Next Steps for a School(s) Led System?

The announced closure of NCTLs Nottingham base, the recruitment crisis, the moderate success of School Direct and the announcement of DfE cuts of £400M probably means this isn’t a bad time for Charlie Taylor to be leaving his role as chief executive of NCTL. Certainly the timing would seem right and whoever   replaces Charlie, if indeed he is replaced, they are going to be faced with some huge challenges!

One area that has however been synonymous with Charlie Taylor was his unequivocal support in delivering Michael Gove’s ‘school led’ system. Like ‘Personalised Learning’ and ‘Coasting Schools’ – ‘School Led’ is another easy to say ‘catchy’ term that is difficult to define and realize particularly in relation to Initial Teacher Education. Therefore the new leader of NCTL will need to think afresh how this policy is going to evolve especially given the steer that this is very much a new government with a new agenda and new personnel.

One of the difficulties with a school led system was it was deliberately positioned in a provocative way in challenging existing high quality provision. As such schools were used as leverage to challenge the illusion of ‘Enemies Of Promise’ whilst Michael Gove antagonistically used the policy change as the rationale for “moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools”. In doing this schools were being positioned in opposition against University providers and polarized as competitors or as consumers (through their commissioning of teacher training) whilst those entering the system, as new teachers, became commodified in the ‘school led’ market system. An interesting contradiction and emerging tension with this (which is still unravelling) was how students themselves also became more powerful consumers whilst at the same time were paying more whilst potentially getting less and having less choice (which may be even more apparent next year).

The antagonism during the last five years has at times appeared relentless but incredibly reassuring has been how many schools have realised the folly in polarising relationships and have continued to work incredibly well with universities. In fact if anything the establishment of the school led system has been a useful test of the relationship with schools, which in many cases have thrived, based upon genuine partnership rather than political ideologies. Equally one of the significant benefits of the emergence of a school led system has been the development of a shared dialogue and understanding between schools where there is a genuine commitment to establishing high quality provision.

A new chief executive of NCTL should therefore prioritise trying to capture the very best of what has emerged over the last five years in the move to a school led system and proactively support the best practice in ITE (perhaps they might also want to try to define what ‘School Led’ actually means). My own thoughts are that we need better discussions about how to attract, develop and retain new teachers. School led teacher education equally does not have to be framed as anti academic or anti university experience which has resonance with the way initial teacher education has frequently been framed over the last five years. Rather partnerships and communities should be contextualised not by what they are called or where they are located but by their orientation that should be authentic, transformative, intelligent and constructed through purposeful collaboration.

There is an interesting and huge challenge ahead for the next leader of NCTL and hopefully they will take time to listen and draw on the emerging best practice. If the next appointment is purely political, one designed to provoke, then we risk further damage and lose an opportunity of developing a transformative and sustainable initial teacher education system.