Should ITT happen in schools? Does it matter?

Schools-based training doesn’t herald the end of universities’ influence, nor should it.

Part 1 – Why might some want to build up schools-based ITT, and will it make a difference?

When the late, lamented Gove quitted the DFE, John Blake noted that it was a shame that he had missed “the need to change rather than just remove universities’ role in teacher training.”

This, essentially, is this blog’s central message. Universities don’t need to be rubbed out of the picture – they’re valuable institutions with experienced, talented people working for them and learning at them. They just need to change.

However, regardless of the merits of moving away from university-based training, there does certainly seem to be a real swing towards school-based routes such as Schools Direct, SCITT and Teach First. The TES reported last week that from 2015, Schools Direct will train more teachers than PGCEs.

Such is the swing away from the PGCE towards schools-based training,  that at the HMC conference last month a group of private schools stated their intent to begin their own schools based training programme (which Sam Freedman termed  the ‘anti-Teach First’).

However, in much of the commentary I’m reading on this issue, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what schools-based training is, what it advocates for its trainees, and why it has an impact.

Many of these misconceptions were at the forefront of my mind as I read an article in the latest edition of the TES (hard copy only: “The Blob: This time it’s personal.”) The main thrust of the article is that a cohort of “right wing” educationalists is turning away from progressivism, and that around this group is forming a new ‘blob’, which apparently include among others the Policy Exchange and Teach First (I’ll deal with why this is bollocks shortly) .

A key tactic which the writer attributes to the ‘new blob’ is that of bypassing universities (the ‘new blob’s’ view of universities is caricatured in the article as “madrassas of progressivism”) via the promoting of schools-based routes such as Teach First (which incidentally pre-dates Gove’s arrival at the DFE by eight years) and Schools Direct.

Taking into account teacher training specifically, I think that this article (and indeed the views it attributes to the ‘new blob’, which doesn’t exist) are wrong for a number of reasons.

1) Universities deliver a significant amount of the training which schools-based trainees receive. Incidentally, this is fine, as long as the university courses are reformed.

All Teach First and Schools Direct trainees study towards a PGCE, and all attend teaching sessions provided by a university. Indeed, given that PGCE students spend a significant amount of time in their placement schools, the difference between whether a training course is ‘University-based’ or ‘Schools-based’ is really just a matter of a few weeks spent in school over the whole year.

2) Even if universities didn’t provide the bulk of the pedagogical training to schools-based trainees (which they do), schools aren’t exactly divorced from the views which have been pervasive at many university education departments.

Most teachers (and the SLT) in a school will have trained via a university-based route, and many schools will still be attached to progressive-ish views of ‘what Ofsted want’ which pre-date Wilshaw and the new handbook. Also, schools based trainees are assigned a mentor, who may well have trained during any one of the fads which have washed through the educational landscape (PLTS? VAK?) and who could easily pass this on wholesale. Cutting universities out of the picture won’t solve any of that, although reforming what universities teach to trainees might slowly have an impact.

3) On Teach First specifically. When it comes to teaching methods, Teach First itself is not particularly ideological and doesn’t advocate anything specific.

If a Teach First trainee alumni develops any particular pedagogical politics, this probably won’t have come from Teach First. It might have come from their PGCE, or it might come from their individual views and experiences.

Teach First is not part of an anti-progressivist vanguard, or in cahoots with Gove, or Policy Exchange, just because Sam Freedman now works there.

The article name-checks some Teach First alumni who are known to be critical of purely skills-based, child centred learning and infers that this is the approach Teach First favours. It isn’t, and those people didn’t come to those conclusions because Teach First taught them these views. In fact, if you read the introduction to Daisy Christodoulou’s book (who is purported in the TES article to be at the centre of an ARK-Teach First-DFE love-in), you’ll know that she didn’t come to the conclusions she has now reached until undertaking research after she had trained as a teacher via Teach First.

