Identifying components of initial teacher education (ITE) that all accredited ITE providers in England will have to adopt was never going to be an easy task. On the one hand, ITE providers must have the freedom and discretion to design programmes that best reflect the contexts within which they are working, the needs of the schools they work with and the students they educate. Academic freedom and criticality must be able to flourish if new teachers are to become thinking and adaptable professionals who are able to teach in a variety of contexts, to different types of learner and in a range of different schools. On the other hand, teaching is a profession with a shared base of knowledge, and student teachers (not to mention their employing schools and learners) have a reasonable expectation that there will be some consistency in how teachers are trained and educated.
Government has for many years had a say in how new teachers are trained and educated, and in a democracy that is probably fair enough. The balance, however, must be right. As professionals, the teacher education sector must have autonomy as well as accountability. The overly restrictive and detailed curriculum imposed on teacher educators in the 1990s, as enshrined in the notorious circular 4/98, stifled creativity, lowered the ceiling and encouraged a mechanistic and tick box approach that did not serve teachers or their schools well. On the other hand, the teacher standards introduced in 2011 could be argued to have allowed too great a variety of content and inconsistency in key areas such as Special educational needs and disability (SEND) and child development, something which Sir Andrew Carter’s 2015 report identified (although it should also be remembered that the Carter review praised the overall quality of ITE and identified excellent practice throughout the sector). The findings of the Carter review led to the development by Stephen Munday’s group of a core content framework, helpfully grouped under the teacher standards, introduced in 2016. This was, in my view, a helpful document that addressed areas of inconsistency while at the same time allowing flexibility and the tailoring of programmes to particular contexts.
With the development of the early career framework (ECF) for newly qualified teachers in 2019 the government in England decided to further review ITE content to ensure that ITE dovetails into the ECF. To this end it established an advisory group to build on Stephen Munday’s framework and to ensure synergy with the ECF, or to ‘velcro the two together’, as some have described it. The framework will not attempt to identify everything that should be covered in ITE. Good ITE programmes will do more than what the framework requires. The framework will represent a minimum entitlement for student teachers about what they will cover, with support from their ITE providers and their partner schools, during their ITE. It should not be used as a tool for assessment.
The advisory group consists of sector representatives in the form of myself from the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), two others from the higher education (HE) sector, and colleagues from the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), Now Teach, Ambition, the Teaching Schools Council and Teach First. Although the group’s composition, which is chaired by Professor Samantha Twiselton from Sheffield Hallam University, was not without controversy, it is probably the right size to allow for constructive dialogue to take place and useful work to be carried out. Discussions within the group have been robust and at the same time collegiate. Department for Education (DFE) officers in attendance have supported the discussions but have not imposed their view or ruled anything as either being mandatory or out of bounds. There is an acceptance within the group that all views are worthy of discussion and of being reflected in the final product.
My own intention is to ensure that the new content framework is: flexible and adaptable; a genuine framework rather than a curriculum; based on robust evidence; provides a base for new teachers to continue to develop once qualified; allows for teachers to be both practitioners and informed consumers of research; and reflects the importance of teaching being an intellectual as well as a practical activity. While it would have been possible to refuse to be on the group unless all of these conditions were met in advance, to have influence one has to be involved. Grandstanding, playing to the gallery and breaking confidences rarely, if ever, produce results. Others will be able to judge the extent to which my voice, and those on the group with similar views, have been heard.
The next stage in the process will be to share the drafts with groups of interested professionals with a range of different specialisms, including education research, SEND, mentoring and coaching, and workload. The final draft will be put to ministers and hopefully published in the New Year. UCET and NASBTT will then work with their members to adjust programmes to reflect the new framework. We will also work with Ofsted to ensure a measured, timely and collegiate approach to compliance.
Department for Education [Dfe] (2011). Teachers’ standards. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-standards.
Department for Education [Dfe] (2015). Carter review of initial teacher training. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carter-review-of-initial-teacher-training.
Department for Education [Dfe] (2016). Initial teacher training: Government response to Carter review. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/initial-teacher-training-government-response-to-carter-review
Department for Education [Dfe] (2019). Early career framework. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/773705/Early-Career_Framework.pdf