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Education: New teacher-training plans are a relief

06 February 2015

by John Howson

WHEN the former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, established an independent review of teacher-training last May, under the chairmanship of Sir Andrew Carter, many wondered whether its purpose was to provide Mr Gove with a sanitised excuse to remove the university sector from the long-standing part it played in training teachers.

This was clearly the fear of the Cathedral Group of 16 universities with recent church foundations, all but one of which had started out as institutions for the preparation of teachers - still a significant area of their work. Between them, they train one third of all primary teachers, 16 per cent of all secondary specialists, and 40 per cent of all teachers at Key Stage 2/3.

As the Group's submission to Carter emphasised, university-based PGCE courses "provide a national system of teacher education, workforce supply, and training that would be difficult to replicate within a schools-based system".

The submission suggests, moreover, that those in university-based training had immediate access to up-to-the-minute education research, more space to reflect on their classroom experience and learning with others, experiencing placements in very different schools, and a wider exposure to ideas and strategies than those working in one group of schools.

Sir Andrew reported last month to a new Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan - perhaps in the context of a different attitude in Government to how we prepare our teachers.

SIR ANDREW and his team have kept to their brief, looking at what is considered best practice in training and how recruitment might be improved. (The report, the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT), did not stray into areas such as how to solve the present recruitment crisis, which caused training places to be left empty again this year.)

After nine months of deliberations, and informed by a mountain of documents, including many course programmes, Sir Andrew has come up with 18 key recommendations. Few of them are a surprise. Reassuringly for the Cathedral Group, none of them envisages the closure of university education faculties, or is likely to lead to another round of mergers.

Sir Andrew, the executive head of a group of primary schools at the heart of a school-centred ITT programme, emphasises in the introduction that "partnership is the key" - although he did add "in a system that is increasingly school-led".

The notion of partnership between schools and higher education in the training of teachers was developed after reforms set in train in 1991 by the then Education Secretary, Kenneth Clarke. Throughout the past 20 years, as OFSTED has consistently made clear, these partnerships, and especially those between schools and universities - whoever takes the lead - have delivered a good teacher-training system.

SIR ANDREW's recommendations include creating a framework of core content: what all teachers in training should be taught, wherever that may be. He wants to see better mentoring, and to re-establish a repository of resources and guidance and assessment. Crucially, he also believes that the effectiveness of the tests used in helping to select trainees should be reviewed. There is also the inevitable recommendation on behaviour management, a skill without which no trainee will feel fully prepared, or, indeed, succeed.

A welcome surprise is the recommendation that child and adolescent development should be included within the ITT framework. Formerly taught under the umbrella of educational psychology, this has been an unfashionable area of study ever since Sir Keith Joseph asserted, in the 1980s, that educational philosophy, psychology, and sociology were an unnecessary part of teacher education.

The suggestion that partnerships use expertise wherever they can find it may be a nod to the market, but it could also recognise that, with online learning, traditional patterns of teaching and learning are changing fast. Teacher education cannot afford to be left behind.

THE most surprising section of the report is on subject knowledge and associated subject pedagogy. Everyone would accept the importance of these, but space to enhance subject knowledge disappeared from courses in the 1990s, when courses changed so that trainees could spend more time in schools.

Sir Andrew does not suggest how subject knowledge can be reintroduced into an already over-crowded curriculum. He also fails to explore why, if subject knowledge is important at the training stage, teachers can still be allowed to teach anything to anyone at any level, once they have qualified - a loophole that allows many RE lessons to be taught by an often reluctant teacher with no specialist knowledge.

Finally, there are recommendations to involve more schools in ITT - presumably related to his proposed review of selection tests, and improved recruitment procedures. The review does not mention the current expensive and time-consuming admissions system for entry into postgraduate training. But it does recommend clarifying the difference between qualified teacher status and academic qualifications, an issue previously considered in 1994 during the passage of the Bill that established the Teacher Training Agency.

Nevertheless, it is good to find it being discussed again.

The Carter report has something to please everyone, but it does not make clear the longer-term direction of teacher preparation. Perhaps that is a task for the next government.

Professor John Howson is the director of an education research company, and a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University.

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