Can we afford Carter?

Sometime, probably in January, the Carter Review is likely to publish its report into teacher preparation. There are four possible scenarios the Review might suggest; open the market to competition based either on the present fees or on direct funding from government; return to the option of fee-based higher education as the main provider topped up by employment-based schemes at the margin; require all training to be under the control of employers; abolish the need for qualified teachers and let schools employ anyone they think will be suitable and allow them to arrange what preparation they think will be necessary within possibly some national guidelines.

As the review was established by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State the last must be a more likely outcome than the second, with the first and third options or variations of them are possibly perhaps the most likely outcomes. The first option might see a wholesale exodus of universities, especially if private companies sought to drive down the price of preparation below the current £9,000 fee level. The government would then have to decide whether price or quality was the main driver for expenditure. For a 40 week course, the £9000 fee equates to £225 per week per trainee or less than £50 per day. So schools might want to consider the real costs of such a scheme especially if they need to use supply cover at times. The income would also need to cover marketing, admissions, administration and other overheads including a contribution to senior staff salaries.

The third option could effectively relieve the DfE of the training costs and let schools hire interns and pay for their training costs from school funds. Schools could choose to do it all themselves; work together in groups as SCITTs have been doing for more than 20 years; or hire outside contractors – including possibly higher education – to provide MOOC courses.

Although superficially an attractive proposition, this third option is risky, especially if many schools decided to try and buy experienced teachers in the market rather than bother to train new ones. We have already seen with School Direct far fewer trainees this year in schools than in HE in several subjects. This option would require someone, presumably the NCTL, to ensure sufficient trainees or risk a recruitment crisis of the levels not seen since the 1960s and early 1970s just as the school population is growing rapidly. Of course, if schools don’t need to follow a National Curriculum, except in English and Mathematics this doesn’t matter. Schools can drop subjects they cannot staff. Is it necessary to teach everyone music or art or computer science? Surely, schools will be able to recruit enough primary teachers locally so as not to need to rely on the remaining undergraduate programmes in universities.

All this is, of course, mere speculation at this stage, but it would be surprising if the Carter Review didn’t come up with some radical proposals given its genesis. The option that cuts government funding, thus making the DfE look virtuous with the Treasury, might seem attractive but it will need to be tested against the wider government policy initiative of narrowing the gap between educational outcomes of the more wealthy in society and those living in poverty, especially on the large social housing estates in our cities and town.

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