a very strong signal about the value of teachers to society. I would like to see this for all teachers but I suppose it could be targeted at shortage subjects if money is tight.

Thirdly, offering small bursaries to undergraduates to spend time in schools (perhaps within University Ambassador Scheme modules, or just as work experience) would expose more people, at the right time, to the joys of working with children. It might make sense to target this on shortage subjects, in which case the IoP etc. would almost certainly be able to handle this effectively.

Finally, as Tom Sherrington has so eloquently described, teaching has not been painted in an overly favourable light in recent years (perhaps that should be ‘decades’). If this can change, nothing else will matter half as much. This, in particular, has been the tremendous success of Teach First – participants not only want to work with children but want to be a part of something that feels good and feels important. I remember the difference it made in the 90’s when teachers’ salaries and school budgets stopped going down in relative terms and started going up but, above a certain threshold, teachers don’t need to be shown the money; they need to know they are making a difference and they need to know that they are valued professionals. The current very high and tightly targeted training bursaries are sending out completely the wrong message.

Crunch Time for Teacher Training Recruitment: Hedging our bets

This is Part 3 of a little series on recruitment to post-graduate initial teacher training.

  • Part 1: Bear or bull? is a broad view of the implications of this year’s radical changes.
  • Part 2: Small losses, describes a particularly effective selection process used by one SD alliance to ensure a good match between trainee teacher and training school.

The great advantage of the SD route for applicants is that they know which school they will be training in, before they accept an offer. Most obviously this allows them to avoid or embrace tough inner-city, coastal urban, deprived rural area, leafy suburban, religious or non-denominational, small, large, or whatever schools depending on their preference. More subtly it allows them to find a good fit with a department or school environment. For the schools, they can be sure that if they get a dodgy trainee then they have only themselves to blame, they can select for compatibility (as they would for any other employee), and they know that the trainee has chosen them on merit and the strengths of their offer.

The reason why SD recruitment has failed to match HEI recruitment is precisely because schools get to choose. An HEI can take on rough diamonds (and perhaps lesser gems) and use the combination of university-based training and placements to polish them up. Our record in turning out good-to-excellent teachers is mainly a reflection of the terrific quality of our trainee teachers but it does also attest to the success of this process of polishing.

Get rid of HEIs and those rough diamonds will remain forever buried in the dirt. Take all the decisions away from the schools (you have to use your imagination here – that’s not likely any time soon) and you would lose some of the considerable extra buy-in to ITE that SD has generated.

Although it was really before my time, I tend to think that if HEIs had, across the board, managed to consistently create strong partnerships with schools for teacher training, then there wouldn’t have been any appetite for SD in the first place. However much the DfE wanted to side-line ‘the blob’, it was the chance for schools to have more control over recruitment and training that led to the strong SD uptake. Unfortunately what we’re left with is a fractured and confusing training landscape. Is there some way we could step back a bit and try to keep the advantages of both SD and HEI recruitment, make things simpler for applicants, whilst strengthening partnerships too?

I wonder if something like the Oxbridge college system could be useful, with applicants making their UCAS application to the HEI or SCITT accredited provider but with the option to express a preference for a particular school or group of schools. Schools and providers would work together to match suitable applicants to their preferred school. Probably this would involve an initial central interview done jointly, and then a day spent in the preferred school to allow that more subtle judgement about ‘fit’ to be made. Remaining places across the partnership would be filled from the pool of successful but unmatched applicants. I can envisage different levels of autonomy, with some schools doing more training themselves and others choosing to pool resources with the provider. Transfer between schools (which is sometimes a highly effective way to get a trainee back on track) would be simpler. Applicants would have a less complicated choice, particularly if applications reverted to one provider at a time (instead of the current three UCAS choices). Schools would get to choose applicants up to the limiting need to hit national recruitment targets. Partnerships would be pushed closer. What’s not to like?

When the dust settles on the current recruitment cycle I’ll have a look at how it’s gone. Hopefully the NCTL and DfE will be doing the same. This year’s free-for-all is a one year trial. If it works then great; if not, maybe it’s time to look at alternatives. And maybe that could include taking a rather more pragmatic and sustainable view on whether or not school and employment-based routes should continue to be promoted by central government at the expense of university-based routes that continue to be popular and successful.

