BERA Response to the Public Consultation on the ITT Market Review (ITTMRR)
19 Aug 2021
BERA below is publishing our full statement in response to the public consultation on the ITT Market Review (ITTMRR) – the full statement here is also available as a download below. In addition we are publishing the text we have submitted to the formal DfE consultation website alongside our full statement.
the lack of a robust research base to warrant the recommendations
the risks that the recommendations pose to the quality of teacher education and training in England
the likely negative impacts on university education departments and all colleagues in those departments, and the consequent negative impacts for universities in general.
We believe that the current proposals risk a marked reduction in initial teacher training (ITT) places if current providers choose to withdraw from ITT under the proposals as they currently stand, with subsequent disruption to teacher supply and risks to the quality of teacher training. We note the wide range of stakeholders who share these concerns, which includes universities and university departments, school-based providers such as NASBTT, teachers’ organisations such as the Chartered College of Teaching, and trade unions.
There is a need for ITT reform on this scale to be informed by the necessary range of robust independent research, for example into the development of teachers as professionals, and the extensive knowledge base that exists about what constitutes effective teacher education. We do not believe that this consultation is informed by such independent robust research. For example, a much wider robust evidence base is needed to establish the case for intensive practice placements, or the model of learning described as ‘human cognitive architecture’.
Similarly, we can see problems with the research referred to in relation to the school curriculum. For example, the singling out of synthetic phonics in relation to the teaching of reading without any reference to the most up to date work on the teaching of reading and phonics. The evidence cited here, as in other places throughout the consultation, is selective and partial. The report gives no indication of how and why the research studies and other evidence that it cites to back up its points were selected, and we note the high number of citations to government initiatives.
Quality of teacher education and training
Teacher education and training has long been a vital part of education as an academic discipline in universities. Since BERA’s inception in 1974 we have continued to support education researchers and all educators in relation to the important debates that link education practice and education research. The recommendations of the MRR, if adopted, would marginalise and compromise the autonomy of initial teacher training programmes within HEIs. The report therefore represents a challenge to academic freedom in universities.
BERA welcomes, in general, the emphasis in the MRR on the importance of research evidence to inform teacher training. However, we are concerned that it suggests an overly prescriptive approach to the evidence base, even at times implying that some research is incontestable and that teachers should simply be concerned with applying this research to their practice. The current proposals exacerbate some of the weaknesses in the previously announced Core Content Framework – the ITT curriculum. The ITT curriculum is also overly prescriptive and limited in the evidence from which it draws.
It is vital that the intellectual nature of teaching as a profession is maintained and that teachers are not simply seen as technicians. As we made clear in the BERA–RSA Review of Research and Teacher Education, high quality teaching must be informed by the most robust evidence available, but this cannot be achieved by seeing teachers as passive receivers of evidence. It is important that teachers are ‘research-literate’ and able to examine and reflect on their own teaching in the light of an informed understanding of the research base. The educative process is more complex than this consultation implies and the proposals risk undermining the quality of teaching in England.
The role of universities in high quality teacher education
We believe that the proposed changes risk undermining the essential contribution that universities make to teacher education and to teacher supply. Currently, HEIs are involved in the education of some 80 per cent of new teachers entering England’s schools each year, through programmes that are designed and delivered in partnership with schools. These programmes typically have an ambitious curriculum drawing on the highest quality education research. University-based programmes are subject to rigorous internal and external quality assurance processes and are consistently rated highly: in 2020 all of the 340 initial teacher training (ITT) partnerships that were inspected in the most recent national Ofsted cycle were judged to be good or outstanding. The importance of the involvement of universities in teacher education is recognised worldwide as a characteristic of high-performing education systems.
The proposals as currently drawn up fundamentally shift the basis of ITT delivery from a partnership model that encourages schools and providers to work together to a more contractual client–supplier model that ignores the strong partnerships that have developed between accredited ITE providers and schools in recent years. The hallmark of these existing partnerships has been a collaborative approach, sensitive to particular needs and circumstances, that allows schools to have a degree of ownership of the programmes. A highly centralised model will actually give schools less control over the content and delivery of ITE than they currently have.
The continued involvement of some universities in teacher education might be at risk if these proposals are implemented. Many universities would not wish to accept greater prescription about the content of courses because this would undermine academic independence. It would also enable successive governments to control the curriculum for, and linked to this the assessment of, teacher training in a way that is unprecedented.
As a consequence, if the recommendations of the MRR were adopted by government they would create a context in which the withdrawal of universities from teacher training would be a real possibility. The loss of these institutions would do huge damage to the prestige of the profession and would weaken the connections between education practice and education research. Integration of research, theory and practice is a hallmark of ITT in the UK. Universities also give student teachers access to centrally provided resources such as library facilities and to pastoral, wellbeing and other support. They allow for access to subject and pedagogic expertise and to a research-rich teacher education environment. Indeed, contrary to the recommendation in the MRR, we believe that government should strengthen the leadership role of university departments of education as part of partnerships with school-based providers. Government support, including financial support, for universities to develop the quality of partnerships between university education departments and networks of schools is a priority.
Process and next steps
BERA also has concerns about the nature of the consultation itself. The authors of the ITT Market Review Report are described in the introduction to the consultation as ‘a small group of experts in teacher training and development’. It is important to know how and why these experts were selected, and why other experts – for example, those based in university education departments who have expertise in teacher training and are demonstrably world-leading in their research – were not selected
The consultation document appears to have conflicting purposes: a) to seek views about the ITTMRR, but also b) to act as a form of market research. The two purposes are incompatible in a democratic consultation about a profoundly important set of potential changes. The consultation document includes some advocacy for the government’s position (for example, ‘the case for change’, p.11), whereas we believe that to be rigorous any consultation should include neutral, factual information only in the survey tool so that bias is not introduced.
The consultation document does not include any opportunity to give overall views about the more general thrust of proposed reforms of ITT in the way recommended in the report. The consultation questions are all about details identified by government as important to be answered in a consultation. We therefore call for the current consultation to be replaced by a new process that is meaningful, transparent, inclusive, genuinely consultative, and one based on trust of all people in the sector with appropriate expertise in the practice and research of teacher education and training. A new consultation process should involve schools, teaching organisations, ITE providers, professional associations and others who can work together by taking a more rigorous and robust approach to the evidence base.
In the meantime, it is vital that all the responses to the public consultation, and any government analyses of responses, are published in full so that researchers and all concerned can apply proper scrutiny to the government’s response.