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How we teach our teachers: The plight of initial teacher education in England and its global impact

Simon Lam, Engagement Associate at The Centre for Education and Youth

Teaching is not a lost art but the regard for it is a lost tradition. (Barzun, 1954, p. 12) 

As it was then for Jacques Barzun, so it is now for the state of teaching in England. How we teach our teachers is vital in maintaining the status and quality of the profession; however, much of the global policy discourse on teacher careers has centred around pay and working conditions when in employment (Chimier & Tournier, 2019). In this blog post, I argue that the quality of initial teacher education (ITE) is the glaring omission that has detrimentally impacted our teachers but has not been widely discussed.

Since the late twentieth-century market-based reforms spearheaded by the UK and the US, the administration of ITE has been increasingly shaped towards teaching as a short technical craft that prioritises ‘on-the-job’ learning (Winch, 2017). This has paved the way for an occupation that has since been fragmented, prescriptive and reduced to a form of content delivery with no regard for pedagogical understanding, professional judgment or autonomy (Maguire, 2014). A prime example in England is the government’s push to make teacher education a predominantly school-led system through its controversial re-accreditation process and early career framework, which has been criticised by junior teachers for its low value and adding to an already high workload (Allen, 2023).

Moreover, the English system’s myriad routes into teaching have caused confusion for prospective educators (NAO, 2016) and reduced research-based inquiry through its apprentice-based provision. This neoliberal policy trend of increasing choice and marketising teacher education has been closely aligned by academics to the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) and its associated symptoms of increased accountability, competition and standardisation within education systems (Sahlberg, 2012). Consequently, teachers enter the classroom insufficiently prepared to deal with the growing complex and diverse needs of their students under such a restrictive model (Winch et al., 2015). This leaves the profession in a precarious and dangerous position with the sidelining of its philosophical, psychological and sociological underpinnings.

Therefore, it is clear to see why England is now experiencing chronic teaching shortages, where the government is significantly below the target of recruitment to ensure adequate staff in schools (McLean et al., 2023). The system has created an unsustainable environment of low professional autonomy, high stress and high amounts of accountability that have all been affirmed by the latest teachers’ survey for England from the OECD (2020). England’s educators have had the largest increase in reports of dissatisfaction with their jobs since 2013 compared to other participating countries, and over half of them have questioned their decision to enter the profession. But perhaps the most alarming statistic is that England’s teachers suffer from the highest levels of stress globally, making them up to three times more likely to leave the profession (OECD, 2020). This should be ample evidence for the government in England to sit up and take notice; but instead the government has decided not to take part in the next teachers’ survey in 2024 (Dickens, 2020).

‘England’s teachers suffer from the highest levels of stress globally, making them up to three times more likely to leave the profession.’

In the global policy discourse of education reform and the need to change systems today in order to meet the problems of tomorrow, the issue of teacher education and how it should be administered remains contested. However, what is clear is that the current status quo of ITE in England and its neoliberal-inspired model of provision is not fit for purpose. The question to be addressed now is whether other systems under the influence of the GERM can and will reverse-engineer their provision into one which does not leave such a damaging impact on its professional teaching workforce. It is important to note that just as administrations reformed their way into this situation, it is possible to reform their way out of it too. Hence, as governments aspire to build a ‘world-class’ education system for their citizens, how they administer initial teacher education and how much it is influenced by a corrosive global reform agenda may prove to be an indicator of how close (or far away) they are to be worthy of such a label.


Allen, B. (2023, May 27). Better than before doesn’t mean the ECF is good enough. Schools Week.

Barzun, J. (1954). Teacher in America. Doubleday & Co.

Chimier, C., & Tournier, B. (2019). Why reform teacher careers and what models are emerging? IIEP Research Brief. Teacher career reforms: learning from experience.

Dickens, J. (2020, September 30). DfE pulls out of major TALIS survey to ‘reduce considerable workload burden’. Schools Week.

Maguire, M. (2014). Reforming teacher education in England: ‘An economy of discourses of truth’. Journal of Education Policy, 29(6), 774–784.

McLean, D., Worth, J., & Faulkner-Ellis, H. (2023). Teacher labour market in England: Annual report 2023. National Foundation for Educational Research.

National Audit Office [NAO]. (2016). Department for Education: Training new teachers (Summary).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]. (2020). England (UK) – Country Note – TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and school leaders as valued professionals.

Sahlberg, P. (2012, June 29). How GERM is infecting schools around the world. Washington Post.  

Winch, C. (2017). Teachers’ know-how: A philosophical investigation. Wiley Blackwell.

Winch, C., Oancea, A., & Orchard, J. (2015). The contribution of educational research to teachers’ professional learning: Philosophical understandings. Oxford Review of Education, 41(2), 202–216.