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Comeback CATE…

  • 24 January 2022
  • By John Cater

This blog was contributed by Dr. John Cater, Vice-Chancellor of Edge Hill University and the immediate past Chair of the Universities UK/Guild HE Teacher Education Advisory Group.  He writes here in a personal capacity.    

Few will remember CATE, the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. But history repeats itself, not always as tragedy or farce.

I’ve written elsewhere on teacher education and training (Whither Teacher Education and Training? (HEPI Report 95 (2017)), of the autonomy historically granted to institutions, local authorities and the Church, and of the decision of the Conservative Government in 1984 to wrestle control of the Initial Teacher Education curriculum.  The Department for Education and Science’s Circular 3/84 introduced statutory controls over the structure and content of initial teacher training, with Qualified Teacher Status only awarded to trainees graduating from courses that met the Circular’s criteria.  And a new Government body, the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) was established to undertake the inspectoral process.

Fast-forward thirty-eight years.  For four decades the uneasy truce between institutional autonomy and central control has flexed back and forth, strong State intervention from the mid-eighties to the late nineties, greater institutional autonomy in the noughties; a reversion to a reformist State under the first Coalition government, a more relaxed relationship in the second half of the last decade.  But the latest proposals go further than anything attempted under Michael Gove as Secretary of State.

Following a Market Review, the Government has determined that any provider that wishes to offer teacher education and training from the start of the 2024/25 Academic Year must enter an accreditation process.  Two hundred and thirty-three extant providers and eighty-seven Teaching School Hubs may be racing towards a ‘first call’ February deadline, penning their seven thousand assessed words outlining their Trainee Curriculum (25 per cent), providing a detailed example (25 per cent), outlining their Mentoring practices and processes (25 per cent), and specifying their Partnership arrangements (25 per cent), though some may reflect on where this sits in their list of priorities, whilst others may perceive an opportunity to seek to enter the market.

Why are we here?  The Department for Education has responsibility for compulsory education but only arms’ length influence on the training of those who teach pupils.  At times the State has appeared entirely comfortable with that, accepting the judgment of Ofsted which, in the 2012-19 cycle, found all continuing university providers to be either ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’, and seeking to shape and mould initial teacher training through consultation and dialogue; at other times, less comfortable, the character and views of individual Ministers and Secretaries of State often carrying more weight than any particular evidential base.

In initial iteration, the Market Review clearly considered breathtakingly radical reform, with rumours of just handfuls of accredited providers, drawn from Teaching School Hubs, private consortia and universities, leading and managing provision for whole swathes of the country.  Radicalised by strong market demand to train to teach during lockdown, prioritising local networks and partnerships, developed and strengthened over many decades, was far from the forefront of thinking, and the presumption that existing providers would willingly act as sub-contractors to designated lead providers, far from tested. 

In fairness, the Department absorbed and responded to concerns and constructive criticism and, in late Autumn, produced a more pragmatic set of proposals, deferring the implementation date by twelve months (to September 2024) and making it clear that they had no fixed number of providers entrenched in their thinking.

So, in dozens of university departments templates are being completed, core curricula outlined, added value articulated, staff and mentor training strengthened, existing partnerships, often running to many hundreds of schools, detailed. 

Where this goes, no-one knows for certain.  On the one hand inspections in the new Ofsted cycle have, under a challenging framework, been less sanguine about the quality of some Initial Teacher Training (and, indeed, much previously ‘outstanding’ schooling) than was the case in the previous iteration.  On the other hand, a buoyant labour market post-Covid and the (brave?) decision to set up an entirely new Admissions system for Post-Graduate Initial Teacher Training (with applications down by 23 per cent last month) might cause policymakers to reflect on just how much change the existing system can or should face.  

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