Last week when speaking at the Teaching Awards dinner the Secretary of State is reported by the DfE to have said:
We are attracting more and more high-quality people into teaching – and keeping them in the profession. These new teachers are getting the right training to prepare them to succeed in the classroom through School Direct, Teach First and school-centred initial teacher training – teachers in our best schools are now in the driving seat to train the next generation of their profession.
No mention of the part played by higher education and the universities either in association with School Direct, Teach First, or SCITTs, or in their own right as providers. Now, either it was a slip of the tongue or it was a deliberate snub to higher education and a message to the education world that the Conservatives will continue the drive to eradicate universities from the public face of teacher preparation.
Personally, I cannot see how the State can currently train sufficient primary school teachers without the involvement of higher education. The Sutton Trust research issued last week showed how important subject knowledge is for teachers, especially in secondary schools. I remain to be convinced that schools alone have the capacity to add value to trainee teachers in the subject knowledge domain however good they are at other aspects of preparing those that want to be teachers.
The Secretary of State’s words certainly won’t inspire any Vice Chancellor evaluating their 2015/16 allocation of ITT places to see whether or not to remain in teacher preparation and subsidise any short-term losses, especially if it seems clear the government doesn’t want universities involved. Hopefully, I am wrong and the Secretary of State will send a message to the university educators meeting in Birmingham later this week to say how much she values their contributions to teacher preparation and development: but then England might win a world cup in football.
Last week Universities UK published a report in their Funding Environment for Universities 2014 series of pamphlets called ‘The Impact of ITT Reforms on English Higher Education Institutions’ in which they concluded that:
‘It is therefore vital that universities are given a more stable operating environment, and that their key role in the training and delivery of high-quality teachers is recognised and clearly defined in the government’s future ITT strategy.’
It seems as if the DfE and the Secretary of State don’t agree with UUK’s view.
So what is the future for higher education and ITT? Will universities start to lose staff that see the writing on the wall and look elsewhere for career opportunities? Will high quality replacement be encouraged to join a sector so out of favour with government and its advisers? High quality staffing is the key to good teacher preparation programmes along with an understanding of research and practice. Once again England is going off on a new policy direction in trusting schools to provide the training of new teachers without even a nod to higher education. This is a high risk strategy. However, just as I had finished writing this blog the DfE published a list of universities involved in early years ITT: welcome but somewhat mixed messages.