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Where will the teachers come from? By Pam Tatlow

  • 6 January 2023
  • By Pam Tatlow

This week, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to make Maths compulsory to the age of 18, which would need a lot of extra Maths teachers…

Here, writing in a personal capacity, Pam Tatlow looks at the current state of teacher training in England. Pam is on Twitter @Pam_Tatlow.

The rejection of all appeals submitted by 12 universities in respect of their applications to be accredited as teacher education providers from 2024 may come as a surprise to some. However, others who have followed this agenda for a decade, may see the outcome as the culmination of a ten-year strategy to reduce the involvement of universities in the training of teachers.

As Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP described teacher educators in universities as ‘the blob’. Recently reappointed as Schools Minister, Nick Gibb has made little secret of his dissatisfaction with the role of universities in training teachers. In 2012 and for several years thereafter, the Department for Education used the allocation of trainee numbers to ‘fix’ what was seen as the over-dominance of universities in teacher education. The expansion of ‘training on the job’ via a new Schools Direct programme and the removal of regulations requiring teachers in state-maintained schools to be qualified, increased anxieties about the potential for teaching to be ‘deprofessionalised’.

Notwithstanding these concerns, familiar problems of under-recruitment of trainee teachers meant that universities were often called upon to put their shoulders to the wheel. Time and again universities were allocated additional numbers of training places often late in the application and recruitment round – places which they strove hard to fill.

The announcement of a market review of teacher education in 2020 with the express intention of reducing the number of teacher education providers, signalled that Ministers and their advisers were prepared to take a new direction of travel. Perhaps buoyed by the increase in applications post pandemic, it became clear that these reforms were designed to deliver the market in teacher education which had previously eluded Ministers. 

In response, universities and others highlighted the risks of such a strategy to the future supply of teachers. Nevertheless, the market reforms commenced in 2022. Universities with long-established teacher education departments and hundreds of successful partnerships with schools, School Centred Initial Teacher Training providers (SCITTs) and other organisations which aspired to provide teacher education in the future, were required to apply for accreditation. 

The result? Just 1-in-3 teacher education providers accredited in the first round and several hastily convened online meetings with the then Schools Standards Minister in which universities were encouraged to resubmit Stage 1 applications. Second time around the outcome was more promising but 12 universities and some SCITTs were advised that they had been unsuccessful and therefore could not progress to Stage 2 of the accreditation process. As a result, they would no longer be accredited to deliver teacher education courses in 2024/25 although they could partner with others who had been accredited. 

All this might seem fair game in the swings and roundabouts of a market review specifically designed to reduce the number of teacher education providers. However, it is difficult to understand how any fair process could allow a university to have been deemed unsuccessful on one of the criteria which they had ‘passed’ in their first Stage 1 application. 

Serious questions remain about the validity of a procedure which resulted in not a single university, SCITT or other organisation with a record of initial teacher education delivery succeeding in their appeal. Some universities will no doubt take advice about whether the appeals process itself complies with the important principles of fairness and natural justice. Meanwhile, the DfE has supported the entry into the field of a new player which has been recused entirely from the accreditation process.

In April 2022, the Department for Education awarded a £121 million contract to a consortium set-up by four Multi-Academy Trusts to establish The National Institute of Teaching (NIoT) with four (yet to be established), regional centres. It has not gone unnoticed that a former member of the small group of advisers engaged by the Department for Education to draft the market review has been appointed Chair of the NIoT Board.

The outcome of the Stage 1 accreditation process has the potential for over 5000 teacher education places to be lost. Stage 2 is not a walk in the park. Nonetheless, the Department for Education continues to pursue their market strategy despite the latest teacher training recruitment data showing another steep decline in applications. 

In contrast to the competitive market which the Department for Education has incentivised, teacher supply and teacher education is about collaboration between universities and schools but it is also integral to the levelling up agenda. Social justice is, in part, ensuring that schools in all communities including the least advantaged, have the teachers they need. Is this the moment for Ministers and their advisers to reflect that a market has consequences and not all of them may be as attractive as they first seemed?

HEPI’s history of teacher training, by Vice-Chancellor John Cater, is available here.


  1. Ros Lucas says:

    Since the teaching of Maths as per the present Curriculum is not either appropriate or successful , why not do Functional Skills Level 1 and 2 to Years 7 – 10 and then most will have achieved some success with fewer extra Maths teachers needed at Post 16.
    Self supported and on line learning, supported by TAs could then be utilised for Level 3 whilst continuing to develop employability skills at same time.

  2. Gavin Moodie says:

    Thanx for this depressing analysis.

    I have not been able to understand from abroad the reasons for the longstanding animosity to university teacher education in the UK.

    Does it emanate mainly from the department or from (Tory?) ministers?

    Is it because university departments of education are thought:

    not to inculcate the ‘right’ methods of teaching such as rote learning or phonetics;

    not to concentrate enough on the 3 Rs;

    to be too theoretical;

    to indoctrinate students in left wing ideology;

    to be too expensive; or

    to be unsatisfactory in some other way?

  3. albert wright says:

    “The Future of Teaching” (FoT), is a vital component of the wider issue of the “Future of Education and Skills” (FoEaS), and in terms of importance, may be the key to the future of UK productivity.

    It may even merit a Commission of Inquiry.

    However, like so many similar issues involving the public sector: health, policing, social care, transport workers etc time is running out in which to take further action to prevent the situation getting worse. Evidence to date shows making the right reforms is as important as acting in a time appropriate manner.

    There needs to be a wide, cross party consensus, on how we recruit, train, retain and pay public sector workers, including pension payments and funding of pensions.

    This will not be easy – look how long it has taken Governments in the past to deal with a single sector such as HE, let alone the whole public sector.

  4. albert wright says:

    When is a market not a market?

    “it became clear that these reforms were designed to deliver the market in teacher education which had previously eluded Ministers.”. This may well be true but the concept of “market” and “(higher) education” has caused problems before.

    The move to the Student Loan model for undergraduate degrees where all Universities, for all subjects decided to “charge” and receive a fixed amount of £9,250 a year, regardless of the content, curriculum and quality of the courses provided, was doomed to failure from the start.

    One of the main features of a “market” is supply and demand and the role of “price” in achieving a balance between the demand and supply for a product or service is crucial in achieving an appropriate allocation of resources to competing suppliers.

    Turning to the Training of Teachers – Governments are keen to get value for money when buying such a service but this proves very difficult to manage when there is confusion / a lack of clarity in what is being purchased.

    What constitutes a well trained teacher?

    Will all teachers study the same curriculum and be tested for competence in the same way?

    Who draws up the contract for supply and defines the criteria for a good teacher?

    What remedies are available to governments when providers fail to provide services of a suitable quality? Does the provider offer a refund or exchange?

    Is there a time limit in the contract after which remedies and compensation payments will be blocked, similar to the possible penalties in the employment agency model ?

    It is not surprising that governments seek to use the Apprenticeship model when training would be teachers, police people, medical practitioners etc as it offers elements of consistency and price flexibility.

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