Golden thread of distraction: It doesn’t have to be this way!

The ITT market review (which for the millionth time should be ITE) has certainly caught attention over the last month due to the public consultation for the planned reform of initial teacher education. The ITT market review is part of a collection of reforms that are characterised as being a “world leading development offer” through “a golden thread“ running from Initial Teacher Training (ITT) through to school leadership.

Whilst the ambition may be considered worthy the reality is far from impressive and can be characterised as a golden thread of misinformation and distraction. Now clearly there is a lot at stake in relation to the future of ITE but equally it is important to shine a light on the political sleight of hand that has become so common and which remains completely unacceptable.

For example, whilst the consultation is framed around a review of the ‘market’ this is far from true as this remains a deliberate and sustained attempt to control and marginalise the contribution of universities, and their partnership, in preparing and supporting teachers. This marginalisation has been prevalent for the last decade and has been accompanied by increasing influence on how new teachers are recruited, where they teach, what they are taught and how their ongoing development is maintained.

However, lets shine a light on some other aspects of the review:

1. Timescale and urgency
The ITT market review is being rushed to fit in with the political cycle and to avoid appropriate scrutiny. The DfE have indicated that they had already delayed the review due to the pandemic – yet it needs highlighting that the initial review was launched on the 2nd of January at the height of the pandemic when there were around 700 deaths a day. Since then, the official consultation was opened on 5th July and will run until 22nd August. As such, the DfE have chosen both the peak of the pandemic and summer holidays for the launch and consultation of the review.

It also needs to be noted that the Core Content Framework, a cornerstone of the reforms, was itself rushed out ahead of schedule to avoid purdah. Likewise the core content framework emerged from the Carter review which was again built upon flimsy evidence and political rhetoric.

2. Quality
The DfE have failed to provide an adequate rationale for the timing of the review but have offered that the ambitious timescale was to maintain momentum and to “ensure that every single ITT trainee receives a high-quality experience.” This again is a worthy rationale but there is absolutely nothing in the consultation proposals about how quality in a future model of provision will be achieved. In fact, throughout the entire consultation documentation whilst quality is mentioned there is little explanation about what the DfE means by quality – yet it will be achieved through an accreditation process. Bizarrely the DfE are saying quality is important, but they cannot articulate what this means or how it will be achieved in any future iteration of ITE. Equally if you were genuinely trying to improve the quality of ITE you might want to draw upon expertise from those with a track record of high-quality provision and who have a deeper and informed perspective on how to achieve quality in ITE.

At present the proposals are the biggest threat to quality simply because the DfE has no ability to map the potential disruption caused from the exiting of providers, created through implementing the recommendations.

3. Lack of evidence
Perhaps the biggest issue and the one generating most concern is the absence of any substantial evidence being provided to both initiate and drive the review. Now we have been down this path previously in the Gove/ Cummings era where it was claimed that the reason for a move to a (artificial) school led system was because “PGCE XYZ is rubbish”. Yet despite the anecdotes once again there is little evidence to confirm that the grounds for a review and the nature of the consultation proposals are grounded in evidence.

Ultimately these are ideological whims dressed up as authentic policy development with potentially damaging consequences.

Previously I have called for a proper review of ITE as what is really needed is an independent, informed and considered in-depth review of initial teacher education. Not an artificial market review, but a review that starts from what type of teachers do we need and how do we develop and sustain a teaching workforce across their careers to genuinely increase children’s opportunities.

Ultimately, the review is causing further significant reputational damage to both the Department for Education and those involved, as the consultation is simply playing politics to disrupt rather than develop initial teacher education. Simply put, Initial teacher education is too important to be played and traded on a ridiculous timescale, based on flimsy evidence and with significant unintended consequences for the teaching profession – it doesn’t have to be this way!

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