Where is the rhyme and reason in allocations for teacher training places? The latest allocations for 2015/16 have come out and the main conclusions that can be drawn seem to show university based provision is increasingly the government’s least preferred route. The rationale seems fairly clear from the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, who has written an article where he asks: ‘who is to blame for our education system slipping down the international rankings? The answer is the academics in the education faculties of universities
.’ The result is massive cuts to university based provision, which according to a source quoted by Warwick Mansell is ‘simply ideological vandalism. No other country is doing this.’
Schools that bid for School Direct places requested 4712 salaried places and 18,895 tuition fee places, and were granted 4549 and 13060 places respectively. SCITTs asked for 3874 places and were given 3663. Universities offering PGCE courses requested 22467 and were given 15490. Some subjects have been disproportionately affected; in English and History the figures are as follows (please scroll along the columns to see the full picture):
| ||School Direct salaried requests||School Direct tuition fee requests||SCITT requests||University PGCE requests||School Direct salaried allocation||School Direct tuition fee allocation||SCITT allocation||University PGCE allocation|
This raises some important questions. In the case of English and History, where it is relatively easy to recruit, schools are being given closer to their requested allocations and universities are being severely cut. Yet there seems to be no account taken of quality – a large number of highly rated university courses have had numbers slashed (losing anywhere between a third of their previous allocations to the entire allocation), but the majority of School Direct places have not yet been subject to inspection and there is little or no guarantee of the quality of provision offered. Our own small-scale research has raised serious questions about the variable quality of training experience which salaried School Direct trainees receive. Obviously a degree of is variation in the quality of experience is to be expected, but the government attitude seems to place any form of school based experience as being automatically superior to university based provision.
This raises concerns about how government is trying to make decisions about allocations. It also raises serious concerns about the viability of university based teacher education as there is no year on year consistency to allow universities to do any medium, let alone long term planning. The danger is that universities will close courses, expertise will be lost, which in turn will impact on the quality of future provision. For example, Drama courses have suffered severe cuts in allocations over the past few years and so universities have been closing courses in Drama, thus last year two courses were closed due to cuts in previous allocations and the staff had been made redundant or had taken early retirement, only for the university to be given an allocation this coming year, but now without the expertise to provide the courses!
Even in some subjects, such as chemistry, where it has traditionally been hard to recruit trainee teachers, and schools have seriously struggled to recruit people, school allocations are high whereas universities, which have generally been more successful in recruiting to quota, have had numbers reduced.
All this is within an environment where many universities run initial teacher education courses at a loss, and the instability that now exists means universities are looking closely at the cost effectiveness of teacher training provision. Perhaps, given the view expressed by Nick Gibb, this is what the government is hoping for.
Teach First continues to be favoured being given 2000 training places. The effectiveness of this route is still open to question. There have been a few studies in the UK about Teach First; the published reports have generally been positive (although an evaluation by Durham University has still not been released), but in American where the Teach for American programme has been running for longer (and was the inspiration for Teach First) the debate about the impact and effectiveness of this route is hotly disputed, and Teach for America has been criticised for the way it handles criticism and its aggressive self-publicity.
In a situation where the quality of support for trainee teachers learning should be paramount in order to improve the overall quality of schools and have a positive impact on students’ lives it is concerning that the government is expanding rapidly unproven routes into teaching, threatening existing good quality provision, and apparently basing policy on ideological assumptions rather than working with and developing a strong evidence base.