Golden thread of distraction: It doesn’t have to be this way!

The ITT market review (which for the millionth time should be ITE) has certainly caught attention over the last month due to the public consultation for the planned reform of initial teacher education. The ITT market review is part of a collection of reforms that are characterised as being a “world leading development offer” through “a golden thread“ running from Initial Teacher Training (ITT) through to school leadership.

Whilst the ambition may be considered worthy the reality is far from impressive and can be characterised as a golden thread of misinformation and distraction. Now clearly there is a lot at stake in relation to the future of ITE but equally it is important to shine a light on the political sleight of hand that has become so common and which remains completely unacceptable.

For example, whilst the consultation is framed around a review of the ‘market’ this is far from true as this remains a deliberate and sustained attempt to control and marginalise the contribution of universities, and their partnership, in preparing and supporting teachers. This marginalisation has been prevalent for the last decade and has been accompanied by increasing influence on how new teachers are recruited, where they teach, what they are taught and how their ongoing development is maintained.

However, lets shine a light on some other aspects of the review:

1. Timescale and urgency
The ITT market review is being rushed to fit in with the political cycle and to avoid appropriate scrutiny. The DfE have indicated that they had already delayed the review due to the pandemic – yet it needs highlighting that the initial review was launched on the 2nd of January at the height of the pandemic when there were around 700 deaths a day. Since then, the official consultation was opened on 5th July and will run until 22nd August. As such, the DfE have chosen both the peak of the pandemic and summer holidays for the launch and consultation of the review.

It also needs to be noted that the Core Content Framework, a cornerstone of the reforms, was itself rushed out ahead of schedule to avoid purdah. Likewise the core content framework emerged from the Carter review which was again built upon flimsy evidence and political rhetoric.

2. Quality
The DfE have failed to provide an adequate rationale for the timing of the review but have offered that the ambitious timescale was to maintain momentum and to “ensure that every single ITT trainee receives a high-quality experience.” This again is a worthy rationale but there is absolutely nothing in the consultation proposals about how quality in a future model of provision will be achieved. In fact, throughout the entire consultation documentation whilst quality is mentioned there is little explanation about what the DfE means by quality – yet it will be achieved through an accreditation process. Bizarrely the DfE are saying quality is important, but they cannot articulate what this means or how it will be achieved in any future iteration of ITE. Equally if you were genuinely trying to improve the quality of ITE you might want to draw upon expertise from those with a track record of high-quality provision and who have a deeper and informed perspective on how to achieve quality in ITE.

At present the proposals are the biggest threat to quality simply because the DfE has no ability to map the potential disruption caused from the exiting of providers, created through implementing the recommendations.

3. Lack of evidence
Perhaps the biggest issue and the one generating most concern is the absence of any substantial evidence being provided to both initiate and drive the review. Now we have been down this path previously in the Gove/ Cummings era where it was claimed that the reason for a move to a (artificial) school led system was because “PGCE XYZ is rubbish”. Yet despite the anecdotes once again there is little evidence to confirm that the grounds for a review and the nature of the consultation proposals are grounded in evidence.

Ultimately these are ideological whims dressed up as authentic policy development with potentially damaging consequences.

Previously I have called for a proper review of ITE as what is really needed is an independent, informed and considered in-depth review of initial teacher education. Not an artificial market review, but a review that starts from what type of teachers do we need and how do we develop and sustain a teaching workforce across their careers to genuinely increase children’s opportunities.

Ultimately, the review is causing further significant reputational damage to both the Department for Education and those involved, as the consultation is simply playing politics to disrupt rather than develop initial teacher education. Simply put, Initial teacher education is too important to be played and traded on a ridiculous timescale, based on flimsy evidence and with significant unintended consequences for the teaching profession – it doesn’t have to be this way!

Out of the Woods on Teacher Recruitment?


road nature trees branches

Photo by Pixabay on

As we come to the end of the 2018 recruitment cycle there may be some minor sighs of relief  from the DfE that a recruitment disaster has been averted. And on cue, the DfE spokesperson may very well be clearing their throat to offer some spurious data to suggest that there are now more teachers employed  than 10 years ago –  but forget to mention the rising school population and the increasing pupil teacher ratios.

