Thinking about class size

This morning I gave an input on BBC breakfast in relation to a campaign to reduce class sizes by Dr Helen Vickers.


Prior to my input I have pulled together some thoughts on class size and the impact on children and teachers.

Firstly three points:

  • Naturally most parents would likely advocate smaller (below 30) class sizes. Alternatively governments may instinctively, due to cost and difficulties of teacher supply automatically edge towards larger classes.
  • Teachers would probably advocate smaller classes and there are perceived norms of class sizes in primary, secondary and different subjects. For example Art, D&T  and PE may have smaller groups than say English and Mathematics whilst SEN pupils may  also be taught in smaller groups. Equally some locations such as Scotland and Norther Ireland have mandated maximum class sizes.
  • However a significant factor in increasing class size is it is not just the increased manageability of a larger class but also the workload associated with managing an extra 25-30% of pupils. So whilst managing a group size of 40 pupils may not be inconceivable the increased demands in relation to preparation, assessment, tracking and parental involvement is significant.
  • With an increasingly likely teacher recruitment crisis it may be ‘considered’ out of the governments or schools hands; class sizes may simply have to increase due to budgets and a lack of teachers. For example there is an acknowledged worldwide shortage of approximately 5 million teachers therefore it may be more about developing a nuanced understanding of class sizes and the impact on learning than specifying a particular ratio.

But what does the research say?

Inevitably the data is mixed:

One reason for this is drawing inappropriate causal associations. So far example one problem is that if a school puts lower ability pupils in smaller classes and reports the outcomes then the outcomes would illustrate that lower group sizes equates to lower attainment (given the ability and starting point of the group). So looking at group size and outcomes is not enough.

However research by Denny and Oppedisano (2013) did counterintuitively find that using a large representative sample of high school students in the United States and the United Kingdom, that students do better on mathematics tests if the classes are larger. In this study it was however acknowledged that the influence of parents as a variable is significant and as is known in the UK the investment by parents in private tutors might be masking some of the impact of class sizes!

The Education Endowment Foundation in their summary states: “overall the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects, until class size is reduced to under 20 or even below 15.” As such reducing a class from 30 to 25 might not have a significant impact on attainment but there may be other associated benefits such as improved teacher workload and  wellbeing or improved diagnostic of pupils learning needs.

An often cited research study – Project Star in Tennessee identified however that even a temporary reduction of class size (e.g. for a number of years) resulted in long term learning gains when classes were reduced to 15 from 25 with the biggest impact upon boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. However to have an effect  of some significance the class size must be lower than 30 and other variables have to be addressed such as the quality of teaching and the nature of teaching, learning and assessment.

Interestingly a caveat that is mentioned in the EFF summary and other research indicates that reducing the class size alone is not enough as the reduction, if it is to have an effect, should be matched with an appropriate change in pedagogical strategies. Therefore teachers in countries such as China, with an average class size of approximately 55 pupils, will equally have adapted their teaching styles accordingly (hence why we should be cautious in borrowing policies and practices from other countries).

Perhaps a significant concern is if class sizes increase – who are the increased class size most likely to impact upon? From the different studies including EEF it is noted that ‘slightly larger effects are documented for the lower achievers and those from the lower socio-economic status for very young pupils.’

Equally whilst there may be some drop in attainment as class sizes increase– financially in terms of reducing class sizes the costs may be too high for limited gains in attainment. Therefore other approaches may be considered as providing more  cost effective and efficient ways to raise attainment than reducing class sizes e.g. through a focus on metacognition or feedback. There is also suggestion that in larger class sizes pupils are afforded greater autonomy and accountability for their own learning (I suspect some may not find this convincing).

Ultimately class size is just one key factor in impacting upon attainment and a more nuanced understanding of the factors involved need to be considered particularly in relation to the pupil and teachers needs.

In terms of comparisons, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicates that the average for lower secondary is 23 pupils with Primary pupils in most countries having a lower average than Secondary.


In the UK unusually the Primary class average is higher than Secondary at approximately 25. It has to be remembered that these are reported averages and are not necessarily actual ratios (as typically it is the number of pupils divided by the FTE of teachers (who may not all teach)). Also it is worth noting that the UK primary school ratio is higher than many other countries e.g. US and most of Europe, whilst the secondary ratio is one of the lowest in the world.

As indicated a more nuanced understanding is still required as within a classroom it will be the quality of teaching that will be a significant factor and the adapting of teaching to the environment and the effective use of resources, including additional support teachers that will ultimately impact upon the learning.

