Some early reflections on the Carter review…

 Carter review

On 1st May when Michael Gove was still Secretary of State for Education he announced the review of initial teacher education with the remit to:

  • define effective ITT practice
  • assess the extent to which the current system delivers effective ITT
  • recommend where and how improvements could be made
  • recommend ways to improve choice in the system by improving the transparency of course content and methods

Given that at the same time Michael Gove also said “there is no doubt that the current generation of young teachers is the best ever” it seemed nonsensical to be reviewing a sector that has consistently performed well on all government key measures?

Equally the timing of the review, taking place after four years of rapid government reforms, was slightly bizarre as if anything the review should have been carried out prior to these changes?

Eight months on and in the absence of Michael Gove, sacked three months into the review, the Carter Review was published. Given that Michael Gove had initiated the review one does wonder what might have been had he stayed. Regardless what did the review reveal?

Well there was no mention of the Marxist Blob or enemies of promise ‘revering jargon and fighting excellence’. Instead it was reported “the level of engagement has been truly impressive, with everyone displaying that tremendous sense of moral purpose that is a distinguishing characteristic of this noble profession”. You can imagine the conversation – ‘okay so you didn’t find the ‘reds under the beds’ but presumably you have proved that we were right to dismantle the existing provision’? ‘Well not actually’…

The report confirmed, “it is difficult to draw conclusions about whether one route into teaching is any more effective than another. We have found strengths across all routes”. This is despite the DfE/ NCTL having made the decision in 2010, based on little evidence, for “a larger proportion of trainees to learn on the job by improving and expanding the best of current school-based routes into teaching”….

I have previously written that aspects of School Direct show real signs of promise and when it is good it can be very, very good. However the way it was introduced, based on little evidence, was clumsy and deliberately antagonistic. Perhaps now we can have a genuine informed debate knowing that all routes have different strengths and that the key is recognizing and valuing the diversity of routes as each offers something different?

Perhaps most surprisingly and most significantly the report appears to be an indictment of the last five years of government reforms particularly in relation to establishing an evidence informed profession (recommendation 1, 6, 7 and 9). The failure to include reference to research in the current Standards for teachers, the closure of the TTRB, the movement away from the promotion of an all Masters profession and the removal of funding of the MTL programme all occurred under the current government – yet each of these areas was very much about promoting an evidence informed profession.

Equally it also appears ironic that the review is calling for a more evidenced based profession yet is also suggesting that the PGCE, an academic award that should have a strong emphasis on evidence informed practice, becomes an optional academic qualification (which it already is)?

Overall in many ways the report, despite being much anticipated, was balanced, benign and bland with few if any surprises. Perhaps this is why it has received such little media attention? However given the turbulence of the last five years balanced, bland and benign are actually welcome and positive characteristics! Despite the sometimes narrowness of the report and the limited depth there is little that I would disagree with (apart from rec14) in terms of the recommendations – except to say that many of the recommendations are/ should already be happening in many places.

Finally, the response to the report shouldn’t be about ‘quick political wins’ but should be about informed discussion to move the sector on in a mature way. If nothing else, the report reaffirms that Initial Teacher Education (yes education) is all about multi-layered partnerships. This means rather than polarizing the discussion about who is leading the way it is about drawing on each partner’s strength in a positive and mutually supportive manner for the benefit of all student teachers and ultimately the profession.

£177 million for qualified teachers – can we afford not to have qualified teachers?

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To paraphrase: A policymaker – someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?

There are 115 days to the election and we are in the strange and uncertain period of political appeasement and promises to the electorate. Yet all seems to be very quiet on the education front with little indication of major policy decisions from any of the political parties.

This time five years ago, pre-election, we already knew from the then Shadow Secretary of State, Michael Gove, about free schools, curriculum reform and changes to a school led system. In addition to the overt policy announcements it was also clear what ideological baggage Michael Gove was carrying in relation to further reform related to performance related pay, his views on teacher education and his criticism of the General Teaching Council.

