Reflections on teacher preparation questions

The following is the text of a talk I gave last evening to a group put together by the SSAT to discuss teacher preparation and teacher supply questions. 

The key question must be: was Lionel Robbins wrong to remove teacher preparation from the employers half a century ago? That decision to shut small monotechnic teacher training colleges run by local authorities and the main churches and place training almost completely in the higher education sector formed the pattern of teacher preparation for most of the next 30 years.

The change was accompanied by a move to an all-graduate profession, championed vigorously by the teacher associations; at the same time there was a rapid move towards graduate PGCE training for most secondary subjects and a more gradual change away from undergraduate training for the primary sector.

During the teacher supply crisis of the late 1980s the first of the employment-based routes appeared; Licensed and Articled Teacher programmes, followed later by the GTTP and RTTP. There was then the short-lived Fast Track Scheme and again, originally a product of the teacher shortages of the early 2000s, Teach First. All these were programmes characterised by closer links with employers than the higher education programmes of the time that were student focussed in terms of who was seen as the client.

As we have seen today none of these routes has solved the teacher supply problems. There were regular teacher shortages under the pre-Robbins training regime where, of course, universities had an input and were developing their PGCE programmes before Robbins reached his conclusion about the future direction of teacher preparation courses.

Since 2010, the policy has been firmly to support the development of school-led preparation courses. I would add that one development of the 1990s not so far mentioned was that of SCIITs. Groups of schools coming together to solve teacher supply issues. Some have now graduated from being precocious teenagers into respectable Twenty-year olds. The cluster of these around the Thames Estuary is no accident of history, but rather reflects the lack of higher education institutions in that part of the world, especially on the north bank of the Thames.

As someone that spent nearly 15 years in higher education preparing teachers in Worcester, Durham and Oxford; someone who created a SCITT in 1995 and someone that spent a year at the TTA trying to advise ministers on teacher supply matters, the issue of how to recruit and prepare teachers has and still is of serious concern to me.

We need more trainees each year than the total number of those employed by the Royal Navy after the latest defence cuts. That all uniformed sailors and officers combined. Indeed, we recruit each year into teaching somewhere near half the size of the British land army. We do, therefore, need to take this issue of entering our profession seriously, perhaps more seriously than we have done in the past.

I think everyone agrees that preparation needs to be closely linked to schools. Schon’s reflective, self-critical problem solver cannot develop away from the problems they are solving. In this case teaching and learning for groups of young people grouped in what we have historically termed ‘classes’. That’s what makes teaching different from tutoring, lecturing or child-minding – all not doubt respectable occupations, but not teaching. Of course, teachers do other things as well and work with individuals, but it is not the core of their daily task.

So, here are some questions;

Would it help if entry to the profession was at the start of the preparation course? This might mean a salary for all and not just Teach First and School Direct Salaried trainees. Given the numbers, would The Treasury ever agree to this?

But what if applicants vote with their feet? In 2015, there were 15,000 fewer applicants through the UCAS scheme compared with the GTTR scheme in 2005. Indeed, there probably only 5,000 more than in the disastrous year of 2001 that saw the start of the teacher supply crisis of that period. Such numbers either leave little room for choice of candidate or create a new problem of maintaining entry standards leaving unanswered the question of who fills the empty classrooms?

The majority of trainees are still between the ages of 20-23. Not far short of half of those placed on courses in 2015 fall into this group,, almost all probably new graduates. It would be interesting to know how they chose their route into teaching. Were School Direct urban places better taken up by this group than those offered by schools in coastal locations? Does the offer of a job after training matter? If so, are the School Direct salaried route and Teach First doing better at attracting applicant to teaching than university-based programmes?

The purists among us might say, give all teacher preparation to school-based programmes, but others might take the Augustinian view that they weren’t ready to do so just yet as the risks might be too high until we have more understanding of what brings people into teaching in sufficient numbers and then helps keep them in the profession.

It is worth noting that in 2010 EBITT numbers in the DfE census were recorded as just under 6,400 whereas in 2014 School Direct (both salaried and fee routes) recruited just over 9,200 primary and secondary trainees out of the 26,000 postgraduate entrants. In 2015, this had increased to 10,252 by November of whom 3,166 were on the salaried route (1,400 secondary and 1,600 primary)

Perhaps, of even more concern to me is that in 2015, schools bid for 2,252 maths training places. In 2016 the initial allocations are for 2,171 places despite there being 500 more maths places in the Teacher Supply Model for 2016: the only subject with an increase. Fortunately, that situation isn’t replicated in other subjects, but it raises the issue of how to manage need in a market, especially where the price to providers may have been reduced.

I am sure we will explore this further issue further in our discussion along with the role of government; the different regional effects and the increased desire to open up other careers to women with no parallel drive to make professions that are staffed by women more gender balanced in their workforce.

My two nightmares are firstly that all our possible women teachers are persuaded to become bankers, engineers or even police officers now that is to become an all graduate occupation and secondly that some successful business person in China decides to set up a chain of English-style schools and scoops the whole of our trainee pool. So, perhaps I am alone in thinking the slowdown in China might be a good thing for the teaching profession in England.

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6 thoughts on “Reflections on teacher preparation questions

  1. I was trained as a mature student in a now-defunct teaching training college run by the LA and gained a Cert.Ed (non-degree status qualified teacher). My concern about school-based training is that training comes second to teaching as it must do if the children are not to be short-changed. The priority for a teacher in a school, whether in training or not, is the teaching. The responsibilities of teaching could lead little time for studying pedagogy, research and reflection.

    Good quality teacher training is a combination of theory and practice. I favour the Finnish model where teachers study for Masters in their subject and in teaching theory. The trouble in the UK is that teacher training is done on the cheap (for the Government). My training was fully-funded and I received a grant. This allowed other mature students like me to be combine career change with family responsibilities (ie not loading families with extra debt on top of existing mortgages etc).

    • Janet,

      Thanks for the comment. Successive governments have never really addressed the implications of a shift to an all graduate profession except for the short-lived period under the last Labour government when a Masters’ degree seemed on the cards. But, it was a casualty of the economic downturn and recession of 2008. With so many more pupils now, it will I suspect, it will be even more of challenge to find the money but government does need to look into developing a more coherent CPD policy to recognise the needs of the teaching profession and especially those in their first few years of teaching.

      John

  2. John

    Firstly, thank you for educating us about these matters.

    Two thoughts: By virtue of its very premise, basic common sense tells us that two-year Teach First cannot be a viable solution to retention.
    Talk of teaching overseas on the other hand should (if it doesn’t already) include TEFL teaching, a major global industry and so recruitment competitor.

    • Janet,

      TEFL in its various forms has been around for a long while whereas the growth in the ‘international’ and British overseas school markets since I helped set up an early MA nearly 25 years ago had been huge and is still growing. It is that market that worries me more in its capacity to relocate teachers away from England. The cut to training numbers in Ontario won’t help on the inbound side although EU national with maths and science qualifications and good English could no doubt provide a replacement source of teachers in subjects where knoweldge is not context specific.

      John

      • One last thing: Is trying to stem the flow overseas one motivation behind the onus on school-based training (GTP, SCITT)?

        Or an unintended but still positive consequence perhaps?

        Currently, Australia, NZ, and other likely destinations for England’s teachers do not recognise this route.

      • That may be a marginal benefit but I don’t think it the main reason. I think it is more to do with the drive for a school-based market orientated system.

        John Howson

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