The government’s proposed reforms of the initial teacher training sector “risk serious jeopardy to the current teacher supply model”, a group of leading teacher-training universities has warned, as the extensive criticism of the plans intensified today.
MillionPlus, which represents 22 modern universities, said on Friday 20 August it “will always work with the government to bring about change that is truly in the interest of schools, ITT [initial teacher training] providers and trainee teachers, but that is not the case here”.
MillionPlus chief executive Rachel Hewitt said her members – “currently the backbone of initial teacher training” – would in response to the threatened reforms “reconsider their provision in this area”.
The proposals, which are under consultation, would require all universities to seek re-accreditation to continue training new candidates and restrict the ability of universities to decide how to train and mentor student teachers.
Also today, the Russell Group published its damning review of the ITT review commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and led by Ian Bauckham, CEO of Tenax Schools Trust, a Church of England multi-academy trust.
The Russell Group lambasted what it called “an overcentralised model of teacher training [that] may stifle innovation and research at universities, and could undermine the skilled status of the profession”.
An alliance of teacher training institutions – the Teacher Education Advisory Group (TEAG), a joint group backed by Universities UK and GuildHE – reflected this criticism in its consultation response published on Friday 20 August.
“There is a danger that this major level of disruption to the system at an already pressurised time will have a serious impact both on teacher recruitment and retention. At a time when stability is required, this system-wide change could result in undermining the very system the review was designed to improve,” TEAG warned. “Whilst at the moment there appears to be an increase in applications, this is no guarantee that it will continue.”
Not only might the changes imperil the supply of teachers in the next few years, trainees being desperately needed for a sector plagued by infamously low retention rates, but TEAG warned it could also discourage “gifted” future teachers from considering the profession.
“The longer-term impact of the profession having limited opportunity to exercise professional judgement and opinions in a relatively prescriptive system may not be as attractive to highly motivated and gifted potential applicants,” cautioned the TEAG in its consultation response.
DfE statistics reveal that of newly-qualified teachers in 2014, just 67.4% were still in the profession by 2019. According to analysis by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), newly-qualified teacher retention rates have fallen over the last decade. The percentage of annual intake not remaining in the profession after one year has risen from 11.9% in 2011 to 15.5% in 2019.
If change is forced through in spite of a near-unanimous sector backlash, it is likely that numerous modern universities, currently the backbone of initial teacher training, will re-consider their provision in this area
– Rachel Hewitt, MillionPlus
The re-accreditation process also attracted the scorn of MillionPlus, the Russell Group and TEAG.
TEAG cited the concerns of one university that said “to re-accredit, all programmes and all routes would require significant investment of [the] academic team, circa 3,000 hours, or two full-time members of staff for one academic year”.
The statements from MillionPlus and TEAG come on the heels of strident warnings from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, the University of Oxford Department of Education and the UCL Institute of Education, the largest single university education research body in the UK. Cambridge has threatened to stop teacher training if the changes go ahead – while Oxford and UCL have published excoriating responses to the proposed DfE reforms.
TEAG said there were many small, non-university ITT providers and recommended the DfE pursue a risk-based approach to reaccreditation, starting with those centres that cannot demonstrate a track record of success.
In a pointed opening statement to the DfE review, TEAG suggested that blame for low teacher retention lay with government policies and not training providers. The statement said: “It is important to note that when teachers leave the profession early in their career, they are not citing their ITE [initial teacher education] as the cause – the big reason is workload and efforts to improve retention would be better spent on further work in this area.”
Hewitt characterised the proposals as “little short of an experiment with the teacher education ecosystem at a time of unprecedented strain on schools”. The case for change “on this scale and at this speed has not been convincingly made”, she continued.
Said Hewitt: “If change is forced through in spite of a near-unanimous sector backlash, it is likely that numerous modern universities, currently the backbone of initial teacher training, will re-consider their provision in this area. This could critically damage the pipeline of new teachers into the profession, potentially hitting hardest the very regions and communities the government has pledged to level up.
“Coming on the heels of an extraordinarily challenging 18 months, and with recent policy initiatives such as the Core Content Framework and Early Career Framework still in their infancy, the time calls for support and stability for all parts of the ITT model.
“MillionPlus will always work with the government to bring about change that is truly in the interest of schools, ITT providers and trainee teachers, but that is not the case here. That the current system has endured Covid and maintained such high standards should be lauded by the government. Instead, if these changes are enacted, the resilience of the system will be diminished and the risks to teacher supply will be clear.”
We are disappointed that the Review essentially positions (student) teachers as passive consumers of a narrow set of research findings as well as atomised chunks of knowledge – UCL Institute of Education
The Russell Group said its universities work with over 2,500 schools to train more than 5,500 teachers each year.
“We share the government’s ambition to deliver the highest possible standard of training,” the Russell Group said.
“However, we are concerned the independent market review proposals will lead to an overly prescriptive approach [that] threatens the autonomy of higher education providers, the quality of teacher training programmes and their partnerships with schools.
“We are calling on the government to listen to the clear feedback from the sector, pause the process and work with providers to identify ways of addressing low-quality provision while protecting the excellence that already exists across the system.”
Earlier this week, on Wednesday 18 August, Cambridge warned: “The market review proposals appear to confuse quality with uniformity and conformity. We cannot, in all conscience, envisage our continuing involvement with ITT should the proposals be implemented in their current format.”
Published on the same day, the UCL response to the DfE said: “In their current form, the proposals risk extensive and damaging disruption to the ITE system, putting the quality and supply of provision at risk and eroding capacity for improvement. At the very least, reform should proceed at a realistic pace, based on piloting before system-wide reform.”
But UCL questioned the theory of the DfE proposals. “The proposals also misunderstand and misrepresent the process of professional learning, as standardised and linear rather than unique to each student teacher. We are disappointed that the Review essentially positions (student) teachers as passive consumers of a narrow set of research findings as well as atomised chunks of knowledge.”
In July 2020, MillionPlus and the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), with the support of UCET (Universities Council for the Education of Teachers), published ‘The future of Initial Teacher Education: Living in the age of Covid-19 and beyond’ to call on the DfE to develop a national ITE recovery response in the aftermath of Covid-19. The plans stand in stark contrast to those currently favoured by the DfE.