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Wednesday July 24, 2013

Surveying the Wreckage


NATE survey reveals disquiet at changes to initial teacher training in the UK

Update, July 2013: NATE's report has been submitted as evidence to Parliament Education Committee for its inquiry into the School Direct programme. The hearing scheduled for 9 July was cancelled but our evidence, along with that from others, can be found on the Committee website.

From 2013, the government intends to shift the provision of teacher education from higher education to 'School Direct'. NATE is concerned about the effects on the quality of teacher education, on the work and careers of our members in departments of education and on the working lives of members in schools. The Association therefore recently conducted a survey of member opinion. 730 individuals responded and over half also wrote, often passionately, about the issues at stake. The results make disturbing reading for both the profession and the DfE, reinforced as they are by recent stories about possible problems with applications to School Direct and a sharp fall in the number of graduates applying to work in the classroom.

In my view, a 50:50 split of time between university and schools is about right. There is a real risk of trainee teachers getting stuck in one school's style and believing this is the only way to teach. Headteacher

In the NATE report serious concerns are voiced from across the profession, from student teachers and heads of English departments to university tutors and headteachers. A student teacher in an academy notes the responsibilities already carried by English departments: 'They usually have to set up a school's cross- curricular literacy programme, advanced reader programme, EAL programme, and so on.' A secondary deputy head teacher notes, rather mournfully: 'Schools have neither the time nor the capacity to devote to focused study of the subject but are very focused on structures and strategies which they think meet Ofsted requirements.' A host of other concerns emerge from the comments, from employment prospects to uneven provision of training across the country.

This is not what successful contemporary schools require. 'We always choose university trained PGCE students over others in this high achieving 13-18 academy,' writes a head of department. A headteacher summarises the views of many:

Trainee teachers need exposure to a range of schools during their training year, a sound philosophical training and opportunity to research and reflect on best practice. In my view, a 50:50 split of time between university and schools is about right. There is a real risk of trainee teachers getting stuck in one school's style and believing this is the only way to teach.

The report concludes:

A wise conservatism builds (in the words of the poet and school inspector Matthew Arnold) on 'the best that has been thought and said'. It does not destroy a teacher training culture that has developed over many decades, in order to rectify a problem that does not exist.

John Hodgson, NATE's Research Officer and editor of the report, adds:

Many of the respondents have written passionately of their shock and dismay that professional teacher education and training in England is to be dismantled overnight. Repeatedly, they wrote of the benefits they had gained from their own university courses, which had opened their eyes to the values and purposes of education and given them the basis to develop their own professionalism. Several drew attention to the very different arrangements in countries whose educational systems are lauded by the Education Secretary - in Finland, for example, teaching requires a five-year course and master's degree.

Read the full report on NATE's survey of the professional response to changes to initial teacher training in the UK here.

The government's proposals

For many years, students taking the UK postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE) have spent approximately two thirds of the course in (usually) two teaching placements, working under the guidance both of a mentor appointed by the school and of their university PGCE tutor. Despite this strong emphasis on experiential learning, the government is currently intent (in the words of the Secretary of State for Education) on 'reforming training so that more ITT is led by schools and there is a focus on the most important elements of being a teacher' (DfE 2011). An e-mail sent to training providers on 15 June 2012 makes clear that, from September 2013, the government intends to shift the balance of initial teacher training provision from higher education to School Direct.

Summary

This is a short version of a paper that has been submitted for academic publication in 2014. Because of concern about current changes in initial teacher training (ITT), we have decided to publish this version online immediately.

A wise conservatism builds on 'the best that has been thought and said'. It does not destroy a teacher training culture that has developed over many decades, in order to rectify a problem that does not exist.

From September 2013, the UK government has shifted the balance of initial teacher training (ITT) provision from higher education to 'School Direct', a school-centred and employment-based route. The National Association for the Teaching of English has conducted an online survey of professional opinion on these changes. 730 individual educators completed the survey; 382 supplemented their responses with written comments.

These responses reveal considerable doubt as to whether a school will be able to resource key elements of teacher training. Respondents fear that trainees’ subject knowledge, understanding of educational purposes and processes, and classroom preparedness will all decline. Trainees will be less well tutored and mentored and an impoverished overall experience of teacher education may affect morale. Employers will find difficulty in filling posts appropriately and the national/regional balance of job supply and demand will be affected. Regional provision of ITT will be more variable and worse overall. A large majority of respondents believe that University-led training allows trainees to reflect on and learn from multiple teaching placements through contact with their tutor, their peers, and other learning communities. A wise educational policy would not destroy a teacher training culture that has developed over many decades.

Read Surveying the Wreckage in full here (PDF, 12 pages, 513 kB)



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