Whilst the research is unclear as to what the optimum class size should be, given the complex number of variables associated with learning there are two factors that will remain pertinent:

Firstly class size is an indication of expenditure by governments  (and delegated decision making to Academy Chains, MATs and Free Schools) on their teaching workforce. This would also be related to teachers salaries, the amount of hours worked and the qualities (including the training) of the teacher. So questions such as ‘should teachers with larger classes be paid more’ are questions that are now delegated out to schools.

Secondly reducing class sizes alone will not necessarily have an impact on improved attainment – but attainment is not the only factor we should be concerned with. However where class size reductions take place they have to be matched by appropriate changes in  pedagogy in order to reap the benefits.

Without doubt however, an increasing worldwide demand for teachers combined with a ‘recruitment crisis’ and growth in the population is going to increase pressure on class sizes for at least the next 10 years!

Design and (or) Technlogy 2.0

In a blog post just before Christmas (December 2016) David Barlex (along with Torben Steeg and Nick Givens) argued for the rebuilding of Design and Technology based upon the current situation where less than 30% of students now study D&T. In response to David’s proposal I would agree with the identified challenges as being:

  • A lack of agreed epistemology
  • Confusion about purpose
  • Uncertainty about the nature of good practice
  • Erroneous stakeholder perceptions

However whilst there is much that I agree with in the report I would argue that the proposed rebuilding plan is prone to failure. As such I would propose a more radical reclaiming, renaming and reframing agenda in the form of developing Design and (or) Technology 2.0.

Central to this proposal are two main points:

Firstly David’s proposal is looking to rebuild a subject in an environment that has already seen the perceived failure of Design and Technology. Rebuilding in this climate, using the identified infrastructure would see humpty dumpty put back together again only to continue to fall. As such Design and (or) Technology 2.0 will only survive and evolve in an environment that will allow it thrive. As ‘designers’ we know that the best ideas don’t always prosper – they have to adapt or be adapted to their environment. As such the recommendations on page 26 of the report are those that may have worked in the past but which I don’t believe will work in the future.

Most notably lacking in the report is the full acknowledgement for the need for continued political support. Design and Technology has both grown, thrived and then been completely neglected by various governments. It was a core, compulsory subject enjoying both government interest and resourcing but in the last eight years the subject has been abandoned and mistreated. The absolute shambles of the writing of the national curriculum by civil servants perhaps best illustrates just how badly Design and Technology has fared with recent governments.

Therefore Design and (or) Technology 2.0 has to be much more politically savvy and operate and adapt to a new form of political will.

Secondly I have suggested this isn’t a ‘rebuilding’ exercise, as this would suggest attempting to recreate something we have previously had. Instead I would propose the reclaiming, renaming and reframing of the subject in version 2.0. Hence this could be Design 2.0, Technology 2.0, Design or Technology 2.0, Design and Technology 2.0 or even more radically Design, Technology and Engineering (something I posited in a report for D&TA in 2011). Lets debate!

If we take the four challenges identified by David then it is clear that there remains a lack of agreement as to what the purpose and rationale for the subject is? A good illustration of this is by taking a look at the Design and Technology Association website where it is almost impossible to identify what the subject is or more significantly what the subject isn’t about. The reason for specifically referring to the Design and Technology association website is because in David’s report the association’s influence is clearly (and rightly) acknowledged yet I would argue the associations lack of a clear rationale and sense of purpose is clearly problematic.

Over the years the Design and Technology association has undergone several cosmetic transformations, however I would suggest that any organisation that has overseen (I am not however assigning blame) the decline on the scale that we have seen really does need to think more radically about ‘reclaiming, renaming and reframing’. Central to this is the use of ‘and’ in Design ‘and’ Technology as it remains problematic and misleading. The use of ‘and’ in Design and Technology may seem nuanced but remains significant  and I will perhaps save the discussion for another occasion,  but I believe the subject (whatever that is) and the association should consider reconceiving the identity to more accurately capture the future direction and ambition of the subject rather than the clinging to the past.

Finally there is much more I could say but I regard this response as the starting of a conversation. However the final point I want to pick up on is the notion of Initial Teacher Education in D&T. Perhaps more than any other subject Design and Technology ITE has taken the biggest hit in the last 8 years. It has been dismantled to such an extent that I don’t believe at present, specifically in the context of the UK, it has in its current form the capacity to rebuild either itself or to have the impact upon the subject that is needed. Perhaps therefore the biggest challenge (and genuine opportunity) is reconceiving a way of attracting, educating and training future teachers without the existing infrastructure. Without this being addressed there is no future for any version of the subject!