Thanks for reading.

Crunch Time for Teacher Training Recruitment: Small losses

This is Part 2 of a little series on recruitment to post-graduate initial teacher training.

In my last post I worried that the radical changes to ITT allocations could drive down quality and be hard to control. In this one I want to highlight one small loss along the way.

One of the strengths of the SD route is the really excellent integration of trainee teachers into the professional life of the school and department within which they are working and training. Unlike HEI trainee teachers they start in school on the first day of the Autumn term and often stay until the last day of the Summer term. To children, they are generally seen as just another teacher, and there are distinct advantages to this. On the other hand, if a school or alliance makes a poor recruitment decision then the flexibility that an HEI (or large SCITT) has to move the trainee teacher to a more appropriate placement is missing. This makes the recruitment process critical.

Now, I don’t want to dwell on the difficulties of getting this right. Although we have had some experience of schools in our partnership making bad decisions and offering to applicants that we have advised against, and also have seen applicants rejected who would have almost certainly been just fine had they applied for university-led, we have a really productive relationship with our partnership schools and alliances, work closely together to get recruitment right, and the vast majority of SD trainee teachers are excellent. So this post is about the particularly thorough approach one SD alliance takes to recruitment, and the difficulty of maintaining this in the face of changes to allocations.

Within this alliance there is a two-stage interview and selection process. The first interview is conducted in one of the alliance schools and includes a pupil panel and a fairly typical recruitment interview, which includes a representative of the university and one or more professional mentors from schools in the alliance. There is nothing unusual in this; it’s the next stage that makes the process so strong. Having made first round decisions, school preferences are discussed with the successful applicants and they are then asked to spend a day in the school they are potentially going to train in. This usually happens within a week or so of the first interview round. During that day, they spend a lot of time with the relevant subject department, do some work with children in class, and carry out a short teaching session. If the fit with the department is good then they are offered a place; if not, then they might be asked to do the same thing in another school within the alliance, or be rejected. Equally, of course, the applicant might not be impressed, in which case they are likely to go with one of the other two providers they’ve applied to.

Under the new system there is a major problem in popular subjects. The NCTL have been clear that when they close a subject, any offers made will be honoured. The have been rather vaguer on what happens to those applicants who are in the process of being interviewed when a subject closes; I think if they are interviewed and the offer is then made on the same day that the subject closes, this will be okay. However, at the moment there doesn’t seem to be any way to protect applicants between two interview stages so the model described above risks a subject closure before the second selection stage.

This takes me back to my concern that the new system may drive down quality. Although it is lengthy and expensive in terms of staff time, the two stage model has delivered excellent matching of schools and trainee teachers. It’s not the end of the world; other alliances in our partnership have managed very well with single stage interviews in the training school. But it’s a good model and it will be a shame if it’s no longer viable.

Beyond this small loss, I’ve always thought that university-led and SD selection could be more integrated, with benefits for all, perhaps drawing to some extent on the model described above. I’ll explore this in my next post.

Crunch Time for Teacher Training Recruitment: Bear or bull?

This is Part 1 of a little series on recruitment to post-graduate initial teacher training.

The New York stock exchange bell rings each weekday to signal the start of a frenzy of trading. The whole business is dramatic enough to justify the regular appearance of celebrity bell-ringers. In previous years, UCAS applications for Initial Teacher Training have opened without fanfare but I can’t help thinking that this year they should have got a bell and maybe drafted in Amir Khan or Felix Baumgartner to ring it.

Maybe that’s a touch dramatic but with no allocations this year, the popular shares are going to go like hotcakes, although I have no doubt us scientists will, as usual, still be picking up applications in August. I guess there will always be high demand stocks and those that just tick over gently in the unwanted corners of global capitalism but for my colleagues in the popular secondary subjects, and primary, it’s probably all going to be striped jackets and manic yelling for the next few weeks, months, or – in the case of PE – possibly days.

