We can all agree that one sound method of improving our school system is to attract great candidates into the profession, before training them brilliantly, and then keeping them so that the expensive training pays off long term. Successive governments have thrown their weight behind different initiatives that have tinkered with teacher training, but under Michael Gove we are in the midst of an irreversible shift of the very structures through which initial teacher training is provided.
We are at a significant crossroads. PGCE courses led by Higher Education institutions are in an inevitable decline and the School Direct / Teaching School model is the new king of initial teacher training. TeachFirst has established itself as a consistent provider and has a significant and growing presence in the teacher training landscape. Almost overnight, a market for initial teacher training has emerged. Like with any market, change will be accelaterated, but standards of quality are not guaranteed. There will be successes and failures.
It may be years before we can know if these changes have proven to be a success, or, crucially, an improvement upon the more traditional model of teacher training rooted in the PGCE course – if ever. Therein lies the problem. With the ‘freedoms‘ being provided by this shift in ITT provider we have the responsibility to ensure that the quality of initial teacher training does not actually go in decline, masked in the grand designs of changes to school structures. We have a responsibility to ensure that there is coherence to the changes and to the new structure of teacher training so that it gets better, not worse. With organisations in competition for recruiting candidates we need to be wary that competition does not stifle sharing what works.
David Weston commented recently on watching the teaching documentary ‘Tough Young Teachers‘ that the problems those trainees suffered were typical stuff. They were no different from a decade ago when I took my trembling first steps into teaching. Whether it be TeachFirst, School Direct or the traditional PGCE model – the same needs of new trainees, and the same faults with their training, occur annually. It is therefore that at this juncture of significant change that it is imperative that we research and share what works best.
Surely it is not beyond the bounds of imagination for the Department for Education to seek out answers to what is the best model/s of ITT and to share it. Recently, National Curriculum levels have been removed, in an equally swift manner, so the DfE set up their ‘Assessment Innovation Fund‘ in order to share successful working models. An equivalent approach for ITT, and particularly School Direct course structures, would be useful. We need to search out the evidence of what works best for initial teacher training because not to do so could potentially be hugely wasteful for our profession. Could then the College of Teachers drive this forward independent of the DfE and help raise the standard of ITT to new heights?
Is there a definitive model for great ITT? What are the essential components e.g. lesson study, behaviour management programmes, research projects, peer observations and micro teaching etc.? Who is sharing this model?
Is there a best model of initial research and theoretical understanding, balanced with time at the front of the classroom? Is there a golden ratio for these different aspects of training?
Do we have outliers undertaking best practice? Are Teaching Schools sharing their best methods and justifying their funding beyond their own institutions?
Is there a thorough and system-wide evaluation of the quality and impact of the School Direct model of recruitment and training being undertaken, or is it at least in the pipeline?
What have organisations like TeachFirst and the most successful Higher Ed teacher training providers learnt about effective initial teacher training over time and how do teaching schools tap into this expertise?
Are we divorcing ourselves from Higher Ed at a time when we need to forge links stronger than ever between practice in the classroom and the highest quality research evidence that can provided through links with universities?
Is there common ground for standardising best ITT practice and evaluating it independently?
Could the not-so-Royal College of Teachers have a role in independently ensuring the quality of ITT provision?
I have so many questions about the seismic shift in initial teacher training provision, but such is the localised nature of these changes, I have very few answers to draw upon beyond anecdotes. I think we should be asking more questions and, for the sake of coherence, the DfE should be leading on sharing the answers.
The market may well drive these changes, but we have a responsibility to share the best of what we do across providers now, otherwise we may find ourselves with a hugely damaging recruitment crisis. Amongst the rapid changes to the structures of initial teacher training we should aim to bring greater coherence by, at the very least, defining what methods work best.