Yesterday the DfE published its report on the Market Review of Initial Teacher training (ITT). The review goes well beyond what the title suggests: less a review of the market for new entrants to the profession, and more a rewriting of teacher education and development in its entirety. If the recommendations are implemented this heralds wholesale change to initial teacher education over the coming year.
For those with an interest in teacher education the content of the report is not overly surprising – nor is the strength of outrage and opposition that it has provoked. The document is a basis for consultation, so in due course institutions and individuals will be able to add reasoned comments to the debate. Right now, it has set social media on fire, and well-respected organisations are making their voices heard. UCL’s Institute of Education suggests that the government is trying to turn teachers into technicians rather than professionals, while Cambridge University has said that implementation of the recommendations would leave it with little option but to review the viability of its initial teacher education programmes. One assumes this was not what Nick Gibb had in mind when he said that he’d rather see Oxbridge graduates without a teaching qualification than teachers from “rubbish universities” with PGCEs.
Most agree that some aspects of the review are welcome: the huge variety of routes into teaching has become increasingly complex and confusing to applicants, apparently without attracting additional numbers to the profession. Quality assurance of initial teacher education is important, and, though it might feel uncomfortable, few would argue against the need for robust monitoring of the system (currently provided through Ofsted). Applicants have a right to expect some consistency whichever provider they choose and wherever in the country they train.
So why the fuss? The recommendations essentially suggest that there is only one way to train a teacher, and furthermore that the curriculum content, and the way it is taught, should be identical for all students. The report recognises that 75% of the 30,000 people who are awarded QTS each year do so via a programme that involves a university, yet proposes a model which will leave universities questioning whether they can remain involved. Some of the smaller SCITT provider will similarly be wondering if they can remain viable under the new proposals. There are pragmatic concerns over the the time that developing teachers need to spend in schools, and the support that they will require, as well as the types of schools that can offer the “intensive practice” experience that is specified – but to me these are secondary to two important principles.
The first is that teachers should be leaders of education, and therefore well educated themselves. The proposals look to further disaggregate recommendation for QTS from the PGCE qualification, emphasising training over professional learning. The same government that allows academies the freedom to appoint teachers without QTS (most choose not to do this) appears to be saying that the academic standing of the profession counts for nothing. Compare this with the findings from a DfE report which shows that of 38 countries in Europe and beyond, about half expect teachers to have a masters degree. The Market Review recommendations appear to be designed to develop particular professional behaviours rather than a critical understanding of the role that will support wise and informed decision making when in post. Should ITE providers wish to offer an academic award then they will be able to ask for this from the Institute of Teaching, the as-yet non-existent “flagship” provider of teacher education and development, thus ignoring the history and learning of our well-established universities.
Secondly, there is a severe curtailment of academic freedom. We have got used to the idea of a National Curriculum in schools, and the insidious progress towards centralised and standardised curriculum and pedagogy. Here we see the same principles applied to initial teacher education: not just a common core content (which has had to be included in ITE programmes from this year) but a clearly defined way of teaching that content as well. The freedom to adapt according to particular needs, be they those of partner schools, ITE students, the local context, all seems to be missing. The aim appears to be to create clones of the DfE’s ideal teacher: quality and consistency have been confused with uniform conformity.
The Market Review was published on the same day that an all-party parliamentary group published a document calling for the review to be halted. At the very least this asked for a full 12 week consultation on the Market Review proposals (in accordance with the government’s own code of practice). Instead, we have just 7 weeks to respond – much of which is in the schools’ summer holidays. We might ask why the rush, but the answer is clear in the consultation document, which neatly lays out the timescale for all ITE providers to reapply for accreditation, design new programmes and recruit trainees just before the next election. A genuinely unbiased and apolitical review would not need to worry about such niceties.
That the Market Review represents a political move is not in any doubt. However, I would take issue with those who identify it with further marketisation and a continued drive towards neoliberalism, begun in the 1970s. These recommendations do not open up a free market in initial teacher education, in which applicants can choose between a range of providers with different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses (and in principle, costs). Instead this is a drive towards increased centralisation, regulation and compliance. Commentators would do well to remember that the “new right” which inspired Margaret Thatcher’s market-based individualised policies had its own tension, between free market neoliberalism and traditionalist neoconservatism, and it is the values from this latter ideology that are now coming to the fore.
In the introduction to their new book, Hargreaves and Shirley’s observations of education systems around the world lead them to suggest that we are currently in a time of transition from an age of individual accountability and tested achievement, to one which is characterised by engagement, well-being and identity. I fear that this is overly optimistic as far as education in England is concerned, and worry that the Market Review signals a determination to deviate from what might be considered global best practice. It is clear from social media that there are many who feel the same way – the question is, will anyone listen to the consultation responses?