For anyone not familiar with the radical changes to ITT recruitment, the major difference is that in previous years each provider or SD alliance had a specific allocation of places. For example, we might be allocated 10 biology places (with severe penalties for going over this number). This year, there are no allocations for individual providers, just a total for the whole country. When this national target is reached, all providers will be told to stop recruiting. If you want to investigate the subtleties then the NCTL guidance is here.

I can see the argument. One of the problems in the last couple of years has been that SD routes have struggled to fill places whilst HEIs have recruited more successfully but have been held back, in some shortage subjects, by their allocation. Equally, some SD alliances have recruited very strongly and could have taken more trainee teachers but were essentially prevented from doing so by the unfilled allocations of other alliances. Maybe a freer hand for some providers to take on extra places would have helped. Having said that, last year when we reached our allocation for chemistry we just asked the NCTL for some more places, got them, and filled several of these. As long as the NCTL respond immediately to requests for extra places in shortage subjects (which hasn’t always been the case), and increase allocations for successful alliances that want to expand year on year, this seems like a decent solution to the problem of maintaining control over numbers whilst allowing the system to respond quite flexibly.

However, the new system has taken a big step further and gone all out for flexibility – I guess ‘quite flexible’ wasn’t seen as good enough – but I fear at the expense of quality, and possibly control. I’ll try to explain why, taking history as an example. Until this year, my history colleague has always been blessed with a large number of applications and the certainty that these will keep coming. She shortlists the really good ones and interviews in batches of about half-a-dozen, offering places only to those she is certain will go on to be excellent teachers. Somewhere during the Spring term she has usually reached her allocation and closes the course. Sometimes applicants that look good on paper are unconvincing at interview and under the previous system my colleague could confidently reject these knowing that better applicants would come later. Now, bear in mind that all our jobs are dependent on maintaining the number of trainee teachers we recruit; how does that affect her decisions under the new system? What if she is below the normal allocation for history, rejects some unsatisfactory applicants, and then the NCTL close history nationally: well, clearly we’re screwed.

The tragedy of the commons is stamped all over this. If all providers stick to their previous very high standards for history, then they should all be able to recruit the same number of excellent history trainees as before. But as soon as some providers start lowering standards to ensure they hit their recruitment targets, everyone has to either follow suit or be left short when history closes. And, although no provider will (apparently) be allowed to dramatically increase their slice of the pie, if the ones that recruit fastest quite reasonably add on an extra one or two then that compounds the problem. Expect the same thing for English, geography, and primary.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is the further complication that each applicant will have applied to three different providers. So, if my colleague were aiming for, say, ten historians, she needs to make more offers to account for those who will choose other providers. How many more? Who knows? She can look at historical data to try to ascertain the proportion of offers that are accepted but with small numbers there is likely to be more noise than signal. What if she makes twenty offers and they all accept (she runs an excellent course!)? Oops, we’ve just doubled the cohort. Worse, what if other providers make this error? Well, history closes nationally with our course only half full and, again, we’re screwed.

For PE, it’s exactly the same thing, but on speed. Our PE PGCE is normally full by Christmas but they’ll have had over a hundred applications by then. There could easily be enough decent applications submitted in the first week to have one interview round, fill the course, and close next week. Nick Leeson tried to dig himself out of the hole he got Barings Bank into with an ‘all in’ overnight bet on the stability of the Tokyo and Singapore stock exchanges, waking the next morning to the Kobe eathquake, 6500 dead, and total financial ruin. How many providers will line up their interviews, only to wake up on interview day to an email from the NCTL telling them PE is shut? No-one will die; no buildings will be razed; no-one will go to prison; but that could certainly be a career-ending miscalculation.

Now, as my wife frequently points out, I’m an unrepentant pessimist; whenever things change I’m always looking for the potential for this to create a bear market. It is generally the case that the best ITT applicants are committed and organised and therefore apply early. Maybe the pressure to snatch the first good ones and run will work out okay. Maybe providers are wise enough to avoid any kind of race to the bottom, and quality will be maintained. Maybe the extra flexibility will gradually apply market pressure to select the best provision. Maybe the extra flexibility will help to support numbers and ease concerns about recruitment. Maybe there will be no bears: maybe it’s just bull.

