The shift to a ‘school-led system’ has been a defining strand of Coalition and Conservative education policy – first in school improvement and leadership development, and now extended to other aspects of education policy. In relation to initial teacher training (ITT), it has meant radical changes in approaches to the delivery of training, with many implications for how we think about ‘the teaching profession’, as well as for securing teacher supply. As the government rolls out its latest reforms for managing ITT, it’s interesting to reflect on the progress made so far in implementing schools-led ITT, and where we might be heading in future.
What the government has done
Deregulation of trainee/teacher supply. Whereas previously the government managed trainee numbers by allocating training places to providers on a subject and geographical basis, it now relies on an increasingly marketised framework. From 2016/17, ITT providers will be able to recruit as many trainees as they wish, up to a national cap, with only loose monitoring of demand across regions. It’s not clear how the cap will be operated in practice.
Relocation of ITT commissioning to schools. The government has established and expanded rapidly a new training route, School Direct, which comes in salaried and unsalaried variants. Salaried School Direct grew out of the old Graduate Teacher Programme, which offered employment-based training to career changers. Unsalaried School Direct is more akin to the traditional, one-year Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). In either case, School Direct allows schools to commission training provision from ITT providers, either in full or in part. Some schools have become accredited providers in their own right.
This is in a context where academies and free schools – a growing proportion of schools – can hire whomever they wish to teach their pupils; these candidates do not need to have completed any ITT, nor hold Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), hitherto the ‘licence to practice’ for all teachers.
The good and less good news
There have been some positive outcomes of the government’s approach. School Direct engages schools with their part in teacher education and professional renewal. And some schools like the freedom to grow their own teachers; they relish the responsibility. These are important gains. It also is arguable that School Direct is coherent in terms of policy development, being consistent with the broader move towards greater devolution of decision making.
But does this outweigh the new instabilities the changes have introduced? In terms of the impact on teacher supply and quality there is now cause for concern. Whereas university-school partnerships delivering the PGCE have typically recruited about 90% of their target trainee numbers, School Direct averages about 50% across salaried and unsalaried routes. Overall, only 93% of the ITT targets for 2014 were met. In fact, 2014 provided the lowest level of trainee recruitment since 2008. This outcome is worse when we look at the balance of recruitment across subjects – with over recruitment in history, art and English, and significant under-recruitment in mathematics and physics.
This is already impacting on schools. Teacher recruitment problems are geographically widespread. Schools in challenging circumstances and certain parts of the country are, predictably, being hit first and hardest, with small, or non-existent recruitment pools being reported by headteachers. Recruitment of teachers from overseas is once again on the rise – something previously deemed uneconomic and nonsensical.
There are additional pressures on the horizon. Due to demographic trends, over the next five years we will need to teach around an additional 500,000 pupils, so we will need an additional 25,000 teachers, or an additional 5,000 per annum.
Meanwhile, 2015 sees the graduation of the first cohort of students to study under the new fees regime, graduating with £27,000 of fee debt and probably £44,000 of student debt. Some will qualify for the £25,000 ITT bursaries on offer in priority subjects, but most would need to acquire more debt to train to teach in any non-salaried route (the PGCE or School Direct unsalaried). This will push candidates towards School Direct salaried routes at a time when school budgets will be under intense pressure from national insurance, pension and 16-19 funding changes. At the very least, academies and free schools may find they have no choice but to exploit their freedoms to use untrained staff.
What should be done?
The recruitment challenge needs to be approached in the same way as would any other business chasing large numbers of graduates – with a systematic and coherent strategy.
To guarantee standards we need to restore QTS as the gold-standard entry requirement to teaching, in all schools. No school system anywhere in the world has increased its effectiveness by deregulating entry to teaching.
We need to re-build school-university partnerships, which Ofsted says produces the highest quality training. Training should be primarily practical and school based, but also the research-led, clinical-practice based process that characterised training in England – and which was admired internationally – between 1992 and 2010.
Above all, this requires stable operating frameworks so that universities can hire strong ITT staff. This means realistic allocations of training places for schools and universities, based on needs, quality and recruitment records – not small allocations, or, as we have for the 2016/17 recruitment cycle, no allocations at all.