A few more teacher training blogposts

More teacher training blogposts to peruse.

I’m largely using search engines and the wonderful Education Echo Chamber to find blogs, but please point me in the direction of any posts I’ve missed which you’ve written or read on this topic.

I’ll shortly begin the task of rifling through Old Andrew’s gigantic editable spreadsheet of teacher bloggers for more hidden gold.

As always – these don’t necessarily all reflect my views, but all add to the conversation.

Bex Trex: Schools Direct: Preparing for the Unknown

Alex Quigley: Questions About Initial Teacher Training

Peter Henshaw: Plea to keep ideology out of initial teacher training review

Emerging Eduraptor: Learned things of my first year (part one) and Learned things of my first year (part two)


More Teacher Training Blogposts

I’ve found most of these blogposts related to ITT via the excellent Education Echo Chamber. Please let me know of others you’ve read and enjoyed.

(a re-blog here doesn’t necessarily imply that I agree with the argument made)

Kris Boulton: Festival of Education 2014

Clio et Cetera: 90% of teacher training should be subject-specific

Consider Ed: Should we review the impact of radical unpredictability in ITE?

David Didau: What is (or isn’t) language doing in PGCE?

e=mc2andallthat: All I Really Need To Know About Teaching I Learned On My PGCE

Guild HE: Carter and the Unstoppable Teach First Machine

John Howson:  Should trainees bring benefits as well as costs?

Mark Quinn: Why we are in the PGCE game.

Radical History: Cuts to PGCE places – the most significant threat to profession yet

The Secret PGCE 


Should ITT happen in schools? Does it matter? Part 2

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!

Schools-based ITT is in vogue. As I mentioned in the first part of this two-part post, the TES has reported that by 2015 Schools Direct places will outnumber PGCE places.

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.


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?” 


Teacher Training Blogposts

Some interesting blogs on teacher training.

Please suggest any others I should read and link to..

Tom Bennett | The Carter Review of behaviour training: My suggestions

Tom Bennett | Get Carter, part 2: How do we reform teacher training in research?

Clio et cetera | Scepticism not cynicism: what made my teacher training so good?

David Didau | The times they are a changin’: how can we improve the PGCE?

Docendo Discimus | The Carter Review and the future of ITT

e-mc2andallthat | Me and my PGCE

Joe Kirby | How can we improve Initial Teacher Training?

Joe Kirby | How can we improve the quality of our teaching?



Alex Quigley | Why Michael Gove is wrong about qualified teacher status





My dream School of Education

The idea for this post has been taken wholesale from Old Andrew’s excellent posts on his dream school, here and here

I’m visiting the University Of Newchesterpool’s School Of Education, one of the UK’s largest teacher training institutions, located within a large northern redbrick University.

I’m greeted by the School’s director, Professor Julia Expert, and en route to her office we spend a few minutes dropping in on a lecture for the PGCE English students. A professor from the University’s English faculty is leading the trainees through an in depth analysis of the threads running through Shakespeare’s tragedies, with a particular emphasis on Hamlet and Macbeth.

We arrive at her office. I ask why the trainees were spending their time on such a technical discussion of Shakespeare, and why one of the PGCE tutors wasn’t leading the lecture.

“Well, we’re sending these people into the world as English teachers. They’re going to be the experts in the room, and some will be teaching students only a year away from enrolling on English Literature degrees. We’re fortunate to be a part of a University which is very highly regarded for the quality of our English faculty, and so it made sense for that particular session to be led by Professor Angle, who is well renowned as a Shakespearian scholar.”

Professor Expert tells me that in the next door lecture theatre students are engaged in a discussion with one of the University’s Psychology professors. “We set them Practice Perfect by Willingham and Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel as required reading texts. I’m not an authority on cognitive psychology, so I figured a discussion on a book written by a cognitive psychologist was best led by someone who knows the field well.”

It’s clear that there are regular lectures on subject-specific content. There are lectures on cognitive psychology. How often do the trainees get lectures on how to teach?

“Well… what do you mean by lectures on how to teach? We focus very heavily on classroom management and behaviour, especially in the early weeks.”

I tell her I mean teaching activities. The nuts and bolts of a lesson.

“I disagree that activities are the nuts and bolts of a lesson. The knowledge that’s being imparted, the security of the expertise of the teacher – the expert in the room – that’s the background of a lesson. Remember that for years, centuries, teachers responsible for secondary age students would deliver knowledge in a pretty didactic way, and students still learned.”

I tell Professor Expert that she’s betrayed something about herself there. I ask her opinion of progressive teaching methods.

“I’m not a huge fan, if I’m honest.”

Isn’t she being hypocritical? I thought advocating a certain type of teaching was out of vogue? Shouldn’t students at least know about progressive educational methods of instruction? What if they want to teach that way?