Rather than reflecting however upon any of the above in some unfortunate or negative  way I genuinely believe there is now a genuine opportunity to be optimistic. David’s blog and report have opened the door to a complex and challenging debate, one that I hope the wider community will engage with!


Want to really address ‘Social Mobility’ – consider ‘Nationalising’ Initial Teacher Education?

At almost every opportunity, during the attempted structural reform of Initial Teacher Education over the last six years, I (and no doubt many others) have repeatedly tried to raise the issue of the unintended consequences of reform upon new teacher quality (for example see here) . This includes the quality of trainee teachers, the quality of their training, the quality of their teaching and the quality of their experiences.

Quite simply, in my view there should be a relentless focus on quality in ITE, yet the rapid policy turbulence has often proved a huge distraction from such matters. Such a focus on quality  should however go beyond Ofsted criteria, beyond any simple DfE metric, beyond the Good Teacher Training guide and beyond any calculation of allocations of places.

Subsequently, I have had little time for new or even established providers who may pay lip service to quality or who undermine the sector with their cheap and cheerful ‘training’ packages or hints and tips to becoming a teacher. Teacher Education is a serious business and as such I particularly have little time for the government reforms which have paid little or no attention to quality or that have masqueraded as addressing quality issues when in fact doing the complete opposite.

So why the seriousness? It is simple – we live in a divided country where education remains one of the key opportunities for addressing inequality both through educating about such inequalities but also through increasing social mobility through ensuring children have access to high quality teachers and an opportunity to engage in a broad set of educational experiences.

In this context it is pleasing to see the profile of initial teacher education raised in last weeks State of the Nation 2016: Social Mobility in Great Britain report. However in reading the report I do have some concerns as the content appears to lack a nuanced understanding of Initial Teacher Education – which makes me wonder where they have taken their advice from?



Whilst much of the ambition within the report is admirable, the understanding of the politics and practice of ITE is  evidently limited. As consequence if some of the proposals in the report were adopted they could lead to a series of further unintended consequences (if you want a recent potted history of unintended consequence in ITE just read trough this blog to see the way policy and practice goes wrong (e.g. recruitment controls)). The reality is we are not short of policy backfiring in ITE, either through sheer naivety or in the worst cases policy driven on the basis of naïve ideological premise.

One particular suggestion in the State of the Nation 2016 report that is however worth exploring further is the suggested reforming of the recruitment and distribution of new teachers. The report suggests that the School-Led approach to teacher training is not working to get the quality and numbers 
of teachers into the schools that need them most. Now this is partly correct (but not completely) but the report seems to suggest that because this is the case the Government should fundamentally reform the process, which recruits and distributes new teachers across the country?

Now this seems a solution to the wrong problem at the wrong time. Equally this does not address the quality issue that I have previously been referring to; this is potentially a misguided mechanical solution to complex problem. It would also seem this is a proposed solution to one aspect of the ‘School Led’ system which seems to ignore the greater need for high quality initial teacher education which educates about social mobility and works to address social mobility issues.

Within the current ‘ School Led’ system the emerging incentives are not to deal with system wide issues rather they are to address individual institution (alliance or chain) aims often potentially at the expense of the broader system needs (again I have previously blogged about this). So School Direct and Teaching School alliances of schools, Multi Academy Trusts and Academy chains often (quite deliberately as part of the government strategy) appear to be competing against each other.

At the same time the report fails to realize that aspiring teachers are now also consumers of training. They are being charged £9k for their training and as such they have a choice about the type of school they want to train in (if they follow a School Led route).

Ultimately,  we appear to have two forms of recent policy history both competing against each other whilst also neither appears to be addressing the underlying issue of addressing the broader issue of social mobility. In this context it also needs to be remembered that School Direct schools also commission providers (HEI’s or SCITTs) to train their teachers and inevitably this involves financial incentives which can further detract from addressing the quality issues and social mobility agenda.

Therefore the proposal to have a national recruitment and allocation system would have to reconcile the often ill-conceived basis of which the School Led system was founded (which often had a rhetoric about quality). It would also have reconsider student fees (which is a suggestion) and fundamentally reconsider the entire structure of Initial Teacher Education whilst also hopefully addressing the wider quality issues which don’t appear to be understood or addressed in the report.

In many ways if some of the suggestions were adopted and developed you could propose the ‘Nationalising of Initial Teacher Education’ as one way of beginning to address the issue of social mobility and quality through ITE. Such a move would be significantly diverting away from the pseudo marketised system of teacher education that has emerged over recent years and a significant movement away from the state loosening its grip of control. However if the government genuinely wishes to partly address social mobility through initial teacher education then there has to be some radical rethinking of current policy.