However beneath what appears to be a salvage operation by the DfE there are some important points to note:

  • Nationally we are about 1300 applicants recruited below the number recruited this time last year (which was a bad year).
  • Almost all regions have under-recruited compared to last year with the exception of one, the West Midlands, which somehow has slightly increased the number of applicants recruited. There have however been some big regional falls in applications with London having an almost 10% drop.
  • There is almost an equal spread in the drop of applicants (approximately 9%) across the different course types (HEI, SCITT and School Direct (and yes technically School Direct is primarily an HEI or SCITT programme)).
  • There has been a drop of around 1000 primary applicants recruited nationally – which may well be down to the removal of the recruitment incentives (bursary).

Whilst the above represents a bleak picture and the sixth consecutive year of under recruitment the figures  also mask the additional energy, time and money that has had to once again be put in to recruitment this year by providers.

The figures also mask the significant change in policy during the year with  Ofsted changing its inspection framework to inspect providers on “maximising” recruitment whilst changes to NCTL ITT criteria have discouraged providers from making prior school experience an entry requirement (I mean why expect someone to have recent school experience if they want to be a teacher!) .

In addition the removal of allocations means that over recruitment in some subjects (notably Geography) is further masking the true picture of under recruitment  in other subjects. Modern Languages with over 600 less applicants recruited has been particularly hit hard this year.

I have previously written that a marginal gains approach to initial teacher education recruitment is not enough and neither is it sustainable. Therefore unless there is a major recession, which Brexit could well create and where teaching becomes a fall-back career,  the DfE need to rethink their mid and long teacher supply strategies (if they exist)!

Most significantly the constant focus on recruitment is a major distraction from ultimately aiming to raise both the quality of entrants into the profession and increasing the quality of teacher education provision.

Teacher education after having a plethora of failed polices is now in the midst of a policy vacuum where the only ambition appears to look for ways to legitimise lower quality applicants and provision. I suspect the captain of the Titanic was never too concerned about the paintwork on his ship as the outcome was inevitable, however initial teacher education provision needs to recapture a sense of ambition instead of having a sense of inevitability and constantly being preoccupied by recruitment problems. Ultimately this is a task for the government to ensure there are sufficient incentives to maintain a supply of high-quality teachers – the profession can work with the government but the government has to take the lead on this!




Developing a Generation of ‘Selfie Teachers’

Selfie: an image of oneself taken by oneself

I was asked to give a talk last week to new academics coming to the end of their new academic programme and I was specifically asked to talk about the future of teaching.

The first part of my talk was very much about the usual link of psychology to teaching and the shiny new names that are increasingly given to fairly well established psychological principles. So, I talked about dual coding, interleaving, cognitive load and spaced retrieval whilst also warning about fads and how evidence can be used to inform teaching.

The main point however that I tried to make was related to the real danger that we have in producing a future generation of teachers who become, or are required to become, specialists in creating images of themselves through an increasingly metrics dominated world. Accordingly, the danger is we create a ‘selfie generation of teachers’ looking to secure tenure and promotion through a greater emphasis of their signalling of the limited measured outcomes of their teaching rather than the authentic learning experiences of their students. As such the relationship between the student and the teacher is now much more complex due to the increasing over reliance on narrow ‘perception’ surveys being used in increasingly high stakes contexts.


Therefore, in a marketised system of the future progressively dominated by NSS, TEF and a future Office for Students the requirement to continually externally signal ‘excellence in teaching’ is in danger of undermining the authentic and less virtuous everyday grind of teaching. Navigating a career in teaching will therefore become a balancing act between meeting the authentic needs of students and the virtue signalling required in an increasingly scrutinised and marketised sector.


Whilst I don’t doubt that many new teachers will rise to the dual challenge required of external signalling and authenticity, it does however appear that higher education is in danger of being hit by the same meteor that has damaged the delicate teaching eco system of the school sector.

Lots of research tells us that the link between teaching behaviour and student learning is complex and at times tenuous. More significantly learning is part of a wider system of influences that is often difficult to disentangle. As such we need to be continually engaging in more informed discussions about the complexity of teaching rather than moving towards promoting a ‘selfie teacher’ based upon simplistic, high stakes and narrow performative perception oriented measures of teaching.





