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Universities, schools and a system in flux – looking back on Carter and looking forward to the future of Initial Teacher Education in England

Samantha Twiselton

In 2014 I was part of the Carter Review of ITT – an experience that was rewarding, intense and often stressful. I met a student teachers, mentors, heads, university and school based tutors, NQTs and RQTs; committed people who were very keen to tell us about their innovative and exciting approaches. The Review concluded that, though confusing, the variety of different routes is actually a strength and has a rationale. Different aspirant teachers have different needs. As a profession we want anyone who has the desire and potential to become an excellent teacher to be enabled to do so. Regions and school communities also have particular needs and the different options can help serve these.

Excellent ITE is about far more than learning the craft of teaching through an apprenticeship approach. I and many others have been writing about this for years

Universities can play a powerful role in supporting these models and in providing depth, breadth and academic rigour

There is a crucial need for learning away from and beyond the immediacy of the practical context. In some school-led models there is innovative and carefully crafted use of expertise and contexts, seamless links to NQT and beyond, immediate and ongoing access to outstanding practice. Universities can play a powerful role in supporting these models and in providing depth, breadth and academic rigour. However the Review gave me food for thought and an appetite to create a call for action – particularly for universities involved in ITE.

The expertise and knowledge needed to support student teachers’ learning is not the same as being an outstanding teacher of pupils. Student teachers need support to be able to connect their learning with the fundamentals of the subject(s) beyond the curriculum, the world beyond the classroom, and the broader knowledge base and research to underpin their understanding. This is a discipline and pedagogy in its own right. Some universities made a compelling case for their role in this, but some schools have also developed great expertise and capacity in Initial Teacher Education and CPD and in creating evidence based approaches to their practice and its development. Movements like ResearchEd and the use of research leads in schools illustrate this. We also know that many university based ITE tutors find it difficult to fully engage in research and knowledge creation, as illustrated in the BERA/RSA Report and REF2014.

Schools that chose to work with a university should make this decision based upon the genuinely recognised potential that pooling expertise and experience brings. For some the HEI partnership is there simply for the market advantage and the academic award. In these cases, the involvement of the university is extremely minimal. This may be because the university has robust evidence that the SCITT is very capable of delivering all aspects of the programme. However, it seems anomalous if a SCITT feels compelled to work with a university simply to be able to award a PGCE without feeling they benefit from the partnership. We need to look at the PGCE and other academic awards associated with QTS and consider their currency and consistency.

As Ellis and Nicholl (2015) argue ‘if we want to get the discipline of Education right, we need to get teacher education right…if we want to ensure the best possible preparation for new teachers and also ensure their retention and their continued professional development, HEIs have an important contribution to make and we need to get that right too’ (p. 124). They make the case for a reconceptualization of the role of HEI expertise in ITE partnerships, involving ‘co-configuration’ of teacher education activity in a way that has potential to produce strong forms of research and development that has benefits for all collaborators.

The highly political way in which the changes to ITE in England have been presented has polarised the debate to a point where it has become difficult to recognise both the strengths and weaknesses associated with different models. Being on the Review convinced me that it would be foolish to deny the enormous potential that exists in the new and emerging models. Student teachers do need regular and ongoing access to practitioner expertise in a way that is carefully structured, critically deconstructed, analysed, and evaluated for its impact on pupil learning and well-being. They also need to do this in a way that is situated in the literature, the most up to date research – both subject and pedagogical, and within an evidence-based, inquiry-driven framework. In my view, one of the most essential features is the deep integration of practitioner and research/inquiry expertise. The two polarised extremes of entirely school-led or entirely university-led ITE provision both present risks to the possibility of achieving this goal.