By Clive Hill
In this article, Clive Hill explains the case for ITT reform, despite the understandable opposition to it from stakeholders across the education sector.
Education has been a political-football for far too long, so it is good to see that consultations are being made with stakeholders from across the ITT delivery sector. The ITT Market Review takes into account the experiences of those coming into the profession, going some way to attempt to plug the hemorrhaging retention figures seen within the first five-years of teaching.
ITT providers have a critical role to play in this. Honest and thorough conversations need to be had to ensure that we maintain the independence of academia within the educational sector, while ITT is simultaneously informed by those at the ‘chalk face’ who mentor trainees and Early Career Teachers, tempering the ideals of academia against the anvil of classroom teaching.
Classroom teachers need to have this discourse with our university partners. We require academic rigour to maintain our professional status, in a career that is centred on us as teachers, being ambassadors for academia, to the next generation.
But the DfE also needs to listen to the entire sector before rushing in head-first. If we are looking to the ITT Core Content Framework to be the far-reaching historic shake-up of teacher-training that it has the potential to be, then it must be done in a manner that does not disrupt the influx of teachers into the profession.
Proceeding at pace will likely create gaps in ITT provision, jeopardising the stability of the sector, which will detrimentally impact schools and consequently the education of children across the country. We must avoid this.
The importance of the ITT Core Content Framework
Reading the ITT Core Content Framework it is clear that both University, Independent, and School-based ITT providers have been at the centre of the consultation. As someone that benefitted from one of the trials of funding for a school-based mentor and extra PPA-time that fed into the offer now available for ECTs, I see the benefits for the extra entitlement of a structured package of support for future teachers. After all, it takes new teachers a lot more time to plan, asses and do everything else, compared to more seasoned staff. The pressure caused by this is a major reason why many of them leave so early in their careers.
The ITT market itself draws upon both recent graduates and career-changers, with routes being varied enough to meet the training needs of all interested parties – this is key to understanding why accreditation and reputation factor into the reasoning behind trainees selecting different pathways.
For context, I trained with Teach First in 2017; coming through their undergraduate “Leadership Development Programme”, and the first cohort to be working toward a PGDE alongside QTS. I didn’t fit the usual model of recruit for the undergraduate programmes, because I was a career-changer, but not from a graduate-career.
Teach First partners with ITT university departments to deliver their content, with experienced classroom practitioners working as “Development Leads” working alongside both university and school-based colleagues to deliver the PGDE content and mentoring of trainees and ECTs.
It makes complete sense to have the Early Career Framework and ITT Core Content Framework mirror one another, as they are pegged to run in partnership with each other. It is refreshing to see the recommendation of a “full bibliography…to support [their] critical engagement with research”.
This is not to say the profession should favour a ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’ pedagogical approach, because context is key – all teachers should ideally be versed in the research supporting approaches across the spectrum, because ITT providers will be training teachers to work across varied school-settings. It is important, therefore, for the trainee-teacher to use this research to critically inform and develop them as professionals, in order to find what works well for themselves and their students, in their own given context.
There is much to say about just how research-informed we as teachers are, compared to even four-years ago, with many now having access to the original papers and engagement being much higher for quality CPD after ITT. CPD programmes within schools have often been haphazard, lacking subject specificity, and plagued with broad-scope generalisms that need to be implemented immediately, without consideration of the need for time to do so and without reflection on the efficacy of the initiatives.
I’m now at the stage of my teaching career where many teachers leave the profession, and one thing that networking with my peers informs is a disparity in the quality of mentoring and CPD experience for those of us in our early careers. Mentoring is not always a voluntary role within a school, and many see this as an additional burden to their workloads. Preparation for such a crucial role in the teaching journey is all too often unsupported by high-quality training for the mentors themselves; selected for either their classroom-experience, or, unwisely, for their own time-based proximity to the process themselves – something that has the potential to rob the new trainee of the experience of a seasoned-veteran of the classroom. The extra time given to mentors, under the new framework, should help remedy this problem.
So, why are ITT providers so concerned about the shake-up?
The most contentious issue seems to be the recommendation from those consulting that ITT providers prove capacity to deliver high-quality ITT through a re-accreditation process. This is not unusual for independent training providers in other sectors, but is new to the education sector. With teacher-training moving from the traditional teacher-training colleges to the present-day with SCITTs, independent providers, and universities it is important that trainees are able to make informed decisions regarding their routes into teaching.
However, I can also understand the professional-unease at the apparent lack of subject specificity, where pedagogical content knowledge is crucial. Additionally, the independence of university ITT staff, whose experience and expertise is highly valuable, is similarly under threat. Finally, the pace at which this is being driven through is a matter that needs to be considered very carefully. Rushing to put this consultation into action is ill-advised; sustainable transformation is measured and takes time. Debate needs to be had, listened to and must actually inform decisions, rather than being a token gesture.
More so, it takes the positive-engagement of all those concerned to create the change that may be needed. Doing so without this risks the loss of established ITT providers and mentors; having an adverse effect on recruitment and retention, and compounding the challenges already faced by the profession.
The one thing everyone involved in teaching agrees on though, is that the most important stakeholders in our sector are the students and the communities we serve. All of the decisions made about ITT reform should reflect that.