Ignore the rise in school-led teacher training routes – universities are here to stay

Due to various misleading headlines appearing in relation to the DfE Teacher Training  Performance Profiles I wrote a piece for Schools Week.

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You can read the full piece online however to reiterate the main point is that repeatedly it has been recognised that the best teacher education takes place in partnership. The reforms that were introduced were untested, radical and divisive and in many circumstances damaged long standing school-university partnerships. As such I would advocate re-emphasing initial teacher education as a partnership or profession led activity.

Initial teacher education is too important to meddle with and needs to move away from the ideological, expedient and short term government objectives in the pursuit of a sustainable and critically informed profession.

If anything the rapid fragmentation of the school system in England means more than ever that critically reflexive teachers are required to autonomously contribute to the broader aims and values of education, rather than the merely being satisfied with the notional ‘bureaucratic independence’ characterised as school-led.

10 points for the next Secretary of State for Education to consider.

The country goes to the polls on Thursday in what now appears to be an almost neck and neck political race.

In examining the main party manifestos of Labour and the Conservatives and the current/ futures secretary of state for education the main summary points for teacher education are:

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Conservatives: Justine Greening has done a good job of restoring some confidence in the DfE. She may not have the backing of Theresa May but does appear to have listened to the sector and made some sense of the teacher education landscape. It would make little sense to remove her if the Conservatives are returned to power.

The DfE does however seem to have hit rock bottom in relation to teacher education and doesn’t know what to do next, therefore I would imagine many civil servants would welcome a change of government simply to introduce some new energy and fresh thinking to what are considerable problems.

In relation to teacher education there is a commitment in the Conservative manifesto to maintain the challenge of getting the best teachers into the most challenging schools. It is still not clear how this will be achieved but this policy was on the table before the announcement of the election.

Equally there is a commitment to maintaining bursaries and the introduction of loan forgiveness (we forgive you for the burden we imposed). Neither of these may have a significant impact on recruitment or retention however again details are scarce.

Two other points in the conservative manifesto are enabling teaching assistants to become teachers (presumably linked to apprenticeships) and the introduction of mental health first aid for teachers. The mental health first aid proposal inevitably seems tokenistic in response to significant cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). However increasing all teachers understanding of wellbeing, including their own, would appear beneficial.

In many ways the lack of ambition and attention to teacher development in the Conservative manifesto shows a party that has run out of steam and energy with regards to education. The sector has become so fragmented and disorientated that it appears the government has almost given up and no longer knows what to do whilst at the same time the public are beginning to recognize the impact of cuts on basic services. In many ways Brexit has been a convenient distraction from education for the government however perhaps to the Conservatives surprise the importance of education seems to have caught them off guard during the election campaign.

Ultimately there is now a complete lack of clarity within the DfE regarding teacher education that should the conservatives win, it would appear to suggest a dismal few years ahead although perhaps not as dismal as the previous 7 years!

Labour: The Labour shadow education Secretary Angela Rayner has done a good job in opposition having been elevated rapidly to her position due to the internal machinations within the Labour party.

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Whilst Labour might not have the answers to address the issues in teacher education they do seem to recognize some of the causes of the problem. They appreciate that a narrow curriculum and rigid assessment reduces the role of the teacher, which it would appear contributes to the ‘recruitment crisis’. Increasing teacher autonomy and pay would therefore seem to be very attractive if both can be delivered. More ambitious is the potential of sabbaticals, which would clearly be very attractive.

Whilst there is much more detail about schools in the Labour manifesto there is little detail about how teacher education would be reformed. The removal of student loans will however prove interesting for teacher education and how this this would be applied and as a consequence what impact it would have is unknown?

So whilst neither party has offered any real clarity as to how they will tackle the issues in initial teacher education, below are my 10 suggestions, set within a broader set of ambitions for education, for the next Secretary of State for Education:

  1. Establish an Independent Teacher Education Agency. Now whilst it might appear this suggestion is harking back to the days of TDA/ TTA, the reality is that despite its many problems the TDA delivered on many fronts. More significantly    the independence that it had meant it didn’t have to be as reactive to government whims and as consequence was able to develop more sustainable policies. Currently teacher education is not a priority within the DfE and  struggles for attention and as a consequence lacks any form of stability or long-term ambition. Establishing an independent body to oversee teacher education would be the quickest win and best way forward for either party.


