Some weeks ago, I was working for the IOE in Chile. Chile is an object lesson in education reform: in the 1980s and 1990s, it de-regulated its education system on a grand scale. For-profit schools entered the public sector. Quasi-voucher schemes were introduced. Teaching was de-regulated. In the last five years, the Chilean government has begun to re-regulate. Michele Bachelet’s new education law will remove for-profit provision from public schooling and reduce selection. I met Christian Cox, Dean of Education at the Pontifical University of Chile at Santiago, a thoughtful, wise observer of education policy, who shook his head as he told me: “it was sheer chaos in Chile. It was a state of nature”.
The teaching profession in England is being de-regulated at speed. Academy schools are no longer required to appoint individuals who have qualified teacher status (QTS). Schools themselves, singly or in groups, are being encouraged to establish themselves as providers of teacher education. There have even been suggestions that responsibility for the award of QTS might be given to schools. A teacher, henceforth, would be anyone whom a head teacher designates as a teacher. It’s worth noting that no other country in the world manages its teaching profession in this way.
The publication of the 2014 ITT census last week brings into the public domain the detailed data on this autumn’s recruitment to all teacher education routes. It allows us to look at the early impact of the de-regulation of teacher education on the teaching profession, and on teacher supply.
It makes grim reading. As ever with this sort of publication, government press releases tried to put a spin on the data: 93% of teacher education targets had been met, and more entrants to teacher education had first class degrees than ever before – both superficially good pieces of news, especially if you believe there is any connection between degree class and teaching effectiveness, on which the evidence is somewhat thin.
But a moment’s scrutiny revealed that this was the glossiest of positive spins. It’s true that 93% of targets had been met, but only by counting the over-recruitment in History, Art and English against the overall national target for all subjects. There were serious shortfalls in Biology, Physics, Design Technology and Languages. A surfeit of History graduates is of little use in teaching A-level Physics, but more generally, from a taxpayer point of view, over-recruitment is as damaging as under-recruitment. In all, the 2014 census, set against the censuses for the past six years, suggests the lowest level of teacher recruitment since 2008. Moreover, the apparently record number of entrants with first class degrees was only 1% higher [after rounding] than last year.
Looking at entrants to School Direct – the government’s increasingly preferred route for teacher preparation – the press statement itself says “School Direct (salaried) has the lowest proportion of trainees with a 2:1 or higher. However, this may be due to the characteristics of people on this route.” It’s not clear what else it could have been due to, and raises doubts about the ability of School Direct to attract the highest qualified candidates. As a whole, School Direct recruited only 61% of its allocation; conventional university-led teacher education met 89% of its targets. No progress has been made in improving the ethnic diversity of the profession.
Head teacher reaction to the figures was despairing. Malcolm Trobe from ASCL called them ‘ghastly’ and suggested that heads would increasingly need to look overseas for their teachers (connections with government policy on immigration should not be explored).
Around the world, there is increasing consensus that the most important thing government can do in the long-term to raise standards in schools is to focus on the quality of teaching. We know a good deal about the sort of high quality teacher preparation which underpins a high-performing education system. It recognises the importance of university engagement in research-led, clinical-practice based teacher education. It accepts that teaching is a complex profession which needs coherent approaches to learning. Of course, few systems work perfectly, and improvement is always possible. But de-regulation simply does not work. A state of nature cannot sustain a high quality profession.