THE White Paper on education contains a whole chapter on teachers and school leaders, and proposes the replacement of the crucial licence to teach, Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), with a supposedly stronger form of accreditation, to be awarded by schools.
This seems like a return to the ‘probationary year’ system, in which schools had the last word on whether teachers had successfully made the transition from lecture room to classroom. The fact that the numbers failing probation were always very small showed a reluctance on the part of most schools to overturn the judgement of the trainers; frequent periods of teacher shortage may also have been a factor.
Only time will tell whether a new system will produce different rates of success among new entrants, at a time when teacher recruitment remains a serious issue. Since the Government has increased the amount of school-led training, it would be perverse to expect teaching schools subsequently to refuse their students accreditation.
BEFORE the White Paper, there had been fears that university involvement in teacher training would be further marginalised, or even removed completely. The scenario it outlined, however, included a continuing place for the universities, stating the Government’s intention to “strengthen university and school-led training, increase the rigour of ITT content with a greater emphasis on subject knowledge and evidence based practice”.
This is good news for the Cathedrals Group of church universities because of the important part that they play in educating new teachers, especially for the primary sector; the ten Church of England universities alone train one third of all primary teachers. Universities are better placed than most schools to provide subject knowledge for trainees.
These universities will also have been pleased to read that the Government intends to “introduce new quality criteria” for both university and school-led providers, and allocate training places accordingly. The best providers will receive long-term allocations. This move would end the anxiety created by the current annual round of bidding and allow for better planning. Nevertheless, any school of education not regarded as excellent could still lose places if enough schools offer to train teachers; this seems unlikely in the primary sector.
UNIVERSITIES received further good news: they are no longer to be subject to the recruitment controls that have made this year’s process such a headache. There is, though, disappointment that the Government went into self-imposed purdah before the European Referendum — and before indicating exactly how the recruitment round for 2017 entry would be managed.
The nod in the White Paper towards the establishment of a college of teaching is sensible; many in the profession thought that the precipitous axing of the General Teaching Council was a mistake, and that a better option would have been to reform it. The White Paper’s acceptance that teachers need continuing professional development offers opportunities for the church universities, but the lack of concrete proposals suggests that these won’t be accompanied by much new funding.
Given the rise of multi-academy trusts, church universities will, no doubt, want to enter into partnerships with dioceses to develop tailored professional development. Partnerships of this kind will ensure economies of scale. There is no suggestion of creating a Master's degree in teaching — an aspiration of the last Labour government — but the recognition of the importance of professional development is a step in the right direction.
OVERSHADOWING the proposals for teacher preparation is the recognition that the increase in pupil numbers creates a need for many more teachers. For the first time in recent history, the Government has recognised that teacher supply has a regional dimension. As this view takes hold, the church universities will need to ensure they can demonstrate a regional focus. It will be of little use for a university to be designated an outstanding provider in a region where there is little demand for new teachers, unless it can show that its trainee teachers are prepared to move.
The Government seems finally to have realised that the teaching force, secondary as well as primary, is predominantly female. Secondary schools will have to come to terms with the part-time working already common in primary schools. Here, church schools can provide a lead by helping to design new working patterns for teachers with young families who do not want to work full-time.
It seems clear that schools led by the Church of England will retain an important place within the school system, as the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Education and the Church of England, signed within weeks of the White Paper’s publication, demonstrated. As the former decentralised model of partnership between local authorities and Westminster is replaced by a national model administered through un-elected regional schools commissioners, the Church of England must ensure that its traditional diocesan model is effective within the new structure.
Professor John Howson is a visiting Norham fellow at the University of Oxford, and the chair of TeachVac