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 At the same time NCTL have, perhaps at a time when it is most needed, withdrawn the NQT survey, which was an important part of the quality assurance of training.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.

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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.

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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!

 

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