TeachFirst recruitment presentation

Although I work in Initial Teacher Education, I don’t really know very much about TeachFirst. I’ve picked up a bit from bloggers and Tweeters but am aware that sometimes I’m not clear who came through TeachFirst and who trained via one of the other routes. Laura MacInerney (who also helpfully collated some relevant posts), Kris Boulton, Joe Kirby, Harry Fletcher-Wood (not absolutely sure but think he was TF) and Daisy Christodolou are visible presences online and, whilst I certainly don’t always agree with some of these folk, there’s no doubting either their commitment to education or, for those still on the front-line, their commitment to improving their own classroom practice. I’m also aware of some of the data: Teach First achieve a similar 5-year retention to other routes (and of course that’s in some tough schools), Ofsted have graded their provision Outstanding in all categories, there is some evidence that schools engaging with Teach First outperform those that don’t (although whether that’s a reflection of the impact of the teachers, or of the school’s leadership is uncertain), and the 7:1 applicant to trainee ratio, and academic level of trainees is encouraging (although Teach First have unique requirements around subject specialism that skew this figure significantly). Prior to last night, my views about Teach First were limited by having no direct experience of the programme, but were generally positive with a couple of concerns. The very last part of my blog on the Carter Review will show you where I was at, with a more specific comment about subject knowledge on Kris Boulton’s post here.

After attending the recruitment presentation organised by PhySoc (University of Southampton Physics Society) I am not so sure. Now, I appreciate that a recruitment campaign is not the same thing as a teacher training programme but I was genuinely shocked by the way Teach First was presented.

The first bit of the presentation was a clear description of the fundamental issue of educational outcomes for FSM pupils in England followed by a call to arms. There was a slight sense of the priviledged and academically able going into the slums to save the deserving poor but I think that is probably justifiable salesmanship. What came next just wasn’t. In a fifteen minute presentation I reckon the ‘classroom teaching’ bit got less than 30 seconds. Not once was there any suggestion that wanting to work with children was a pre-requisite for teaching. Not once was there any suggestion that children might have anything to offer. In fact, really the only time that working in schools was dwelt upon was to flag up that in 15 years, 14 TFers had made headteacher (or it might have been 15 headteachers in 14 years), along with a statistic about the faster career progression for Teach First trained teachers. There was a fair bit of emphasis on the main details of the two year Leadership Development Programme, though. I cannot believe that the two years it takes to go from novice to the end of the NQT can be marketed as Leadership Development – wouldn’t Teacher Development be more appropriate? Maybe not when the details are as follows:

  • Six weeks residential training described as a cross between Freshers’ Week and something else (sorry can’t remember what but I guess it was less contentious).
  • Some teaching
  • Internships with major international companies like Deloitte, PwC, Goldman-Sachs, Civil Service Fast Stream… there was a list. I paraphrase but “This isn’t just about making the coffee, your leadership potential will be developed and you will have the opportunity to be involved in real projects during this time.”
  • A bit more teaching
  • Enrolment in a Learning Network – to develop your problem-solving skills
  • The opportunity to complete a Masters degree (sadly this is no longer free but is still heavily subsidised at £500/year). Bloody hell – that is cheap!
  • Become a Teach First ambassador. I think the possibility of continuing in education got mentioned here (presumably as some sort of senior leader although I assume the reference to eight, third year teachers, having headships is a typo) but mainly this was about the opportunities with Teach First Platinum Partners – that’s PwC, Goldman-Sachs etc. again. More info on the Teach First website.

There was an overview of the programme on a little flow diagram; the two teaching bits were the same size as each of the other bits. Do I need to say any more?

Anyway, I’m pretty clear that one recruitment presentation isn’t a basis on which to judge a programme that puts large numbers of keen new teachers into schools in socio-economically deprived areas, but it has given me pause for thought. This presentation was absolutely clearly suggesting that a couple of years of teaching was a way to get a massive leg up on the career ladder. This is the criticism that has been consistently levelled at Teach First and now I know why. I’m perfectly happy with teachers having alternative career options; I’m not happy about this short-selling of teachers and teaching.