“Well, sure. I don’t force my views down anyone’s throats. We don’t tell the trainees to teach in any particular way at all, we just try to make sure they know how to control the room and that they’re clear on what the information they want to get across in that lesson is. Our trainees are interested people, and plenty of them turn up on the first day having already gone into the educational section of Waterstones and bought a copy of Teacher Toolkit, or Dancing about Architecture. If they want to try something out that they’ve read in one of those books, I tell them, ‘sure… if you think the kids are going to learn the core knowledge you’re trying to impart, then try what you like.’ I also tell them that I think there are simpler and more effective ways to get that knowledge across, and to be careful not to burn themselves out with over-work, but nothing is verboten. They can do as they please.”

We stand up and she takes me into a seminar room. The trainees are discussing the effects of the 1944 Butler reforms with the ‘associate tutor’ running the class. They all seem knowledgeable, but I’m unsure how relevant the discussion is to their life in the classroom.

On our way back to Expert’s office, we drop in on a room shared by three of the School’s associate tutors. Above each desk are three framed certificates: the tutor’s PGCE certificate, their QTS certificate and their NQT Induction certificate. I almost laugh.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone frame their QTS certificate!”

One of them answers. “If you go into the office of a doctor, or solicitor, or architect, you’ll often see their professional credentials framed behind their desk. We’re part of a profession too. Why shouldn’t we be proud of it?”

Fair enough. Back at Expert’s office I quiz her on a couple of things. Firstly, why are the students talking about Rab Butler?

“Part of our course is a module on the history of education, all the way from Socrates to the present day. All doctors know who Hippocrates was. All architects know who Vitrivus was. In the same way, all of our trainees leave knowing who Socrates and Aristotle were, and what they thought. Ours is a noble profession with a long history. We want our trainees to be aware of it, and proud of their professional heritage.”

I also have to mention the age of the tutors. I’ve seen one teaching a session, and met three in their office just now. All were in their thirties or early forties. Aren’t PGCE tutors usually slightly older? I mean, they’re people who’ve retired from teaching generally, aren’t they? And doesn’t that make them more credible – and certainly more experienced – than the 30-year-old I’ve just seen discussing the Butler reforms in the seminar room?

“We made a decision that we wanted all our tutors to be practicing teachers. That means that the reality of teaching today, with the constant flux in policy and expectation, is real to them. Of course it means that all of our tutors are part time, which is why we call them associate tutors. As for credibility, most of our students appreciate being taught by people who are living the reality of what they’re teaching the trainees. Plus, all of our associates publish papers and most are studying, or have graduated, from part time Masters and Doctoral programmes.”

They’re all part time? Doesn’t that mean you have to hire more of them? It must be expensive? Also, who has time to teach in school, tutor at University and write papers?

“It’s not really that expensive. We pay £10,000 per year for a two days per week tutoring commitment. They still receive two thirds of their teacher’s salary for the three days they’re in school, and we pay a £5,000 bonus if they write a book or publish more than five peer reviewed papers in a year. We let them enrol on our part-time MA and M.Ed courses for free, which is a benefit-in-kind but doesn’t really cost us additional money. They do it because they love it, and if you’ve passed threshold, which most of our associates have, you could be on £38,000 a year and studying for a free M.Ed. Not too bad.”

Before I leave I take time to talk with some of the trainees. I ask them what they enjoy about the course. Most appreciate the intensive focus on behaviour in the early days, and say that it has made them feel more secure as they enter the classroom. They appreciate being told that they’re professionals, studying for a professional post-graduate degree, and they feel a sense of pride in the in the career choice they’ve made.

They appreciate that their observations are purely formative, and none feel stage-fright the night before an observation as they know that their places on the course aren’t riding on the outcome: observations are just input for a coaching conversation.

They are grateful that they are exposed to a number of contrasting schools. During their year here, they’ll spend at least a fortnight in a school with a high FSM roll, a school with a high EAL roll, and at the other end of the spectrum, the prestigious Newchesterpool Grammar.

They’re also happy that their tutors are currently teaching, and that their tutors tell them how adrift they sometimes feel themselves, and how they’re still learning. The School of Education provides a good start, but it’s only a beginning. Luckily, the graduates of Newchesterpool know that.


Reform Teacher Training: The Manifesto

At teacher training institutions around the country, committed, intelligent people who have chosen to teach are being taught by committed, intelligent teacher trainers.

Perhaps they’re clustered around A1 sheets of sugar paper making mind-maps about ‘what makes a good teacher’, or they’re being modelled an exciting teaching technique in which one uses Plasticine to teach Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps they’re watching some of their peers pretend to be students, acting out a scenario where the characters of The Tempest are on Jeremy Kyle. They might be trying out a ‘tunnel of consciousness’, or be sitting back-to-back as one describes a photograph of a room, whilst the other attempts to draw it. They might be being told about learning styles and making ‘VAK bobbins’, or chuckling at a list of completely invented ‘rules for teachers from 1914.’ They might be nodding along to an RSC video of one of Ken Robinson’s TED talks, or watching the ‘Shift Happens’ video. Some will be engaged and inspired by these activities, and other less so.

They’re all wasting their time.

I recently read Daisy Christodoulou’s Spectator article (thanks Webs of Substance) in which she describes her anger at realising that there already exists a body of evidence and cognitive science on how students learn best, and that none of it was even hinted at during her teacher training.

