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: 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.

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.

The Carter Review and the future of ITT

With Tom Bennett giving evidence to the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Education here and here, which I hadn’t realised was forging ahead so quickly, I thought I probably ought to finally get round to writing a blog post that has been gestating in my head for a while. I don’t think it terribly likely that it will have any impact on the review process – although you never know which significant person might stumble upon it and find a fresh perspective helpful – so this is more about marshalling my own thoughts about the job I’ve been doing for a year now than pretending I have any influence.

I came out of the classroom and into ITT at what might well be termed “interesting times”. Although I think 30 million deaths will be avoided, there have been, and will be some more, HEI tutors looking for new jobs as ITT becomes increasingly unappealing (mainly for financial reasons) to the VCs of many universities. So far I think Bath Spa, Keele, and OU have gone and Loughborough have jettisoned everything except PE. Leeds just got an Ofsted Grade 3 so must be worried, and I’ve heard that several other Russell Group PGCEs are hanging by a thread. However there are loads of HEIs delivering PGCE courses (possibly too many) so the demise of a few may not matter for children and schools but it definitely does matter when reviewing ITT because a background of declining funding, staff cuts, and increased workload for those who are left, isn’t the best starting point for improving the HEI side of things.

So does that mean that the road to glory lies with the School Direct (SD) model and/or School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT)? The university I work for adopted SD early and keenly, on the back of a very successful Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), so I have had a good chance to look at this option, warts and all. In terms of time in the classroom, SD does have more because it starts at the beginning of September and finishes at the end of July, whereas a typical HEI PGCE starts a week or two later and finishes before the end of June. If there was evidence that this was helpful then there would be nothing to stop HEIs from running their final placement until the end of term as well, except that they would almost certainly have to pay schools more and as noted above, money is a problem. Actually this isn’t the main difference between SD and a traditional HEI course, there are two differences that are much more significant.

Firstly, with an HEI course, there is a good opportunity in the first placement to make some fundamental errors and be nervous, uncertain, and moderately ineffective, before moving to the longer second placement, leaving those mistakes behind, and starting afresh. There is also the option of moving trainees during the longer placement if a mentor, department, or some other issue results in a stagnation of progress. Matching trainees to placements is really hard to get right and the variation in mentoring style (some nuture, others pull no punches) and department (some have detailed SoW, others expect teachers to design their own) means that sometimes a good trainee just fails to find a fit. With SD, although there is a short second placement, trainees really only get the one experience, and if the relationships with either classes, or mentors, don’t get off to a good start, those problems have to be fixed in situ. The GTP worked because the trainees were generally very robust and the small numbers meant that it was easier to ensure a good fit; SD trainees are not the same. Where the fit with the school is good, SDs get a great experience, but some don’t and that’s when the limited options become apparent.

Secondly, whilst some SDs have used a model whereby the trainees train alongside the HEI trainees, a lot of SD courses have most of the training in schools (the HEIs mostly focusing on the Master’s level work for PGCE). In the end, this was surely the intention of SD; to get trainee teachers out of the clutches of “those who can’t teach…” and who fill their heads with ‘progressive nonsense’, and into the clutches of successful schools who would ‘train them properly’. A lot of Teaching Alliances and Teaching Schools are doing a great job with essential training in e.g. SEN, PSHE, safeguarding, talking to parents, data etc. and classroom practice e.g. lesson planning, differentiation ideas, assessment. Some, unfortunately are delivering good basic training but then thinking it’s all done and not pushing trainees once their teaching is satisfactory. Some are also doing a great job with behaviour management training but I’m afraid that some are not. Only a few are providing training that involves engaging with research, and high quality subject-specific training is a real problem. The behaviour management training is a problem where the school doesn’t have a strong, all-encompassing grip themselves – either because they don’t have to (sufficient levels of leafiness) or because it’s handled mainly at department level – or I’m afraid that some teachers who should know better default back to their own PGCE experience and pass on the things that were education orthodoxy some time ago because they don’t feel confident enough to rate their own experience more highly. Even where the training is very good, they still don’t get much chance to try things out with different kids or under a different school system because they are based in just one school. The subject-specific problem is just a reflection of very small cohorts e.g. two science trainees, so this has to be done in departments and is often ad hoc (or non-existent). This is definitely the biggest issue of which SD trainees are aware; a barrage of questions about how to teach x, y, and z plus  “how do we get more of this?” is the typical response to the two or three subject-specific sessions I did with SDs this year. Finally, the engagement with research is just lack of expertise in schools. The big alliances do have the funding to bring in some expertise but most SD is done in-house by people with other responsibilities and only a handful are getting to grips with research as teachers, in the ResearchED mould.