A Little Meeting with Ofsted

Having been to the unmistakably impressive UCAS building in Cheltenham a few weeks ago as a member of the UCAS Teacher Training Advisory Group, I walked right past Ofsted’s London office. As an organisation, it holds such a prominent place in the English education system that you couldn’t possibly miss it, and for no very good reason I think I expected the offices to be impossible to miss too. Rectifying my error I engaged with the very pleasant G4S reception people and in short order Sean Harford came down to meet me and ushered squeezed me into a very bijou meeting room with Angela Milner. I think the ensuing discussion was helpful in clarifying for me some of the issues around ITE inspections and how these are going to work under the new, new framework, which has started but only on a small scale this year (I think there have been ten, part 1 inspections so far last term, so there will have been ten completed inspections by Christmas).

Previous reports of meetings with senior Ofsted people have been very positive and Sean and Angela didn’t let the side down. I think it was very much a discussion about where Ofsted are at with ITE inspection, and the thinking behind that position, rather than anything earth-shattering that might make a big difference in the future. We covered most of the things I have been thinking about, although there are a couple of things I might expand on a bit now the dust has settled (actually the Ofsted office wasn’t dusty but you really couldn’t have swung a cat in that meeting room).

If there was a theme to the meeting it was that Angela and Sean were very focused on the two closely tied issues of the Ofsted ITE remit, and the quality of NQTs in our schools. I got a sense of awareness – not so sure about sympathy – for the difficult decisions we have to make when viability of ITE provision, and quality of trainee teachers, are not necessarily served by the same choices but I think I came out of the meeting more aware than when I went in that essentially the Ofsted line is that they are commissioned to report on quality of ITE in terms of the quality of the NQTs produced and they do not see taking into account the difficulties that providers experience in achieving that, as part of their job. This came through most clearly in discussing validity of Ofsted grading. I had suggested that a provider might be performing minor miracles with weak trainee teachers but still come up short in comparison to another provider with the reputation to attract stronger applicants; Sean’s view was that children are only affected by the quality of the NQT, not the progress they’ve made to get there. I think he has a good point, however harsh that might be. The same theme came through with recruitment decisions – if a provider is accepting marginal applicants, that’s their call but Ofsted aren’t interested in how far their training takes them, only in how good they are at the end of it. If the alternative is to close down, or exacerbate the teacher recruitment shortage, that’s not an issue within Ofsted’s remit.

If you read my earlier blog on ITE inspections you may remember that I suggested the elephant in the ITE room was the School Direct route. I got a bit more of a sense of sympathy here – you can’t be involved in ITE without being very conscious of the enormous upheaval shifting so many places to SD has caused. Again, though, the message was that it’s the outcome that matters, not the training route. So ITE inspections will be looking at a mixture of PL and SD trainee teachers in part 1 and PL and SD NQTs in part 2, and whilst these will be looked at as separate groups (as for different subjects and phases) the quality of training is judged on the performance and no account will be taken of the route or the advantages of SDs greater experience in the one school, or the disadvantages of poorer opportunities for wide experience, or the difficulties of maintaining standards. So I guess that’s a level playing field, at least. If it’s harder to maintain high standards of training across SD provision then that’s tough on old framework Grade 2 providers that had to get heavily involved in SD to maintain numbers; if SD confers an advantage because more observed trainees and NQTs will be well-established in their schools then that’s tough on the Grade 1 providers that had protected allocations and didn’t see the writing on the DfE wall. So maybe it’ll all come out in the wash but it’s tricky for providers who have a tremendously difficult balance to strike between holding Alliances to account for weaknesses in their SD provision and not pissing them off so they go looking for a softer option, taking the money with them.