  1. Make teaching attractive and collaborative. The biggest and best advert to attract new teachers is the existing profession. The DfE have thrown money at bursaries and advertising but these incentives are merely to attract new teachers in and are not designed to sustain teachers in the profession. The introduction of such significant differentials in payments of bursaries merely distorts a view of what is most valuable. Teaching is a ultimately collaborative venture and the beneficaries of this should be the “many and not the few’. It takes an entire school to educate pupils therefore pitting teachers against each other from the start of their training does not convey this message.

Teaching has to operate as a community within a wider community and many of the policies of recent years have had an adverse effect on the very principles that bind colleagues together. Sending a clear message from the start of their training that all teachers are valued equally would represent an important starting position.

  1. Shift the discourse. The constant narrative of placing  the problems of society on schools has to change. Schools reflect the diversity and disadvantages of their community – they don’t simply create them. Schools are not responsible for unemployment, food banks, reductions in services or a lack of resources and opportunities within communities.

Whilst some schools may have failed in the past and all schools should always be the primary source of education for a child; schools exist within a community and are one,  essential, part of a  continuum of contributions that are needed to develop healthy and successful children.

  1. Change the inspection. Schools should be accountable but existing inspection approaches bring about too much fear and stress in the system and as a consequence have distorted the entire school system. Some of this may have been essential but we must now move to a system of collaboration and joint responsibility developed through negotiation and partnership, something that would be much more beneficial for schools, teachers and pupils. Certainly a trial of new ways of quality assuring in the least obtrusive and most beneficial way for schools, teachers, parents and pupils should be a priority.


  1. Increase the innovation. Despite the turbulence in teacher education the amount of genuine innovation in the sector remains disappointingly modest. Where there has been innovation this has often been driven by expediency, focused on getting teachers into the classroom quickly via a ‘drive-through’ approach rather than being focused on how to create highly capable and informed teachers committed to the profession.

Opportunities to test and research new ways to develop teachers for the future should be possible without being driven by vested or short term interests or by being overly constrained by fear or uncertainty.

  1. Overcome the patchwork. Trying to conceptualize and grasp a local area is now difficult as what were local education authorities are now patchworks of different Teaching School Alliances, Multi Academy Trusts and Academy Chains. The vested interest of these different organizations may not always (but sometimes do) reside in the immediate local community and as a consequence a lack of coherence exists with the most vulnerable and needy pupils being the one’s most affected by the patchwork of different organizations.

Likewise the most ambitious schools are able to snap up the best new  teachers. Ultimately, there now needs to be regional oversight established to ensure we have an intelligent response to teacher supply and considered allocation within local regions.

  1. Increase the quality. Returning back to point 1, a Teacher Education Agency would need to once again be responsible for quality assurance of provision, which is currently lacking in ITE. If anything we now can be less sure of the quality of provision in ITE than anytime in the last 20 years. Whilst we have a compliance focused frameworks of inspection – the reality is that there is very little information available for decisions about how to distinguish between different forms of provision and the different qualities (or lack of) within partnerships.

Ultimately new ways of defining quality within ITE need to be explored whilst a more specific conversation about what are the essential requirements for teacher educators and who are the ‘teacher educators’ would be timely?

  1. Beyond the data – the 4th way. As previously indicated the use of data to ensure high quality provision may not be enough and may only let a system develop and evolve so far. One reality of spreadsheet driven accountabilities is it promotes a gaming culture and a narrowing of ambition. The Fourth Way (a book by Alan Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley) proposes six features that offer an inclusive vision, public engagement, achievement through investment, corporate educational responsibility, students as partners in change and mindful learning and teaching.

Ultimately if there is something that we have learned in the last six years it is what doesn’t work and now is an opportunity to move ahead in new ways. As such adopting some of the key principles that myself and colleagues have previously advocated as part of the Teacher Development Exchange group allows us to move initial teacher education into a new cycle of hope, ambition and sustainability.

