John Cater is immediate past Chair of the UniversitiesUK / GuildHE Teacher Education Advisory Group, a former Chair of both the Accreditation and Audit Committees of the Teacher Training Agency and its successor body. John is also the author of HEPI Report 95, ‘Whither Teacher Education and Training? ‘(2017). He writes here in a personal capacity.
Fifty years have passed since the James Report recommended a shift in where and how teacher education was delivered; a move to raise the status of the profession, to transfer responsibility for the education and training of teachers firmly into the hands of the universities, to move from pre-degree certificate courses to three and four-year honours programmes, to enhance and strengthen subject knowledge. And, by and large, those reforms, legislated by a Conservative Government, implemented by Labour, built on consensus, were a considerable success.
But there were always tensions, particularly around the balance between classroom skills and subject knowledge, notwithstanding the fact that both are essential in an effective teacher. The establishment of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) in 1994 was a shift towards centralisation but, five years on, the ineffectiveness of the Agency’s attempts to persuade schools to take a greater responsibility for training and to generate applicant demand led to schools in London and the South East introducing a four-day week consequent on teacher shortages.
The then Minister, Estelle Morris, recognised that the only long-term and effective response was through partnership and the rebuilding of relationships, and by changing the leadership, membership and direction of the Agency. Teacher shortages began to evaporate, though some locations and disciplines always faced more challenges than others, and a mixed-mode model, about fifteen per cent of training places allocated direct to school consortia, the balance delivered in partnerships with schools co-ordinated through higher education providers, offered stability.
The success of the Agency led to an extending of its brief, and the TTA became the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) in 2005, taking responsibility for professional development alongside initial training and piloting a (subsequently shelved) plan towards making teaching an M-level profession late in that decade.
Much has been written about the decision to abolish the Agency in 2011, removing Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) status and shoe-horning its responsibilities into the National College for School Leadership and, in time, the Department for Education. This was accompanied by a drive to train a majority of future professionals in the classroom through the School Direct model, though this was again stymied by a lack of sufficient demand from candidates looking to teach and, in particular, to train through a school-based route and from schools who regarded the education of pupils to have primacy over the management and operation of teacher training.
Since the middle of the last decade an uneasy truce has prevailed; relationships between the State and the higher education sector have steadily improved, with greater confidence and trust on both sides. And, under the 2012-2020 inspection cycle, the vast majority of providers and provision, almost without exception, were judged to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.
So why the Market Review? There are two strands: one set of proposals deals with the structure and content of the initial teacher training curriculum, an arena of re-shaping and change for five decades; proposals that will not have universal acclaim but which, with consultation and dialogue, could lead to workable compromise.
But the second strand is more fundamental and strikes at the very heart of who should deliver that curriculum. A re-accreditation process, seemingly designed to exclude at least some good or outstanding providers with decades of investment in partnerships, staff, facilities, with a welter of experience and expertise; a disruption to a potentially fragile market, over and above the potential disruption of the introduction of a new system for applications to postgraduate teacher training (PGCE) this September.
And for what prize? Central control over market competition? An exiting by several of the most prestigious providers, as Cambridge have already intimated they are considering? A reluctance of others to invest in facilities, resources, staffing, impinging on quality? Five decades of history have taught us that collaboration and partnership is the most effective way that the sector’s trained and experienced teacher educators, almost all of whom have many years of experience in schools, can help train and professionally develop our colleagues entering and developing in that shared profession. Mistakes have been made in the past. It is vital that, when history repeats, it is not as tragedy nor farce.