Perhaps more importantly, from the perspective of those not directly affected by ITE inspections, rolling PL and SD together in this way will make it difficult to judge whether SD is, in general, providing a better, worse, or just different training route. That’s a massive question and Ofsted are the only people likely to be able to make a reasonably impartial judgement. The DfE and NCTL have too much to lose, having promoted it so fiercely; and it’s caused too much damage to the established HEI providers for their view not to be easily dismissed as partisan. Ofsted still have work to do to persuade everyone that they are completely apolitical e.g. see this Times Higher Ed article but I would like to see them report on the overall quality of SD and their perception of the strengths and weaknesses of the model at some point in the future – maybe it will be late 2015 before they’ve inspected enough SD to have any useful evidence. Meanwhile, they could undo some of the damage from the March 2013 statement by Michael Wilshaw that seemed calculated to lend support to DfE and NCTL policy, by publishing an update on the relative performance of HEIs, against SCITTs and other employment-based routes – both Sean and Angela seemed to think that grade breakdowns were pretty comparable.

Of course, all this talk of measuring outcomes and judging the provider on the quality of the product still depends on being able to measure with accuracy, validity and reliability. I don’t think anyone meeting with Ofsted has come away with the sense that Ofsted believe their judgements are infallible and Sean was quite open about the possibility that not every inspection report was perfect. The discussion on how Ofsted might take this forward was very brief and, if I happen to find myself in this kind of situation again, it’s the area I would want to ask about more. I remain astonished at how quickly Ofsted seemed to roll-over when Rob Coe suggested individual lesson grades were unreliable (maybe that was an open door waiting to be pushed and really it was just the discrepancy between policy and practice that remained but Michael Wilshaw did respond with “Which ivory towered academic, for example, recently suggested that lesson observation was a waste of time – Goodness me!” so I don’t think it was a fait accompli). If Ofsted had engaged with research more they would either have already found themselves in agreement with Rob, or would have had the ammunition to hold their ground. I’m not suggesting individual lesson observation grades would be a good thing, and Sean didn’t miss the opportunity to state clearly that ITE inspections do not grade individual lessons, just that the response to Rob’s message suggests more uncertainty within Ofsted than they might be comfortable admitting.

Perhaps more of a thought out loud than anything stronger, but whilst there is obviously a moderation process as part of training inspectors, Sean did express an interest in what would be termed ‘blind second-marking’ in a university context. Interestingly he said something similar when he met Andrew Smith. It’s not an area I can claim any expertise in but I am pretty sure that there are various ways in which these measurement issues could be investigated. This data, showing that KS2 level across a cohort significantly influences secondary school Ofsted grade, is an example but there are much more sophisticated regression analysis techniques that might be relevant (although maybe Ofsted should be starting with Section 5 inspections rather than ITE if they are going to commission this kind of research).

A minor point about Part 2 of the inspection was clarified. The reference in the framework to NQTs/former trainees is purely because FE trainees don’t become NQTs so Ofsted definitely won’t be looking at any trainee beyond their first term as an NQT (or former trainee if in FE) during ITE inspections.

Both Angela and Sean were very clear that the Part 2 Inspection of NQTs was about how well-prepared they were, not some kind of bald snapshot of their teaching in one observed lesson. They were as quick to raise the sample size issue as I was and their model was quite a noticeable reflection of education research methodology where only large sample sizes allow conclusions to be drawn across contexts, but small samples often provide richer information because the data goes deeper and can be, in fact has to be, considered in context. I found this reassuring because it makes the precise timing of this part of the inspection less critical. I think the difficulty for providers will be that a lot will be riding on the way in which NQTs report their experience – the inspectors will need to be pretty astute to spot the NQT who has been given loads of personalised support and an extensive toolkit to take into their NQT year but hasn’t engaged with, and drawn on, it very effectively, as against the NQT given the same support and toolkit who can rattle off a list when asked and explain how they are using it.

I was pleased that Sean and Angela were talking much more about the quality of information and preparation for NQTs, and the quality of information passed on to schools, rather than the support provided to NQTs, particularly since an inspection team might be looking at NQTs outside the provider’s partnership. Some schools engage really well with the local HEI that has trained their NQT but many don’t, and aren’t keen to release NQTs for this purpose either, and it’s not something providers can always influence. Also, during Section 5 inspections in schools the inspection team will normally sit down with the NQTs and look at the support the school have provided, so that should help significantly in persuading schools that continued engagement with training providers might be worthwhile.

