This article was first published in The Times.
University training sounds like a luxury, but is actually cheaper and more effective
Not many people outside academia will protest about the axing of teacher training in universities — but they should. The new Education White Paper, which is due to be published this week, will stipulate that new teachers should be trained “on the job” in schools, rather than at universities. Currently, more than 33,000 teachers are being trained at universities, compared with 5,000 who are doing “on the job” training.
And a good thing too, you might think; it’s time we stopped our young and impressionable teachers being indoctrinated by the bunch of loony-left lecturers. They should be at the chalkface, being taught how to teach children to spell correctly and add up rather than learn a lot of trendy educational theory!
If you’d proclaimed this 20 years ago, you might have had a point. But having been a secondary-school teacher for the past two decades in various comprehensives, I know this is a gross caricature of what happens today. In the past decade, I’ve observed that the new graduate teachers have been much better trained than I was in the late 1980s: they’ve been drilled to teach the basics, having lots of strategies up their sleeves to engage disaffected learners and to stretch clever pupils. Moreover, I’ve seen how they not only know the nuts and bolts of how to teach, they are also up-to-speed about the exciting developments in educational research.
School teachers are busy people and, unsurprisingly, the poor trainee is often neglected. I’ve heard too many sob-stories from “on the job” trainees who’ve been left to teach difficult classes without any guidance. This doesn’t happen with university-based training because the trainee has had time to prepare before teaching. And afterwards it’s useful to reflect upon what’s happened in the classroom in an academic setting; the process helps to cement your core values as a teacher.
Furthermore, this kind of training affords the chance to teach in a range of schools; vital experience if you’re going to develop as pedagogue.
Chopping these courses will not only harm the quality and experience of teachers entering the profession — it will be very expensive. University- based teacher training is more cost-effective than school-based training, because concentrating experts in one place means students can easily get help when they need it.
Saving university education departments might not look like a cause worth marching for. But it ought to be: it’s about nothing less than how well your child will be taught.