If you want to reform teacher training because you think that many trainees are being taught unhelpful things, then re-routing trainees from PGCEs to schools-based routes isn’t a magic bullet. At present all Teach First and Schools Direct trainees all study towards a PGCE and receive pedagogic instruction from a University department of education. If one school of thought dominates many or most university schools of education, then this will influence Teach First and Schools Direct trainees just as much as PGCE trainees .

Part Two will discuss “Why might the apparent efficacy schools based training be a red herring?” 

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3 thoughts on “Should ITT happen in schools? Does it matter?

  1. Thank you for what I perceive to be a rather more even-handed discussion of the complex issues around ITT than we sometimes otherwise hear. As a university based tutor who moved out of the Primary classroom several years ago it is easy to become disheartened and defensive over what we see as criticism of University based routes into teaching.
    I teach across several routes, including the 3year UG route (please God, may we never lose this – its a gem), FT university centred PGCE and, lately, School Direct. University based routes are not, as is often portrayed, full of progressive, ‘child-centred’ loony lefties; rather, they are staffed by dedicated, reflective teachers wholly engaged in some level of their own research to support their own teaching and who have access to all current sides of the debate. We DO pass these insights on to students. We are not entrenched in 70s teaching styles (nor any style, either before or after). We have time and space in University to debate the issues. We promote recent research and writings (incl DC’s own) and ask the students not to accept what they see in schools without question. Many tutors have previously held very successful positions as Heads, and the vast majority are what I would like to think of as excellent teachers, keen thinkers, questioning, analytical and open to the debates. We do not dictate how students should teach, and instead ask that students form their own identities and pedagogical stances based on what they are shown here in University, what they see in school and what fits with their own emerging philosophy – but primarily on what works. I pass on huge amounts of what I see within blog posts (both trad and prog), readings, from my own experiences in school, if I believe that it will inform their choices. I steer them away from what I see as ‘fluffy’, baseless styles of teaching which aren’t grounded in success, rigour or achievement. The move away from University led training actually slows this process of potential change I believe. You’re correct in that we are often actually fighting against this fluffy advice from some school based mentors, who have now been given greater sway with the advent of widespread SD provision. That is not to say that I believe this school based route to be inferior (although it is cheaper I believe!). Far from it. It suits some, although drop out rates surpass the FT PG in my experience. We engage the students in their own research projects, urging them to constantly ask “Where’s the evidence?”. School based colleagues frequently do not see the need for this as it detracts from ‘guided’ this, or ‘grouped’ that. We, as much as anyone, are so keenly aware of how to do right by the children in schools.

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  2. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for a detailed and thoughtful reply.

    Firstly, I you’re right to point out that “University based routes are not, as is often portrayed, full of progressive, ‘child-centred’ loony lefties”, and I worry that I might have inferred that this is more often the case than not. I don’t want to caricature all university education tutors or schools of education, and you are right to point out that tutors “are staffed by dedicated, reflective teachers wholly engaged in some level of their own research to support their own teaching and who have access to all current sides of the debate.”

    The thrust of this site in general is that there are however still many ITT providers which need to improve their offering. I’m not arguing that all universities should teach my own views (a classical liberal curriculum taught via uncomplicated, DI-style methods) wholesale. What I’d like are unbiased institutions which introduce their students to the debate which is taking place and give ITT students permission to teach as they see fit. As you say, there are places where this happens, not least your own department, but I know from speaking to NQTs and ITTs that there are places where they are instructed in a pedagogical style and expected to follow particular methods and ‘demonstrate’ particular things in observations.

    This move away from instruction in which teaching styles to adopt would mean of course a move away from the main content of an ITT course from pedagogy to subject knowledge, which I think would be very helpful to many new teachers.

    In terms of moving towards a system where ITT is less prescriptive and trainees are better prepared in essentials such as behaviour management and subject knowledge, I agree that sidelining universities is counter-productive. Orthodoxies which have existed in education for a while (and they do still exist, and people do still advocate them) exist in (some) schools as much as (some) universities. This is why I argue that schools-based ITT is a red herring for reformers. I’ll explore this a little more in Part 2.

    Thanks for your response!

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  3. Pingback: Should ITT happen in schools? Does it matter? Part 2 | Reform Teacher Training

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