At times, the last six years have often felt like a non-stop assault for some of us involved in Initial Teacher Education. It was not only an assault in relation to rapid policy change but also an onslaught in relation to the perpetuation of myths and the misuse of notional evidence against teacher educators. As such reform after reform further sought to marginalise teacher educators whilst labelling as the ‘blob’ and ‘enemies of promise’ were a particular low point.
Yet this was all at odds with a sector that I knew very well, that had consistently delivered on the entire government key targets and which had produced the ‘best generation of new teachers’. Yet despite having many world-class universities (most recently 17 out of the worlds top 200) involved in ITE the message was clear that the government was ‘moving teacher training away from university departments and into our best schools’.
The methods for disrupting teacher education was to be through creating a marketplace, rapidly establishing alternative providers to fight it out, increasing uncertainty in future planning and by destabilising teacher education departments by gradually reducing their allocations. Equally each year the annual circus of allocations would be accompanied by new ways of forcing providers to behave, often in new and bizarre ways and most notably last year’s fiasco of recruitment controls. Added to all the above we had the introduction of £9000 fees, differential bursaries, several new inspection frameworks, attacks by the Chief Inspector of schools and the lack of any clear coordination by NCTL.
And then something happened last week that restored some hope for the future when the reintroduction of three-year allocations was announced. Even though the 2016 white paper had signalled the intention to create some stability, albeit as part of the ill thought through Centres of Excellence, it still came as surprise and a relief that finally some semblance of rationality had prevailed. Finally, finally, finally the opportunity to plan ahead had been restored!
Now whilst 3-year allocations used to be the norm this is simply not reverting back to the past. It is however firmly putting the brake on the levers that have constantly been used to try to manipulate a market and to force the adoption of particular behaviours. Unfortunately the 3-year allocation is not yet for all providers and whilst justification for this is not yet clear there really should be an attempt to move to a situation where the majority of providers are equally given the opportunity to plan ahead.
So what does this all mean? Well to be in a position with an allocation up until 2020 means that we as a sector should now move towards a vision of developing a world-class teacher education system driven by quality and not ideological and unsustainable ill conceived whims. We should now have the opportunity to discuss and consider how best to achieve what we want to achieve and how best to enable universities and schools to work together to ensure every new teacher is both educated and trained for teaching in multiple contexts in a sustainable way.
At last the future looks bright but taking a moment to reflect two of the saddest features of the last six-year now spring to mind. Firstly is the way the government positioned some schools, often in long established partnerships, against universities and the way some schools saw this as an opportunity. We all know the best way forward for teacher education is through genuine authentic partnerships built on trust and respect for each other’s strengths. Future reform should not be conceived as schools or universities taking the lead – it is about working towards common aims of providing learners with the very best possible teachers.
Secondly the way some universities sold out and sold cheap (literally and metaphorically), low quality provision has revealed an unpleasant side of teacher education. I have often said that Michael Gove wasn’t able to dismantle teacher education, he was only able to provide the tools for the sector to dismantle itself and it would seem some providers tried their best! Innovation is not a plausible excuse for ad hoc low quality provision which simply undermines the sector.
Finally whilst I am being cautious in not reading too much into the reintroduction of some stability into the sector I am hoping that this will now offer a fresh opportunity for reconceiving a 2020 vision for initial teacher education!