As schools begin a new term, many headteachers are faced with chronic gaps in their staffing. It is at this time of year that the teacher shortage is most keenly felt. At the same time teacher education and teacher training providers prepare to welcome a cohort of new recruits, and consider how to best induct them into what is, for many, a new career and a new professional identity.
As a new report from the Education Policy Institute outlines, the teacher labour market is getting worse. Applications for teacher training are in decline by 5% and exit rates are increasing by up to 10%. For both schools, teacher education providers and the DfE now is a good time to think about the issue of quality initial teacher education (ITE) at scale.
In recent years the Department for Education (DfE) have adjusted their policy around the allocation and distribution of places for teacher training to maximise the access to what are considered high quality places, giving more places, over three rather than one year, to these providers. However, as others have pointed out the proliferation of courses and routes into teaching that are available is bewildering and unhelpful. It is unclear to potential applicants what each route provides, and the sort of experience they can expect. The challenge then becomes how to find out which route into teaching might be best for them and then, which good quality course to apply to.
Indeed, the concern here is twofold: the first applies both to potential new recruits and those who decide which provider or route gets the most places, which is to determine where are the ‘best’ places that offer teacher education. The second challenge is how to ensure these quality places are provided at sufficient scale (and in the right locations) to meet the demand for teachers. Bring them together and the challenge becomes more pronounced – because what can be a quality experience on a small programme or via a small provider, might not be possible to scale up.
Take, for example, the high-quality teacher education provision provided by many Russell Group institutions, such as the Oxford Internship Scheme (OIS). This is a well-regarded, high-quality programme by a range of indicators, but it is relatively small in scale (allocated 195 places for 2018). It has been highly rated by Ofsted, and has high completion and employment rates. Its design is reliant on the full engagement of partner schools who are fully immersed into the internship model and philosophy. The degree of commitment required would be challenging to scale up.
Within business, this issue is referred to as the “Problem of More” where it is recognised that scaling up can dilute quality, unless the process of scaling is handled sensitively and with due consideration to the key elements of quality provision. In some cases, this might mean having a firm grip on specific components which are scaled up unchanged (think of a franchise), in others this might mean having core principles adapted for local requirements. In reality of course, most successful ventures are somewhere in-between. This is particularly pertinent for teacher education, where some teacher education initiatives have been criticised for not taking into account local variation and the specific needs of local communities.
An additional problem is to identify what it is about a particular programme that makes it high quality. The IOE is one of the largest providers of ITE across the country, offering teacher education programmes from Early Years through to Post-Compulsory (allocated 1,863 places for 2018). Our largest programmes include the PGCE for both Primary and Secondary (covering 19 subjects), and we work with a range of partner-led provision including SCITTs (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training), and School Direct Programmes (where places are allocated to schools who then choose which ITE provider to partner with to fill those places). We are also Teach First’s largest provider and partner. Crucially, we are also widely perceived to be a centre of excellence in ITE (with an Ofsted Outstanding rating across our provision) – our offer of ‘quality at scale’ is unique in that regard.
Across our ITE provision, scale is interpreted in a variety of ways, each sensitive to the individual needs of that programme and its participants, and that have been developed over time. What we’ve learnt is that to get scale right, without damaging quality, its important to consider what really matters. And of course, identifying what really matters is also influenced by our values, vision and priorities for what high quality teaching looks like for London: our scale means we can offer high quality subject and phase specific expertise in all areas, a range of placement experiences across London in a variety of educational contexts and access to the world leading experts and researchers.
As the DfE considers the allocation of places for teacher training for 2019/20, it is not anticipated that there will be huge variations to either the funding formula or the distribution of places across providers. However, this is unlikely to address the teacher shortage problem that the DfE faces. It could be the case that the plethora of routes on offer confuses potential applicants rather than providing them with the information they need. It could also be the case that the factors that put people off teaching – workload, and lack of status for instance – are compounded by a complex infrastructure of ways into the profession.
At this point, there is understandably, little appetite for a complete overhaul of the system. However, if the DfE is serious about tackling teacher shortages then it needs to participate in a conversation about what matters within teacher education. Such a conversation needs to take seriously the question of both scale and quality: what is needed to provide high quality teachers not just for next September but that are able to adapt and have the necessary knowledge, understanding and skills that make them want to stay in the profession long term.