The final thing that came through loud and clear was that the focus on behaviour was going to become significantly stronger. I guess this is unsurprising in the week that Ofsted have published a report on low-level disruption in schools, and during a period when they are trying to move away from giving an impression that behaviour in typical schools is pretty good. I’ve put forward my views on behaviour training in ITE before and hope that everyone involved in training teachers can use this Ofsted priority to collaborate on finding best (or better) practice. I’m in no doubt that if inspection teams find NQTs struggling with behaviour, they will be asking hard questions about whether their training exposed them to a wide enough variety of kids and gave them the tools for the battle. Again, a lot is required of inspectors to correctly distinguish the NQT having a ding dong battle with a difficult Y10 class, but holding up and gradually turning the tide, from the NQT who wasn’t so well prepared but doesn’t have such a tricky class, or who never needed any help with behaviour. With that massive proviso I am prepared to concede that providers are not entirely at the mercy of the quality of the school their NQTs are working in.

My remaining bone of contention is the emphasis on Grade 3 trainee teachers being unacceptable. Angela was clear that the process of grading was holistic and involved working up from the bottom, to establish first whether all the Grade 4 criteria were met and then whether there was evidence to award the next grade up and so on, as described in the Handbook. To me that still seems as though one Grade 3 NQT might be a sticking point and Angela and Sean didn’t entirely convince me that it wouldn’t be. In effect I got the sense that, in making the grading judgement, the door might still be unlocked, if not ajar, if the provider could demonstrate a convincing narrative of significant personalised support, extended placement or additional experience, and clear advice and follow-up for both the NQT and employing school. If I’ve interpreted that correctly then I at least am clear that what we are doing at Southampton will be recognised by Ofsted but, as with the developing Section 5 inspection process, I do worry that the ability of the provider to narrate convincingly might be more significant than whether or not they’ve actually done the business. I also think that while the pressure for providers to convince themselves that a Grade 3 trainee is actually a Grade 2 is not quite so remorseless, it’s still definitely there. I don’t understand why that first sentence in the first criterion is included; surely stating that “Trainees demonstrate excellent practice in some of the standards for teaching and all related to their personal and professional conduct” would have covered it without preceding it with “All primary and secondary trainees awarded QTS exceed the minimum level of practice expected of teachers” [their emphasis]. The former statement is about the quality of trainees; the latter is about the numbers assigned to them.

So that’s my summary of what came out of the meeting. From my point of view it has clarified some of the intention behind the revised framework and demonstrated that Ofsted have at least understood the difficulties that remain with inspecting ITE providers in a way that genuinely recognises the best provision. It still feels like a big, and very pointy, stick to me, well a big and pointy axe, really. I guess we’ll have to see how well it’s wielded – the right intentions aren’t enough (and don’t even think about trying to wield anything in that meeting room). I wish any colleagues, inspected last term and waiting for Part 2, the best of luck (bet you didn’t get much summer holiday this year!). For what it’s worth, here’s what I would still like to see from Ofsted:

  • Get rid of the statement on outcomes that makes everyone paranoid about Grade 3 trainees rather than paranoid about whether they are doing the best for all trainees
  • Openly commission some research into validity and reliability of inspection judgements (fair enough if this starts with Section 5)
  • Continue to work with providers to find the best way to time inspections to avoid ‘funny’ weeks – Angela seemed keen on this
  • Be even more clear that sample sizes are small and judgements shouldn’t be skewed by particular incidents, or individual trainee or NQT performances
  • Be even more clear that it is the preparation of trainees, the package that NQTs take with them, and the extent to which they can draw on that package, that is being judged, and not just the quality of their teaching regardless of school support and context
  • Produce an update on the report about types of providers early in the life of the last framework – the data for all inspections under that framework must now be available
  • Consider producing an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses seen in SD compared to PL routes as soon as there have been enough inspections to do so

Many thanks, Sean and Angela, for making time to see me, and continuing the very welcome engagement of Ofsted with the people being inspected.