Finally. nothing to do with the quality of training but shifting 50% of ITT from HEI to SD is creating a recruitment crisis. This is a partly a fragmentation problem, and partly a selection problem. The first issue is just that if you take a fixed number of potential teachers and present them with a lot more training choices, they get spread more thinly. This matters because they don’t spread evenly. (Whilst mentioning fragmentation, the administration burden of SD has nearly finished off some schools, who now have to do all the UCAS work, dozens of interviews, and all sorts of things that HEIs do but without the benefits of scale). The second, more serious issue, is the number of potential teachers that I have seen who are being rejected by schools but would have made perfectly good, if not instantly outstanding, teachers, and the odd dodgy one that somehow gets chosen. I think schools are better at choosing NQTs to fit their school, than identifying trainees with potential.

So was SD a mistake – was all rosy in the HEI graden?

No, there are problems here too. The charge that “those who can’t teach, teach teachers” is way out of line but it is true that a number of my colleagues haven’t taught children for a long time. I can see a scenario in which this wouldn’t matter if there was really good and effective collaboration between very experienced tutors, deeply engaged with an overview of relevant research, and very effective teachers with a vice-like grip on behaviour management and effective classroom practice, with the two things feeding into each other, but at the moment the divide between theory and practice is too big. We do get people in from local schools, for example all the early BM training is done this way, but although these people know exactly what they’re talking about, it’s too remote from practice and doesn’t follow through into placements. I have a suspicion that there are some examples of excellent collaborations out there (I don’t know first hand but if the Carter Review doesn’t speak to Michael Fordham and the other Cambridge history mentors I think they will have missed a trick). It seems so obvious that the best ITT would come from really great collaboration between HEIs and effective teachers in effective schools, that it is worth looking at why this isn’t happening more. The first issue is that research-led universities have other priorities. The best academics have to make an effort if they want to engage with the PGCE, it’s not the default position, and even if they did, many have very specific research interests that might not be relevant to training new teachers. From the other end, PGCE tutors are a lot busier than anyone can see from the outside looking in, and the time for identifying, engaging with, evaluating, and using the research is very limited. In this respect most PGCE tutors are in exactly the same position as most teachers apart from having done more work at Master’s level at some point in the past. Secondly, there is no obvious reason for successful teachers to make career moves into HEIs because the pay and career structure is a lot better in schools (I make about £35K with zero chance of promotion, which is less attractive on both counts than my previous middle management position). At the moment, taking a few years out of school to train teachers is unlikely to be the thing that cracks open an assistant headship. There are reasons to make the move (in my case the flexible hours have solved a child care problem) but then the requirement to teach and assess at Master’s level will prevent many effective school teachers from making the transition. Finally, from what I’ve read online, the Cambridge history collaboration sounds tremendous; we are a million miles from that level of engagement from our mentors. Just getting them out of school for an afternoon twice a year is like getting blood from a stone. Sometimes just trying to communicate by phone or email is a trial. Unfortunatelywe are so tight for placements (always an issue for maths and science here) that it is very difficult to put pressure on schools to give mentors more time because if we lost two or three we might not be able to place all our trainees. For me, the most striking thing about my new job is the way I hand over nearly all responsibility for my tutees to school mentors once they are on placement; the quality of each trainee’s experience depends enormously on the mentor and yet that mentoring is probably the thing I have least control over.

So I think what I’m saying is that, although there are elements of SD that could really improve ITT, the fragmentation of expertise and the current lack of accountability over standards is a major problem. Like Joe Kirby I worry about consistent quality; unlike Joe, I think the answer lies in improving what HEIs do, not going further down the school-based route because if the DfE continue to drive ITT out of HEIs we are going to have a short-term recruitment crisis and in the long-term I think that we might have some dazzling examples of fantastic training and a lot of low-quality, uninformed ITT, delivered by alliances that just don’t have the personnel or capacity to do a great job. In the end, even Teaching Schools do not have teacher training as their raison d’etre. Whilst PGCE may be pretty low on the Russell Group food chain, teacher training is the reason I and my colleagues have a job, and that means the quality of what we deliver drives every decision we make. What we need is to find a way to incentivise Teaching Schools and others to work more closely with HEIs rather than to be in competition with them. We want experienced HEI tutors to provide the continuity but then to have others moving more freely between the classroom and the university. We need to establish what it is that education research can tell us about effective teaching, and not leave it to those leading the training to all individually try to squeeze this work into their evenings and weekends. Can I be specific?

