Part 2: Does schools-based ITT work well because of being schools-based?
Disclaimer: The assertions and conclusions of this blogpost are based on personal opinion and experience, anecdote, and discussions with teachers. If you’re aware of concrete evidence and research on the efficacy of schools-based training, please get in touch!
The success of the education charity Teach First (which in 2011 gained an Outstanding measurement for all 44 categories in which it was assessed by Ofsted) seems to have informed much of the DfE’s desire to move towards schools-based ITT. The logic appears to be that Teach First is overwhelmingly schools based, and its teachers often do well, therefore if more ITT provision was overwhelmingly schools based, then more trainee teachers would do well.
I think, however, that this logic falls down when we look into why it actually is that Teach First does well. I also think that those of us who want to reform the approach taken by many ITT courses would be better served by reforming the content of ITT courses (which would remain primarily as PGCEs), and not the format (moving away from PGCEs).
Joe Kirby has already written a great summary of why Teach First works. In essence, it is to do with selectivity and kudos. Teach First only recruits from graduates with a strong academic record and offers only one in seven applicants a place, whereas across ITT in general, half of applicants are offered a place. Additionally, Teach First is well marketed and is seen by many undergraduates at prestigious universities as a route which has as much kudos as other glossy, well marketed graduate recruiters. However, just because Teach First works, this doesn’t mean that a clumsy DFE attempt to half-copy it would.
I think that high-quality ITT can and should take place primarily in universities, although this doesn’t mean that I’m critical of the fact that Teach First is schools based – it patently wouldn’t work any other way! The fact that Teach First participants are able to enter the classroom so quickly and spend the vast majority of their time actually in front of classes is probably a big attraction for many participants.
The reason the schools-based nature of the programme works, however, is because of factors which an ITT route for people who primarily want to train as teachers can’t copy. What I mean here is that because some (but certainly not all) participants only see the programme as a two year commitment (please read this blogpost by Laura McInerney which talks about how many actually stay beyond this, regardless of their initial intentions), and because for some who join there is an element of ‘saviour syndrome’ (as touched on by Tom Sherrington in the comments of Laura’s blog) the programme wouldn’t work any other way. But still… to interpret all this as meaning that training participants to teach in schools is the fundamental reason for Teach First’s success is to miss the point.
There are aspects of the programme which a more traditional ITT route (one solely for people who want to be career teachers) can copy. As mentioned, these basically boil down to selectivity and kudos. This is worth underlining. I firmly believe that if the cohort of teachers who are current or former Teach Firsters had trained instead via a high-quality university based route, those who have done well and have proven to be excellent teachers would still be excellent teachers. Similarly, I don’t think there is anyone who has trained via a university route and subsequently performed poorly in the classroom who would have been an excellent teacher in an alternate universe, if only they’d been put in front of a class earlier in their ITT year. If anything, their demise would have been hastened.
I also think that there are some people who could have made excellent teachers but who have found the experience of being (virtually) full time classroom teachers before they’ve even gained QTS too difficult. Some people have surely left the profession forever (and I’ve spoken to them), when had they trained via a more gradual route they’d still be in the classroom doing excellent work. Cherry picking only the schools-based aspect of Teach First as a key feature of what future ITT provision should look like, whilst ignoring the other aspects (who we actually recruit to the profession) is dangerous. We could be frightening some potentially talented people away from teaching by loading them with too much responsibility too early on. Its a real risk. It’s a risk which Teach First has to take (as explained earlier, it wouldn’t work other than as a schools-based programme) but for other ITT provision, the risk is unnecessary.
Why else might policymakers think that schools-based courses automatically trump university-based courses? There may be some truth that senior policymakers have found some ITT providers too ideological and wedded to progressivism (viz: ‘The Blob’), and so have sought to by-pass universities altogether. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a mistake. Schools and universities don’t exist in separate bubbles, and many who would deliver training in schools gained their teaching philosophies whilst training in… universities.
In conclusion, if you want your teachers better trained, more knowledgeable, and better at the essentials, then it is what you train them and not how you train them that matters. University Schools of Education are full of experience and knowledge. In some institutions (VAK learning styles apparently still taught at Canterbury) some of the course content may be outdated. So … change the content. Change the courses. Don’t scrap the institutions.
If we fundamentally change the format of ITT without paying attention to what’s actually being taught, which is the way policy is moving, then we’ll just have spend a lot of energy without solving the underlying problem.