As a recently qualified teacher myself who has trained with, worked with and spoken to many, many NQTs and trainees, I commonly hear the complaint that on ITT course fundamental topics such as behaviour are dealt with summarily (if at all), and that the many hours discussing Vygotsky, Piaget, Taxonomies and ‘VAK learning’ seem to have no practical relevance to life in the classroom.

Whilst I was training, and before I’d actually had to take charge of a class, the aspect of our training I found most useful was learning ‘how to teach.’ We learnt about, and practiced, a myriad of fun, child-centred activities such as the ‘ambassador’ activity, or the ‘relay’ activity. We listened, impressed, as we were told about Socratic Circles (especially when the trainer told us that she’d been observed by Ofsted several times using this technique and it had never failed to bag her an Outstanding).

This was incredibly reassuring. All you needed to do to become an outstanding teacher was successfully run one of these creative activities, deliver it with personality and aplomb, and all would be just gravy. We spent relatively little time on behaviour and were told to give students little jobs to keep them occupied, like monitoring the ‘noise dial’ in the classroom. I was told by various sources that students would behave as long as the lesson was fast-paced enough, or as long as I was in a good mood myself, and (and this advice was absolute Kryptonite) that I shouldn’t begin my first lesson with The Rules because the kids would have had this a thousand times and I should just crack on with the lesson because it would show I meant business.

If you were to delve into the mind of many trainees (and practicing teachers who have been through this system) to find their mental picture of an incredible teacher, you’d probably draw out an image of someone prancing entertainingly around the classroom setting off smoke bombs and throwing tennis balls around as the children hula-hoop whilst singing a song about fractions. This impression is one which is encouraged (or perhaps created) by the fact that whilst training you are told that lessons need to have pizazz, or fizz, and that above all they must be engaging.

I emerged into the classroom brimming with ideas, and sure that I’d be able to get kids to buy into my lessons by the force of my personality and the sheer fun of what I’d planned.

It was a disaster.

In my first lesson I tried to teach some of the context of Of Mice and Men using ‘The Relay’ activity. I tried to teach my Year 8s war poetry by getting them to act out the events of Dulce et Decorum est. I hadn’t given them “The Rules” talk. I hadn’t shown them I was an authority figure to be respected. The ensuing results were exactly as you’d imagine.

Whenever I now come across a PGCE student on school placement heading enthusiastically into the classroom with an armful of Diamond 9 cards, a washing line and Plasticine, my heart sinks. Later on I know that they’ll beat themselves up for not being good enough, not being engaging enough, and not being able to control the class.

So, what should teacher training institutions be doing?

Firstly, they should be focussing on the basics, and the basics only. Nobody who hasn’t yet attained a teaching qualification should be worrying at night about having to perform pedagogical acrobatics in the classroom.

There should be a huge focus on behaviour. I wouldn’t talk about anything else for the first few weeks. As David Didau notes, behaviour is the key. If you can’t control the room, it doesn’t matter how good the lesson you’ve planned is.

Observations should be purely formative and focus only on the behaviour and progress of students and the quality of work which is produced. Training institutions should tell partner schools that if they assign a grade to any ITT lessons they observe, then they won’t be partner schools any more.

Trainees should learn what quality marking and feedback look like, and why they should demand the highest quality in students’ written and verbal responses.

Trainees should know about the big debates taking place in the educational sphere, about developments in educational policy in the UK and around the world, and about the history of our education system. Trainees should know about what cognitive evidence thinks about how we learn, and know that they should have the confidence to teach in a way which most suits them – it’s the outcome, not the method which is key.

Luckily, I joined Twitter, read blogs, and happened to be placed in a school which has a principal who is plugged into the educational zeitgeist and who introduced staff to Willingham, Christodoulou and the knowledge debate.

But if I hadn’t, and only had my PGCE studies to go on, I wouldn’t know that there was a debate taking place around knowledge education. I wouldn’t know that learning styles have been discredited. I wouldn’t know that the primacy of child-centred learning and Vygotskian theory were fallible. I wouldn’t know that there has been a teacher-driven wave of pressure which has helped to convince Ofsted (and by extension many school SLTs) to abandon a requirement to teach in a certain way. I wouldn’t have thought to question The Gods of the three-part lesson with an ‘AFL opportunity’ every twenty minutes. I’m incredibly grateful (and lucky) to have stumbled upon the Learning Spy and Hunting English blogs in the Spring term of 2013, and from them to have found my way to Andrew Old, Tom Bennett, Webs of Substance and then Joe Kirby’s and Daisy Christodoulou’s blogs.

I learnt about the knowledge/skills debate, the fact that Daniel Willingham exists, the content of recent DFE and Ofsted reforms, how to design a knowledge scheme of work, practicable ways to manage behaviour, get students to write well and what effective marking looks like from the internet. That shouldn’t have been the case.

Here I’ll try to re-blog what people are saying about teacher training.

Teacher training is focussing on the wrong things and it needs to be reformed.