Sir Michael: Rottweiler to Puppy on Teacher Stress

Sir Michael Wilshaw appears to be in the process of a David Beckham style turnaround in public perception – going from national villain to cherished hero. Okay so that may be stretching the point but having originally appeared to enjoy being Michael Gove’s Rottweiler we all watched aghast as he turned on his owner(s) and then, despite the attempts to ‘mussel’ him most recently we watched as he started to bark some home truths about academies and grammar schools.


However just when we wondered who he might take a bite out of next Sir Michael seems to have gone all Andrex Puppy having been quoted in the TES:

“That stuff about stress, although I was hugely misquoted there, I probably wouldn’t say now.”

Now I am not sure this means he doesn’t think the same way about stress now as he did then or that he simply shouldn’t have said what he said. However it does signal recognition of the damage and misjudgement of his quotes in 2012 where he effectively characterised Teachers as not knowing what stress was.

Now one could suggest that some of Sir Michael’s quotes were due to him being of a different era yet there are enough studies from the1970s and 1980s to suggest teachers were describing back then very much what they would describe now as factors that create stress. For example a study in the mid 1980s indicated 90% of teachers were reporting aspects of their job as stressful with prime concerns being time, students, finance and feedback from administrators; a list that wouldn’t look out of place 30 years on. Even then the authors (Raschke, et al.) were describing a ‘teacher crisis’ as thousands of teachers were leaving the classroom. So it would seem that teaching has long existed in a crisis and that stress has long been a feature of teaching.


To dig a little deeper we can see that teacher stress can be characterised as the ‘squeeze’ on teachers to the point by which a teacher is ‘unable to meet the demands’ made upon them – resulting in high levels of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

To be more specific stress is located in the interplay of ‘Self-Efficacy beliefs and our locus of control’ – as in can we do what others are expecting us to do with what resources we have. So whilst teacher stress is perhaps part of a continuum in teaching the ‘squeeze’ demands may well be a key variable which change whilst the symptoms may stay the same (albeit the frequency of the squeeze may have changed).

Regardless it would seem that the repeated exposure to increasing challenges of diversification, surveillance, performativity, accountability and continual and rapid structural change may be exposing teachers to new forms of ‘squeeze’ compounded by magnification through social media, blogs, tweets and rapid news exchange.

The financial cost of such stress, anxiety and depression is said to account for the loss of approximately 220,000 days a year at a cost of over £19 million and it would be interesting to explore what £19 million of preventative strategies would look like and achieve not least at an individual wellbeing level?

Examples of preventative approaches are however often thin on the ground or short-lived and there would seem few examples in England from the last 30 years of any sustained effort to address the stress of teaching. Most recently (19th October 2016) the government   select committee inquiry into the supply of teachers did hear about plans in Nottingham to cap teacher workload to 2 hours an evening – which I am assuming this means they are acknowledging teacher stress. If so this is interesting as the government’s own response to the workload challenge didn’t acknowledge teacher stress within their report? Equally whilst I am sure Nottingham’s plans are well intended the potential unintended consequences in reducing teacher autonomy and agency, by defining the amount of time, are recognized as key factors in increasing stress which shouldn’t be underestimated. So whilst tinkering with workload is a start this may not be the answer.

So I am glad that Sir Michael has acknowledged that he now recognises the sensitivities that surround teacher stress. However teacher stress, emotion, resilience, and wellbeing are ultimately complex topics and those of us who prepare or work with teachers have to (as we are doing at The University of Manchester) look further as to how we select, prepare and support teachers for what should be both a demanding but positive and sustainable career. This isn’t driven purely by expediency related to retention, albeit this is important, however it has to be driven by authentically enabling happy, healthy teachers to engage with children in positive ways.

20-20 Vision Restored for Initial Teacher Education?

At times, the last six years have often felt like a non-stop assault for some of us involved in Initial Teacher Education. It was not only an assault in relation to rapid policy change but also an onslaught in relation to the perpetuation of myths and the misuse of notional evidence against teacher educators. As such reform after reform further sought to marginalise teacher educators whilst labelling as the ‘blob’ and ‘enemies of promise’ were a particular low point.

Yet this was all at odds with a sector that I knew very well, that had consistently delivered on the entire government key targets and which had produced the ‘best generation of new teachers’. Yet despite having many world-class universities (most recently 17 out of the worlds top 200) involved in ITE the message was clear that the government was ‘moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools’.

