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?