Developing teachers, particularly those who are learning to teach, is a complex process. It is not simply a case of watching and doing, as some form of apprenticeship. There needs to be a careful process of building knowledge, insights and understanding through a combination of teaching experience, supported and structured reflection, carefully constructed inputs about the range of factors that facilitate learning and so forth. Learning to teach is a demanding intellectual and emotional experience.
As it is a complex process, it is not always easily understood. And to complicate matters there are new routes into initial teacher education (ITE) courses (School Direct salaried with QTS, or School Direct salaried with PGCE and QTS, or School Direct unsalaried with QTS, or even School Direct unsalaried with PGCE and QTS) alongside other newish routes such as Teach First, and the more traditional PGCE. The differences between these routes are not always clear cut!
However our main concern is with the recruitment, development and retention of teachers, within a poorly understood and increasingly volatile system. To be absolutely clear, we both work with people learning to teach. As school teachers we worked with trainee teachers, and now as university lecturers we work with trainee teachers and their schools. We are committed to supporting the development of teachers to be the best they can. Hence our frustration with the system, which has emerged in recent years. Although some changes are welcomed, many recent developments seem unnecessary and run counter to what is known about how best to develop beginning teachers.
Let us consider recruitment. Universities involved in ITE have traditionally been given quotas from central government (or various quangos with oversight of this – currently this is the NCTL) and have been expected to meet these quotas, which were based on some understanding of supply and demand for teachers. The quotas (unless they were in shortage areas) could not be exceeded without financial penalty and failure to recruit to quota meant a shortfall in revenue as well. So universities had an incentive to recruit, which often meant in shortage subject areas, they were willing to take ‘risks’ with students who would need a lot of support to develop into effective teachers; indeed universities were positively encouraged to take such risks to meet the shortfall in areas such as Science, Maths and MFL teaching. Advanced knowledge of quotas also allowed for longer term planning and some degree of financial security.
The introduction of School Direct has had several effects. Numbers have been taken away from university PGCE courses, thereby cutting allocations and introducing financial instability for those institutions. Admittedly the majority of schools work with universities to provide training for the School Direct teachers, but there is less imperative for schools to recruit trainee teachers, so we are seeing many places being unfilled or schools ‘handing back’ places (and which are not then being reallocated to university providers). In addition the allocation of numbers has become a yearly ‘hand to mouth’ existence, with seemingly little rationale behind the overall number of places allocated and where they are allocated! Overall this means there are fewer teachers being recruited at present and university provision is left in a weaker financial position, potentially undermining the capacity of universities to support training in the future.
Retention is a crucial issue in teaching. Too many teachers leave the profession within the first five years. The reasons presented for this are often too simplistic. We are told that teachers need more ‘practical’ experience in their training, require more behaviour management strategies and so forth. Yet current ITE courses are essentially ‘practical’ as it is a requirement that trainee teachers spend the vast amount of their time in school. Pupils are no more unruly than in the past, indeed most studies show that behaviour in the majority of schools is good; from our experience, teachers are more likely to leave the profession because of the ‘system’ – for example the assessment regime (in terms of Ofsted and league tables) and the pressures that arise from this and the ways in which it distorts education. Once in a school there is a need for clear, careful development , but this is often not explicitly funded and it is up to individual schools with their individual, and increasingly pressurised, budgets as to whether or not teachers are given the time and space to develop their practice further, and feel valued in their profession.
Richard Harris – Associate Professor in Education
Caroline Crolla – Head of ITE
University of Reading