The methods for disrupting teacher education was to be through creating a marketplace, rapidly establishing alternative providers to fight it out, increasing uncertainty in future planning and by destabilising teacher education departments by gradually reducing their allocations. Equally each year the annual circus of allocations would be accompanied by new ways of forcing providers to behave, often in new and bizarre ways and most notably last year’s fiasco of recruitment controls. Added to all the above we had the introduction of £9000 fees, differential bursaries, several new inspection frameworks, attacks by the Chief Inspector of schools and the lack of any clear coordination by NCTL.

And then something happened last week that restored some hope for the future when the reintroduction of three-year allocations was announced. Even though the 2016 white paper had signalled the intention to create some stability, albeit as part of the ill thought through Centres of Excellence, it still came as surprise and a relief that finally some semblance of rationality had prevailed. Finally, finally, finally the opportunity to plan ahead had been restored!

Now whilst 3-year allocations used to be the norm this is simply not reverting back to the past. It is however firmly putting the brake on the levers that have constantly been used to try to manipulate a market and to force the adoption of particular behaviours. Unfortunately the 3-year allocation is not yet for all providers and whilst justification for this is not yet clear there really should be an attempt to move to a situation where the majority of providers are equally given the opportunity to plan ahead.


So what does this all mean? Well to be in a position with an allocation up until 2020 means that we as a sector should now move towards a vision of developing a world-class teacher education system driven by quality and not ideological and unsustainable ill conceived whims. We should now have the opportunity to discuss and consider how best to achieve what we want to achieve and how best to enable universities and schools to work together to ensure every new teacher is both educated and trained for teaching in multiple contexts in a sustainable way.

At last the future looks bright but taking a moment to reflect two of the saddest features of the last six-year now spring to mind. Firstly is the way the government positioned some schools, often in long established partnerships, against universities and the way some schools saw this as an opportunity. We all know the best way forward for teacher education is through genuine authentic partnerships built on trust and respect for each other’s strengths. Future reform should not be conceived as schools or universities taking the lead – it is about working towards common aims of providing learners with the very best possible teachers.

Secondly the way some universities sold out and sold cheap (literally and metaphorically), low quality provision has revealed an unpleasant side of teacher education. I have often said that Michael Gove wasn’t able to dismantle teacher education, he was only able to provide the tools for the sector to dismantle itself and it would seem some providers tried their best! Innovation is not a plausible excuse for ad hoc low quality provision which simply undermines the sector.

Finally whilst I am being cautious in not reading too much into the reintroduction of some stability into the sector I am hoping that this will now offer a fresh opportunity for reconceiving a 2020 vision for initial teacher education!



‘Fire-sale’ at NCTL

In February I wrote about Black Friday for primary recruitment when  providers and schools were induced into a panic as  the ‘school led’ recruitment route hit the 90% mark. Since then providers and schools have been turning applicants away with the double whammy of School Direct not being able replace any applicants  who might have withdrawn.

Fast forward to 6th September when many schools and school-led courses will have started and when NCTL sent out the following  ‘fire sale’ message:


The timing of this couldn’t have been worse  as NCTL were dangling a carrot when the reality is many providers have already restructured their courses due to cuts in allocations, made difficult financial and staffing decisions and have got applicants through a myriad of compliance regulations! Equally once again NCTL seem  to be pursuing a policy of who can fill places as quickly as possible rather than rewarding those who diligently recruit and consistently maintain quality: “we will prioritise requests from ITT providers where potential candidates are readily available”.

We can only guess why this has happened at a time when we are waiting for information on 2017/18 allocations and for details of Centres of Excellence – however it would seem to be admitting that either:

  1. The failure of the School Direct policy of not allowing a ‘top up’ for successful applicants who withdrew was ill conceived.
  2. A greater number of applicants have withdrawn or failed the skills test.
  3. NCTL having thought they had a buffer (which we were told)  miscalculated the total needed.
  4. Brexit (it seems to be the go to excuse these days)!

Hopefully NCTL might enlighten us?

Global challenges in teacher supply

It is still a reality that where you are born and who you are taught by will be a significant factor in determining your future life chances. Equally it is an often repeated (although questionable) adage that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (McKinsey, 2007).

Despite the above, currently there is an estimated 5 million shortfall of teachers in the world. Also according to UNESCO in 32 of 94 countries less than 75% of primary school teachers were reportedly trained according to national standards whilst approximately 59 million children do not have access to primary education.

