When the initial teacher education (ITE) allocations for the 2017/18 were announced on 28 September, there was (if not joy) a measure of reassurance across the teacher education sector. The destabilisation of effective and high quality partnerships between schools and universities caused by the government’s ’head-long rush into a narrowly defined concept of ‘school-led’ teacher training appeared to have been put on hold. The government appeared to have listened to warnings from UCET and others that ITE providers needed to be able to plan by allocating selected providers allocations for three years, and recruitment caps were lifted for some secondary subjects. There were however concerns: while three year allocations are welcome, they should be applied to all providers, and not just a selected few; the shift within the ‘school-led’ envelop from School Direct to SCITT could undermine some good quality training delivered by established HEI and SCITT School Direct partnerships; and the government’s bizarre refusal to publish full details of the allocations, including which providers received three-year allocations, has clouded the whole process in a veil of secrecy which only the tabling of parliamentary questions and the submission of Freedom of Information requests looks like lifting.
now is the time to take a genuinely bold step and think about getting rid of the whole process of allocating ITT places altogether
The 2017/18 allocations do nonetheless represent an improvement over what has happened in recent years. However, I would suggest that now is the time to take a genuinely bold step and think about getting rid of the whole process of allocating ITT places altogether. Such a move could, at a stroke, allow the recruitment of student teachers to be matched more closely to demand, provide genuine choice for applicants, and facilitate the development of new and stronger forms of teacher education partnerships of the kind outlined in my earlier BERA blog, ‘Sustainable Schools Led Teacher Education That Keeps The Baby In The Bath’ (June 2015).
Teacher education partnerships consisting of schools, universities and SCITTs must have a better idea than remote Whitehall civil servants about how many student teachers need to be recruited in each area to meet the demand for teachers from local schools. The government, in fact, admits that it has little idea about how to match regional demand for teachers to the allocation of places, a point made clear in this year’s scathing Public Accounts Committee report into the training of teachers (UK Parliament, June 2016).
Opponents of unrestricted recruitment point to the dangers of over-supply and to the potential cost. Both of these concerns are unfounded. While it is possible that places on some programmes, primary and secondary PE spring to mind, could in theory be filled many times over, there are already enough constraints in the system to prevent this. Schools only have so much capacity to support additional student teachers, whether they be on traditional placements or are being trained through SCITT or School Direct. ITE providers will not want to recruit students for who there are no jobs at the end of their programmes. If they did, they would be hammered by OFSTED and risk losing their accreditation. Infrastructure constraints will prevent any escalation costs related to bursary and student loan support. Even then, the bursaries paid to students on the easier to recruit to programmes are pretty limited, and any increased student loans costs would be dwarfed by the implications of the decision a couple of years ago to remove the caps of recruitment to undergraduate programmes generally (except, oddly, undergraduate ITE).
The implications of such a bold step would of course have to be carefully considered. Modelling would have to take place, and all stakeholders consulted. The government would in the new world still need to run a Teacher Supply Model to get a general idea as to whether national as well as regional teacher supply needs are being met. It would still (pending the further development of the College of Teaching) need to regulate teacher education through the setting of broad frameworks and standards. And OFSTED would continue to have a quality assurance role. Beyond that, government ought to step back. Either it believes in markets or it does not. Either it believes in delegated decision making or it does not. Schools Led cannot be government led.