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Out of Step? Reflections on the changing role of universities in Initial Teacher Training since 2010

Jo McShane

Having worked as a teacher educator since 2006, I’ve observed significant changes and developments from the perspective of my roles in a University and as director of a SCITT. As an evolving professional, I found directives initiated by the Coalition Government particularly interesting, and chose them as the focus for my Newcastle University M.Ed. Dissertation in 2015. This article represents a summary of my reflections.

In 2010, the Coalition government positioned the Department for Education as the flagship ministry for a hail of aggressive social reform strategies. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) became a target for major overhaul, with a series of rapid, sweeping and influential policies which shunted provision from its ‘traditional’ university location towards school-based settings. Despite a deeply concerning shortage of teachers, the overarching assertion was that ITE was out-dated, out of step with international models and therefore unable to produce the calibre of teachers required for globally competitive schooling.

In 2013, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove claimed that newly qualified teachers making the ‘biggest difference in academies’ had bypassed the ‘old’ PGCE route. Referring to Teach First, he went on to claim that the new monopoly on teacher education was attracting the very best graduates into the profession and should, therefore quadruple in size as a provider.

The Coalition’s early attacks on traditional PGCE courses were based on an openly negative take on the value of educational research, which was portrayed as being both groundless and irrelevant in the mastery of classroom craft (Cameron, 2011). This apparent gulf between theory and practice was not received as some shocking new headline by the HE sector and, despite their rhetoric Cameron and Gove had not uncovered anything hidden. As Furlong (2013) notes, the juxtaposition of theory and practice and the meaning of ‘empirical’ knowledge in education has never been a settled matter, rather a debate which necessarily burns at the centre of evolving practice.

in 2016 England still faces a teacher drought which is impacting on pupil progress and curriculum delivery

Six years have witnessed the introduction of generous, tax free training bursaries, the strident infrastructural overhaul of ITE and increasingly ‘school immersive’ preparation to teach. Despite this, in 2016 England still faces a teacher drought which is impacting on pupil progress and curriculum delivery. The recent schools white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ (2016) posits that school-led provision will expand significantly, with more freedom for headteachers of ‘good’ schools to accredit entrants to the profession using a new qualification system. I can hear the changes ringing with terrifying volume. 

By stimulating more change before system maturation, the government risks undermining the quality of schooling. As Taylor et al (2007) reported ‘As a consequence of changes in the role and remit of university-based teacher educators there was evidence that traditional ‘bed rocks’ of the university contribution are seemingly becoming usurped by schools or dropped altogether’ (p.21).

Plans outlined in 2016 could lead to a catastrophic reduction in quality and rigour in a dispersed and fragmented training context. I do feel a sense of the beleaguered Arthur Scargill when I ponder with sadness the possible closing down of the HE coalface, and forever burying the rich, research-informed ‘seams of knowledge’ referenced by Burn & Mutton (2013).

Is all lost, however? Thankfully, a flotilla of evaluations and publications have come into the public domain alongside emergent system reforms. BERA, The Policy Exchange, IFS and the Nuffield foundation have all published change-informing reports. The data (and, dare I say, reflection) required to steer informed and urgent intervention is out there, living. Real and non-hierarchical collaboration between government and providers which focusses directly on the real needs of pupils, teachers, classrooms and school communities could still build out of the flux in designing something diverse, flexible and fit to serve the needs of educational stakeholders.



British Educational Research Association (2014) Research and the Teaching Profession: building the capacity for a self-improving system, London: BERA/RSA

Burn, K. & Mutton, T (2013) Review of ‘Research-Informed Clinical Practice’ In Initial Teacher Education, London: BERA-RSA

DfE (2010) The Importance of Teaching, White Paper

DfE (2016) Educational Excellence Everywhere, White Paper

Furlong, J. (2013) Education- an anatomy of the Discipline: Rescuing the university project, London: Routledge

IFS. (2014) The Costs and Benefits of Different Initial Teacher Training Routes,. London: Nuffield Foundation.

Policy Exchange (2016) ‘The Importance of Teachers’

Taylor, A (2007). Developing understanding about learning to teach in a university-schools partnership in England. BERJ 34 (1), 63-90