The scale of the global recruitment crisis, whilst already large, is however set to grow, as there is now a global commitment that by 2030 every child will be entitled to 12 years of education from age 5 to 17. To achieve this means training approximately 26 million teachers to both allow for the growth in teachers required and to address the attrition of teachers leaving the profession. This isn’t however just an issue of supplying teachers as there are fundamental questions about how to ensure you achieve a constant supply of teachers and how to ensure the future teachers are appropriately qualified whilst also considering how this is best achieved.


A further dimension also relates considering teaching as a global profession with increased mobility. As such how do you therefore manage the flow and best educate teachers who are more likely to be globally mobile than previous generations? Organizations such as ‘Teach for All’ and high profile events such as the Varkey foundation $1 Million Global Teacher prize certainly help partly address the supply and raise the profile of teaching. Nevertheless even whilst some global regions such as central Asia may not have the same acute recruitment issues of Sub Sahara-Africa the challenge still remains of how best to develop great teachers in sufficient quantities.

The most obvious solution to addressing the global teacher crisis is to increasingly employ under-qualified adults with little or no training whilst also changing legislation to allow immediate entry into the classroom. Equally importing teachers from other countries is also seen as a solution for particularly wealthy countries who can pay attractive salaries, however this merely exacerbates the problem elsewhere.

Increasingly the use technology may offer solutions as the increased availability of broadband, smartphones (with the cheapest in the world being around $5) and tablets mean that teachers can be trained in different ways. Alternatively teachers can even be bypassed with students taught directly via online platforms or through accessing MOOCs.

Whilst the scale of the problem will vary across the world many countries are reexamining their teacher supply through:

  • Reconsidering legislation about who can teach.
  • Actively recruiting teachers from other countries.
  • Changing the entry requirements and qualifications for entry into the profession.
  • Reconsidering how best to prepare new teachers for the classroom.
  • Increasing the number of fast-track and employment based teacher preparation schemes.
  • Reducing government involvement through encouraging privatization of teacher education.
  • Changing teacher certification and licensing requirements.
  • Encouraging the diversification of routes and alternative providers of teacher education programmes.
  • Reexamining the balance between theory and practice in teacher preparation.


Whilst the diversification of teacher preparation in many countries is driven by necessity there are also new opportunities emerging through considering new ways of preparing teachers for the profession. Increasingly distance learning, hybrid approaches, localized residency programmes, clinical practice, and the rise of employment-based programmes are all competing with traditional University and College preparation programmes.

Ultimately both a global challenge and opportunity now exists, not only to ensure there is a sufficient quantity of teachers to meet the increasing demands but also to develop new ways of preparing teachers of sufficient quality to increase the prospects for all children.

This blog was originally written in preparation for a talk I am giving at EduTech Asia.




ITE Reports: Just Like Busses?

I have a problem with the Carter review – if you know me you will have noticed – however whenever anyone mentions the ‘Carter review’ as some form of justification to do something I tend to simply just glaze over. From that point on I can’t take the point being made on board as to use ‘Carter’ merely illustrates they may not fully understand the true nature of the report. Whilst all the people on the Carter review are probably very nice people (one is even a colleague) the report was doomed to insignificance before it even started given its timing and lack of independence. Indeed the ATL union captured the Carter review nicely with:

It’s very worrying that direct engagement with the profession and stakeholders has been so limited. Starting a 5-week consultation during the end of the summer holidays and start of the new academic/school year betrays a lack of independence and a lack of willingness to listen to and engage with views (ATL, September 2014).

Ultimately the review was the equivalent of locking the stable door long after the horse was made in to dog food. It was a full stop on the end of Gove’s sentence of attempting to dismantle HEIs grip on teacher education. The review was neither systematic, critical, informed nor independent. Perhaps the best evidence of this were the predictable recommendations which were neither ambitious or aspirational and which resulted in the three latest reports – which in case you missed them were:

Like many I had been waiting for a long time for the three reports to surface. Sadly however when they did arrive I simply found them hugely disappointing. Perhaps unfairly I tweeted “ Government ITT reports are like busses. You wait ages for one to come along – three arrive at once and all mostly empty! Opportunity missed!”



Now I say ‘perhaps unfairly’ as there probably is something in each of the reports of some value. Nonetheless at a time of increased fragmentation and diversification of routes in teacher education there has to be something to elevate the variability of expectations within ITE.

My main concern is that the three reports are low on ambition and also skew teacher education towards an overly simplistic form of training (this may have been the aim) rather than encourage a critically reflexive approach to teacher education.