  1. Profession led. I have for some time  had difficulty with the term a ‘school led system’? Did a ‘school led’ system really want to narrow the curriculum, reduce the supply of teachers, reintroduce grammar schools or fragment the system? The reality is that ‘school led’ was often the means of the government for sidestepping responsibilities whilst using ‘school led’ to be provocative in challenging often existing and previously positive relationships and partnerships.

In the same way it takes a community to educate pupils, it requires a community and partnerships to recruit, develop and sustain teachers and who does this shouldn’t be determined on ideological grounds but through well informed and established principles.

  1. Have a proper review. Scotland and Wales have both had thorough and ambitious reviews of their teacher education systems whilst in England had a rapid period of change that was followed by a superficial review of initial teacher education. If the next government is serious about teacher education a thorough review of the system is needed which should be carried out in a transparent, intelligent and systematic way.

The ten points above are very much in response to thirty years of continual change in the education system, ever since the introduction of the education reform act in 1988. We can now only  hope a new government may  have some ambition to make sense of where we are and to take time and have aspirations for establishing sustainable change rather than further seeking  short term political gain. The suggestion above are most certainly not about trying to recapture the past, rather they are about trying to establish a sustainable  system through making some sense of  what is now a highly complex and disjointed system.

How amazing would it be to have an education secretary committed to developing the highest quality teacher education system in the world – the reality is anything less than this ambition should not be acceptable!




A Recruitment Crisis or Problem of Synchronising?

Is there really a teacher recruitment crisis? Perhaps the almost intuitive response is to say ‘yes’ and certainly through this blog and other media I have been claiming a ‘crisis’ for some time. But what type of crisis do we have, as whilst the crisis narrative is now on the political agenda, and a theme of the election campaign, we need to be a little more discerning when simply claiming there is a crisis?


As such I would posit that this is a ‘self induced crisis’ by the government who did not have the foresight to consider the impact and unintended consequences of their naivety in rapidly implementing radical reforms. The reality is there is a long history of challenges in the teaching supply pipeline and increasingly many countries are facing new challenges in recruitment. However what may be unique to England is the way the government rapidly and aggressively damaged the delicate ecosystem of the teacher supply chain.


It is also worth pointing out that not all teacher attrition is bad. Teachers’ leaving because of capability issues or to pursue other careers, if the reasoning is correct, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However to offer a different perspective it might also be argued we don’t have a recruitment crisis but we have a ‘teacher synchronisation’ problem. This means that whilst there may be difficulties recruiting teachers the data suggests we don’t have a shortage of qualified teachers – we just have a problem of retaining, synchronising and harmonising those qualified teachers into the system where they are needed.

synchronsie gears

So why might we have a synchronisation problem? The reality is that schools have become incompatible with the places that many teachers believe they should be. What is clear is that increasing accountability and a lack of autonomy and agency along with a narrowing of the curriculum has had an adverse effect on teacher’s professional (and often personal) lives. Teachers remain the best advertisement for teaching and this includes encouraging new teachers into the profession and the synchronisation of qualified teachers back in to the system. Yet there is clearly an increasing disconnect of teachers actively promoting teaching as a career and those who by recent accounts wish to leave the profession.


The clue to understanding the adverse effect upon teacher supply is therefore through recognising the damage that hyper-reforms and marketisation of the school system have had on the profession. Marketisation, self interest and competition between ‘suppliers’ have been at the heart of academisation and other government reforms where short term gains are prioritised over long term investments. In such circumstances the synchronising problem is manifested in new teachers not being given sufficient support, where part time workers cannot be accommodated or where a burnout and replace policy is preferred to an invest and sustain approach.


As a teacher educator it is completely disheartening to hear of highly capable, energetic and enthusiastic new and experienced teachers becoming disenfranchised from something they desperately wanted to do. Whilst those leaving the profession may be in the minority, overcoming the mismatch in perceptions between ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ has to be the challenge for the next government. This also means reconceiving the high stakes, intense competition between schools and rethinking the narrow performativity measures that fail to recognise the diverse range of contributions that individual teachers make to a school beyond preparing pupils for examinations. This does not mean in any way a reduction of the ambition for a high quality education system rather it means ensuring and prioritising every child has access to a high quality, enthusiastic and committed teachers which in itself should lead to the highest quality education system that we aspire to.


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.