The Education White Paper proposes significant changes to teacher training which will have profound implications for schools, universities and teachers.
The proposals about teacher training in the White Paper that reflect Sir Andrew Carter’s balanced report last year are very welcome. The need for a teacher training curriculum to provide greater consistency in preparation for the profession is, for example, a positive step. The emphasis on the importance of evidence-based practice is welcome although the overly-empirical nature of the government’s preferred random controlled testing provides evidence that fails to capture key aspects of effective teaching related to relationship and experience. Unfortunately, some other aspects of the White Paper are driven by ideology rather than evidence and none more so than the replacement of QTS with something of which the government have not yet thought.
As with many reforms of the last twenty years, a false narrative of failure is used to justify radical change to an effective system. As Chris Husbands, Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, has written, the established system of teacher training has become very efficient at training the large numbers of student teachers needed by schools. There is a range of evidence that a successful system had developed that identified the applicants with the most potential, trained them well and sent them out as confident professionals to contribute to schools. Part of the false narrative, that has repeated over a long period and by the Secretary of State introducing the White Paper, is that universities are responsible for professional practice that lacks evidence. The reality is that since 1994, univerisites have increasingly reflected provision in schools which in turn has been influenced by the marketing of pedagogy some of which had no basis. Brain gym is a good example of unevidenced teaching created by the publishing market, sold to headteachers by sales people delivering CPD, affirmed in Ofsted reports but blamed on universities in order to justify the current removal of the academic underpinning of the profession. The problem for reform-minded politicians is that academic study can lead teachers to reflect on the complexity of learning and conclude that there is no one solution that meets the needs of all children. Politics and markets, on the other hand, rely on the branding of pedagogical ideas as the one failsafe solution. The White Paper makes this more not less likely.
The White paper focuses on postgraduate secondary teacher education as if there is only a need for one approach (a common failing in government education policy) Over the last four years, evidence has emerged that the rapidly introduced changes to postgraduate teacher training has led to an application system that identifies the first – not best-candidates (Michael Tidd wrote an excellent article on this in Teach Primary magazine) to apply from a smaller pool of people, most of whom are already known to schools. In primary education at national level, this has led to more males (much sought after by headteachers) and fewer students from ethnic minority backgrounds. The role universities have played in promoting a neutral consideration of applications has been subverted and, as with other forms of internship, teacher training is in danger of privileging those with less potential but better connections. Over the last four years, evidence has emerged that the rapidly introduced changes to postgraduate teacher training has led to a system that identifies the first candidates to apply from a smaller pool of people, most of whom are already known to schools.
The removal of QTS carries the danger of extending the erosion of neutral consideration of evidence to the recommendation of qualification award. The headteachers I work with have great integrity but, in principle, a decision taken by two people (one headteacher verified by a representative of a Teaching School Alliance) of teaching in one setting lacks the robustness of the moderated judgment of six professionals in two schools sampled by external examiners and inspected by OfSTED.
The removal of QTS will also lead to at least one additional year of a teacher’s early career being paid at an unqualified rate and reduced employer pension contribution. The move offers savings to schools at a time of budget cuts and an additional temptation to set the qualification bar so high that young teachers remain on low salaries. This would potentially lead to a high turnover in apprentice teachers and a reduction in the numbers undertaking PGCEs and then Masters courses. International studies show that high quality education systems are based on excellent teaching that develops over time and is underpinned by deep academic understanding. The poorest elements of the White Paper related to teacher training favour ideology over available evidence but then again so does mass academisation of primary education.