A National Teaching Force?

The news that Teach First with its national brand of teacher preparation is to expand into rural areas where schools are under-performing raises the interesting issue of how long two system of teacher preparation can co-exist within the same framework for teacher preparation?

By contrast to Teach First, School Direct, apparently also favoured by government, is a devolved, school controlled, training route where individual schools can decide from year to year whether to train teachers or not depending upon local circumstances. So long as they can ensure trainees reach QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) Schools with School Direct places allocated to them have considerable autonomy.

In many senses the two routes – School Direct and Teach First are at opposite end of the spectrum in relation to national control and management of the process and outcomes of teacher preparation. Caught between the two are the universities, and their tried and tested model of training that has consistently been well evaluated by Ofsted, but is irrationally unpopular in some political circles.

How much longer this range of different approaches can continue is a moot point. There seems to be a growing feeling at Westminster that schools need help to improve and, having created a decentralised model that diminished the role of local authorities, schools have in some cases become too isolated. It may well be that the lessons learnt from the improvements in London schools over the last decade show that the cohesive nature of the borough system, with its four yearly election cycle, has meant that the rhetoric about local authorities no longer having a key role to play has been ignored across most of the capital in a manner that hasn’t happened outside London. However, it may be that even in London it is the Directors of Children’s Services that have often provided the glue that holds the service together rather than local politicians, and it is directors that have helped the head teachers create the turnaround, especially in the primary sector.

In my view, the Cabinet system of government has been unhelpful for education as it has reduced the number of local politicians involved in the education service. The removal of the local authority presence on academy governing bodies has also broken the link between communities and bodies responsible for functions other than education, leaving heads sometimes not understanding the role of the school in the community. I wonder whether the re-introduction of a committee structure into local government that allowed greater democratic oversight to schooling might not be a bad idea. I am supported in that view by the fact that a parish council in Oxfordshire announced this week that it wants to open an academy without as far as I can tell any reference to the county council: local democracy in action?

On the other had I read today in the press that the president of ASCL seems to favour schools being allowed to used unqualified teachers despite his members turning their noses up at many applicants to the School Direct Salaried route with the freedoms it confers to schools in both the selection and training of new teachers. Perhaps, he is worried that with expansion of Teach First the idea of a national teaching force that can be deployed at the behest of government into under-performing schools might have moved a step closer.

It would surely be the height of irony if an organisation whose director of research once ran a right wing think tank posed a solution for teacher supply, training and employment that runs contrary to market principles: but didn’t the Chancellor say in Leeds earlier this week that markets don’t always get things right. Perhaps the day of the fully autonomous school is once again under scrutiny. If so, taking control of the teaching force might be an interesting place to start.

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