Launched into the expectant world on the day the World Education Forum opened in London, The Carter Review of Teacher Training seems to have passed by much of the national media largely un-noticed. That’s a shame as a lot of hard work went into the Report even if its recommendations were hardly earth shattering and probably won’t do much to help solve the teacher supply crisis schools are facing.
I don’t see it as my place to critique the Report in detail, but to highlight the bits that interest me. These are; the return of an understanding of child development; subject knowledge and its importance in teaching; the issue of qualification versus certification; and finally the question of a quart into a pint pot – sorry, that shows my age; a litre into an eighth of a litre jug.
But first, Carter reaffirms that those preparing to be a teacher need both practical experience of the task and an under-pinning of theoretical knowledge. This really reasserts the partnership model developed in the 1990s after Kenneth Clarke’s reforms that established the TTA. To that extent there is really not a lot that is new in the Carter Report, only nuances reflecting the manner in which the system has developed over the past 20 years.
However, one new aspect is the mention of child development. Ministers in the Thatcher governments of the 1980s didn’t think that knowledge of the ‘ologies were important for those training to be teachers and sometimes seemed to equate them with views that weren’t acceptable to free market Conservatives. The recognition of the importance of an understanding about child development for trainee teachers is a welcome change. An understanding of their social settings might also be a useful addition to the curriculum. But, adding anything to the overcrowded curriculum and classroom experience for trainee teachers is fraught with difficultly as there is no spare time in the present preparation period on whatever route a trainee takes.
To that end, the discussion about subject knowledge while welcome reflect the concerns raised ever since the 1990s when the Clarke reforms effectively removed subject knowledge development time from most secondary courses in favour of extra time in schools. There just wasn’t time for both within the 38 weeks of a course. To allow for subject knowledge to be re-introduced would mean extending the course, and changing the funding structure. This could allow fees to be replaced with a grant from central funds as was the case before tuition fees were introduced, but would bring new challenges. However, even more important to government is that if subject knowledge is vital during the preparation period it is obviously as important in schools. This raises the question of why Carter didn’t ask whether QTS once gained should continue to allow a teacher to teach anything to anyone as is the case at present. After all, what the point of subject knowledge in geography if you spend two thirds of your timetable teaching history and RE as part of a Humanities programme and you dropped history before GCSE and have no training in RE. Not to address this issue raises questions about how coherent the Carter Review actually was in trying to develop a strategy for the teaching force.
Finally there remain the issues around certification and accreditation. Again, this is not new a new debate. In the original Bill establishing the TTA in 1994, the famous Clause 13 was about whether trainees would be required to have a higher education qualification as well as QTS. It was accepted that QTS was the licence to teach and the issue, as today, was whether or not it required a university qualification as well. In those days, it was just about SCITTs, as employment based routes were in their infancy. Realistically what matters is, if government is going to control the supply of places on training routes, how those places are allocated, and to what type of providers, rather than qualifications. As I have suggested before, uncapping university numbers means that if teacher training is within that same fee regime as other university fee programmes then the government has to establish why the removal of the cap doesn’t apply to teacher preparation courses as well.
Carter could have been more radical, but seems to have chosen a path where most can agree with many of the recommendations while leaving something for everyone to take forward. Sadly, his terms of reference didn’t allow him to explore the real question of the day, how to recruit enough trainees of the right quality in the right places. The next government won’t be able to duck that question quite so easily.