  • Establish stability over the allocations so that universities can make informed decisions about whether or not to continue to offer ITT and so that schools can work out how they want to operate.
  • Find an incentive that will get universities and schools working together more closely, so SD and HEI routes share good practice and build on each other’s strengths.
  • Make it a clear expectation that all schools offer training placements, through whatever route, and that they allocate appropriate time to match e.g. releasing mentors for training or to collaborate better with providers.
  • Provide some decent education research or other funding, specifically for those involved in ITT, or T&L in schools, to give them the time to engage broadly with the research base as part of their job rather than on top of everything else.
  • Establish a clear core framework for what teachers should know and be able to do to be awarded QTS (and this absolutely has to be owned by the profession and not imposed by the Carter Review or anyone else – if that requires a Royal College, fine, but if a respected group like Headteachers’ Roundtable or some prominent school or university, or ResearchED or something can get this established so it spreads across schools and HEIs that could also work). David Weston has been prominently saying this for some time and Rob Coe recently too. This should be based on a combination of research and existing good practice, and will take time and money to get right.
  • Do something about the dreadful way in which Ofsted inspects ITT (won’t go into details here but it really sucks).
  • Start holding training providers to account through the online community i.e. do for ITT what Old Andrew has done for Ofsted. I don’t think insisting providers publish their training materials – as Dominic Cummings has suggested – is viable but if the online community work with trainees and NQTs to name and shame genuine garbage, HEIs will sit up and take note pretty sharpish.
  • This one is specific to science but I would like to see the majority of trainees doing a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course before training so we can fix those who currently start with rudimentary six-year old GCSE in one or more of the three subjects they have to teach.
  • And finally I would like all ITT courses to include just one Master’s level assignment (20 credits) in the form of a literature review. I think 60 credits is too much and distracts from classroom practice but one assignment is the chance to get a good grasp of research methodology in education. This would mean the end of the ITT year would be QTS but then I think teachers should do the other 40 credits in NQT+1 or NQT+2 when they’ve got the head space for it, to complete PGCE. This would help to keep HEIs and research in touch with schools and early career teachers.

Some of this is about systems, and some about incentives. As always, tinkering with the systems is only important to the extent that it provides stability for people and organisations to make commitments and the long-term investments of time that lead to higher quality outcomes. The DfE often forget this (possibly that is a charitable interpretation) operating as they do on a five year election cycle. I hope the Carter Review doesn’t.


Post script:

There are three other models of ITT that I’m aware of. SCITTs, Teach First, and Troops to Teachers. The latter is very small and specialised and probably isn’t relevant. SCITTs I know very little about but I should think what I’ve said above still holds with SCITTs taking the place of HEIs if they are big enough – I don’t have any really strong views about whether an HEI or SCITT is better if the tutors are the right people. Teach First, I know a bit more about, and they deserve massive credit for the very significant glamour they’ve added to the image of ITT. The details of the training I can’t comment on except that I like the idea of front-loading the training (the SD programmes that get trainees in front of classes after 1 day need to take note) although I think it’s essential to also have time for reflection after trying things with real children and after watching effective teachers in the classroom, and I’m not sure how much time there is for this with Teach First. The emphasis on getting the teachers with high potential into tough schools is brilliant. The vagueness over subject-specialism and Teach First’s apparent option to ignore the subject allocations that everyone else is constrained by, worry me a bit. And I suspect that Teach First have issues with things like mentoring quality, that are also problems elsewhere. The final issue with Teach First is that whether or not the preparation and support in school is first rate, there will still be failures, and if it does all go wrong then everyone involved takes a big hit. I think what’s important is that Teach First isn’t seen as some kind of beacon of hope that everyone else should be emulating, but an example of an alternative training route, meeting a particular need, with elements to be admired and elements to be improved.

Is ITT sitting comfortably?

The NCTL have just published a breakdown of Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2014-15 (at 4.44pm on Friday – someone must have been keen to get this out before home time). I’ve had a quick glance. In general, allocations for 2014-15 are higher than 2013-14. I’m guessing this reflects a national problem with recruitment to School Direct last year when plenty of SD providers ended up short of their allocations. A lot of my colleagues were involved in supporting lead schools in their interviewing last year and, if reflected nationally, the issue is at least partly that schools are used to recruiting NQTs but trainees are a step further back and schools sometimes struggled to see their potential. The other problem of course is that SD providers are much smaller than HEIs so there is a much greater chance that some SD places will be turning down good applicants whilst others won’t get any.

There is some evidence that the NCTL have taken this on board; the SCITTs got everything they applied for but SD allocations are way down compared to places applied for. For example, there were 1818 English SD places applied for and only 676 allocated, whereas HEIs asked for 1396 and got 836. Overall, HEIs got 0.74 of what they applied for and SD got 0.79. Given the DfE policy of favouring SD (and bearing in mind the protection of Outstanding HEI allocations) maybe the NCTL have taken a reasonably sensible view and learned from the mistake last year of assuming that SD would recruit as successfully as HEIs have generally done. The size of the allocations certainly looks as though an attempt has been made to increase the provision to compensate for last year’s shortfall. Whether the NCTL pared down the right SD applications though, is a different question. There is certainly at least one Outstanding lead school in my neck of the woods that has invested significantly in preparing to expand their SD provision, now spitting feathers over their allocation. It may be that schools need to take a glance at the discomfort in HEIs before making any assumptions about security of funding for teacher training.