Ironically one of the recommendations in the framework of content (page 16 (even though the report doesn’t appear to have page numbers?)) is about emphasising the increased use of evidence yet none of the reports seemed to be particularly informed through systematic enquiry drawing upon a breadth of evidence? Did any of the report teams care to cast an eye to international evidence and research? Perhaps even having a look at Scotland (Donaldson review) or Wales (Furlong review) would have elevated the quality and ambition of the reports.

Conceivably if the three reports can be referenced as a minimum baseline for the increasing number of new providers then perhaps they will have some value. Equally perhaps the emergence of some shared language will also prove useful over time. However whether this was a lack of ambition on behalf of the authors or the result of DfE machinations these benign reports represent a lost opportunity.



Teacher Education: What are Universities good for – PERHAPS the government now knows?

Often it can seem that the government adopts a pantomime villain view of Universities in relation to teacher education:

Mathematics and Sciences departments in universities are good (hooray!)

Social Sciences, education departments are bad (boo!)

Take these comments:

Michael Gove: “The Blob – the network of educational gurus in and around our universities who praised each others’ research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory.”


Michael Gove, the Education Secretary said it was hoped that more “world-class institutions” would open their own maths schools in the future. “This is a ground-breaking institution with the potential to push the boundaries of maths teaching and provide a route to top universities for the UK’s brightest young maths stars,” he said.

Now whist Michael Gove has left the building there remains evidence of his legacy within the DfE. So how can these institutions be perceived so differently when in fact they are often the same? At what point along a spectrum does ground breaking institution turn into the ‘Blob’?

The reason for the question is that the recent White Paper: Educational Excellence Everywhere, regularly refers to Universities – for example:

P.26: Introducing a programme to recruit maths and physics ‘chairs’–post-doctoral maths and physics researchers, who can combine teaching with further study in their universities.

What ‘their’ universities means is unknown – but perhaps more importantly ‘where’ in these universities this will take place is what will be interesting. Will they be in their Mathematics and Physics departments (hooray) or will they be in the education departments (booooo)?

P.31 There will continue to be an important place for high quality universities in ITT with a strong track record in attracting well-qualified graduates. We want the best universities to establish ‘centres of excellence’ in ITT, drawing on their world-leading subject knowledge and research. We will seek to recognise both the best university and school- led ITT through guaranteed, longer-term allocation of training places, allowing providers to plan their provision into the future.

Now again the question is – is this drawing upon their world leading subject knowledge and research in education or is this from other parts of universities or perhaps a combination of both? Therefore:

  • Perhaps the White paper finally recognizes and acknowledges that Universities are not the place that Michael Gove was referring to and that education departments and the social sciences are in every way as rigorous and challenging, whilst also acknowledging the differences, as other parts of universities?
  • Perhaps there has been a failure to recognise that often there is interdisciplinary work taking place across universities which understands the different strengths that each brings to discussions about education, teaching, pedagogy, content, etc., and that a subject specialism/ education binary is misplaced?
  • Perhaps there been an awakening to recognize that the rigour, the research and expertise in universities offers something distinct that can significantly enhance and sustain the notional ‘school-led’ system?

If this is the case then perhaps there are no more pantomime villains and:

  • Perhaps the government has finally recognised the need to cherish its world leading education departments?
  • Perhaps instead of creating an anti-intellectual, unqualified teaching workforce there is now recognition that teacher education in universities offers something distinctive that we need to be careful not to lose?
  • Perhaps valuing the intellectual and cultural capital of universities and teacher education programmes is not such a bad thing?
  • Perhaps cherishing the scholarship and research within university teacher education programmes is integral to development of the profession?
  • Perhaps there is now acknowledgement of the scale of provision in universities is critical to maintaining a high quality teaching workforce?
  • Perhaps there is some recognition that a ‘craft’ based approach to teaching is overly simplistic and that teacher education is a complex dynamic that involves learning to teach in multiple ways?
  • Perhaps there is now acknowledgement that a strong ‘school led’ system is ultimately reliant upon a strong teacher education university sector?
  • Perhaps the recent White Paper is also recognition that teacher education in Universities wasn’t as bad as was made out to be (for political reasons) and now that others have had a go at it doing it – there is recognition that a mixed economy of provision is the way forward?

The current White Paper would seem to be recognition that aspects of the previous White paper (2010) were wrong and ultimately naïve. However the next round of allocations would seem to be an opportunity to PERHAPS further demonstrate this through providing an appropriate and sustained allocation of training/educating places for universities?






Adding Context to the National Audit Office Report on Training New Teachers

The NAO report (published on 10th February, 2016) provides a  thorough overview of the whether the DfE is achieving value for money through its arrangements to train new teachers.