To his credit, or equally to his detriment, Michael Gove did deliver on the policies he had set in a radical period of substantial change during his first two years of tenure. Such was the swiftness of change, combined with the often ill informed ideologies, that the unintended and damaging consequences of the rapid reform were not being fully considered – particularly in relation to teacher education and development. Many of these ‘unintended consequences’ arose nevertheless as little consideration was being given to emerging counter arguments as all opposition was simply characterized as the ‘enemies of promise’.

Fast forward to the current election period and there is little noise, as yet, about the future direction of education policy particularly in relation to teacher education and development. At present the limited noise from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats is the support of having qualified teachers. Such statements are however far from raising the bar in terms of ambition or expectations given that five year ago there was talk of teaching becoming an ‘all master’s’ profession as part of what was governmental attempt to push teaching as a more ‘respected and high‐level profession’.

The conservative party have therefore recently indicated that the cost of introducing qualified teacher status for all teachers would be approximately £177 Million. Perhaps a more important question from every politician, parent and teacher should however be – can we afford for a profession not to be qualified? How this figure was calculated is not clear but promoting a financial advantage of not having qualified teachers would seem a perverse form of logic.

Perhaps an even more urgent question is what will a ‘qualified’ teacher actually mean as stating that all teachers need to be qualified is meaningless unless you define the future qualities of the qualification – which no one seems to be doing!

In order for David Laws, Nicky Morgan or Tristram Hunt to offer a policy there needs to be some clarity encompassing the key questions below related to entry into and progression within the teaching profession – therefore:

  • What will registration, conduct and removal of registration of teachers look like? Previously this was the responsibility of the General Teaching Council with the powers now held largely by Whitehall. If a ‘College of Teaching’ does emerge it will eventually have to grapple with many of the same issues that the GTC had to endure such as defining codes of conduct and removal of teacher registration (if interested I have previously written extensively about this). Ultimately the government does still have responsibility for teacher supply and quality even though the current government seems to be sidestepping this matter.
  • What Certification and/or Qualification will be required? Currently the Standards for teaching are defined in a limited way and have largely developed into a pragmatic and passive view of both the teacher and the progression of teachers.   Whilst Michael Gove proclaimed he was raising the bar (some say to make it easier to get under) the current set of teachers Standards clearly lacks ambition. The interpretation of the Standards for use in recommending Qualified Teaching Status have also become vague and therefore any discussion about all teachers being qualified to teach needs to also be accompanied by a discussion of what any future Standards will entail. Equally the separation of qualification and certification seems largely to have been conveniently ignored although I suspect the imminent publishing of the Carter review may well have something to say about this?
  • What diversification and progression will exist? Diversification of routes into teaching was around a long time before the current government and certainly there was criticism of the previous Labour government about the variety (and corresponding quality) of ways you could become a teacher. Unfortunately such diversity seems to have increased and again is represented by an increased variability of quality. It would however seem, given that there is an emerging (if we are not already in it) recruitment crisis, that whichever political party or parties (which would seem likely) are elected that maintaining diverse routes into teaching will need to be maintained (at least in the short term). Acknowledging that there may well be variability in relation to entry into teaching should therefore be accompanied by clear statements about expected progression in teaching and the profession (not necessarily the same thing). Previously this was through acknowledging the limitations of a one-year PGCE and the continuation of early career development through the ill-fated Masters in Teaching and Learning. However it would seem, as with other countries, that the professional development of teachers has to part of a broader discussion aligned with consideration of entry (and exit) into the profession.

As indicated all is largely quiet and it may still be early days before manifestos are revealed. Perhaps the reluctance to declare the various policies represents a lack of ambition or uncertainty? It would also seem that there might be some keeping the ‘powder dry’ until after the Carter review (for what it will be worth) is published?

Either way in the interest of democracy, debate and the imminent future of the teaching profession I do believe it is time for the various parties to begin to reveal their hands!