However cutting to the chase (spoiler alert) the conclusion of the report is:

until the Department meets its targets and addresses the remaining information gaps, we cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money. 

Now I would recommend reading the report and the initial analysis by Schools Week but here are some additional points that might provide useful additional context to  the report:

  1. Too little emphasis on quality. Whilst the report focuses upon value for money a gaping hole in the DfE plans has been how it defines quality. The anomaly being, which the report acknowledges, quality of trainee is generally defined as subject knowledge and degree classification. Yet whilst the DfE will often quote that the percentage of 2:1 degree classifications is rising they do not acknowledge where the degree is from, that the degree will not necessarily be in the subject that the trainee is teaching or that financial incentives will now be paid to those with a 3rd Class Degree. For example bursaries of £9,000 are now available “if you have a degree in a relevant subject that is lower than a 2:2, and have a grade B or above in physics at A level”. Personally I am not necessarily against this but if the DfE wishes to be transparent they perhaps should not be using 2:1 classifications as the indicator of quality.

A second issue related to quality is the reckless growth of provision, which according to the report will take until at least 2018 for all new SCITT (growth from 56 to 155) providers to be inspected by Ofsted. At the same time NCTL have, perhaps at a time when it is most needed, withdrawn the NQT survey, which was an important part of the quality assurance of training. Furthermore, previously under the TDA Provider expansion into new subjects and different phases was carefully controlled yet it now appears that expansion into different phases and subjects is not robustly quality assured and the quality of provision of almost 100 new providers is unknown?

2. Provider Viability. The report makes an unusual statement by suggesting that ‘only ‘five higher-education institutions (out of 75) have stopped offering training. It would seem that this is almost a disappointing conclusion! However whilst ‘only’ five providers may have completely pulled out of training teachers  a more important point would be to ask how many current providers had stopped one or more routes? I suspect the majority of providers may well have had to close one or more routes or may well be  considering delivering such routes in very different ways due changes in government policy (the well documented History provision at Cambridge being a good example).

3. Positive New Partnerships. In our meeting with the NAO I was keen to stress that positive partnerships have been established and have grown as a result of the changes in the last 5 years (it hasn’t all been bad). However I also indicated that some long standing relationships had also been damaged. NCTL policy of growing SCITTs and School Direct has often been provocative and damaging with often ill informed advisers pursuing DfE ideology for their own benefit and at the expense of existing relationships.

4. Is this really School Led? The table below whilst classifying some routes as school led fails to illustrate that actually the vast majority of routes remain firmly based upon partnership. This is not school led or university led but based upon genuine partnership. On accountability alone – as in who is ultimately accountable to Ofsted for the training of the trainee – 93% of the accountability still lies with University led provision. However I would again make the point that the best training is based upon genuine partnerships.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 16.50.01

5. Local issues. A central tenet of many of the changes detailed in the report has been to deliberately increase competition amongst providers. The growth of SCITTS has actively been promoted often when there was already sufficient provision in an area. To give an example that I particularly understand, the Northwest has long been a net exporter of new teachers. The Northwest six years ago had a concentration of approximately six HEIs and a small number of SCITTs. There was little need to increase provision and if you were going to increase provision you might consider that any expansion should be strategic and not financially incentivized, as it would not represent value for money? Unfortunately this is not the case and the Northwest now has the highest (and still growing) concentration of training in the country (as illustrated below). Conservative policy may well be delighted at such competition but the growth has unintended consequences in that high quality HEI provision has been squeezed out in some areas whilst the viability of new and long standing SCITTs is also problematic given they are often competing to recruit in a challenging market against other similar providers. I am certainly not anti SCITT as they represent an important alternative form of provision where needed.  However too often SCITTs are being encouraged for the wrong reasons and face demanding circumstances which are often not sufficiently communicated.

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 17.46.38

Ultimately, the report is unequivocal in its finding in that it cannot conclude that the arrangements for training new teachers are value for money. More significantly the report illustrates some of the damaging effects of government policy in the last 6 years.

Perhaps the biggest issue however is what could have been achieved in the last six years if the government could have worked with existing providers to challenge the major educational challenges and recruitment issues that we all face instead of pursuing ideologies, which have resulted in such a damming report.

In being optimistic (and perhaps naïve) this report may confirm some ‘home truths’ and it could  be that it is now time to begin to consider how we can  all genuinely work collectively and collaboratively in partnership, to tackle the genuine challenges of recruiting and educating high quality new teachers!