Government induced crisis in Initial Teacher Education

A statement from the Chair of the New Visions for Education Group, Professor Sir Tim Brighouse

The provision of teacher education is undergoing an unpublicised crisis in recent months. This statement looks at two issues to do with the initial training of teachers in England. The first is the Government’s ambivalence towards the initial training of teachers and the second is the effect of the introduction of School Direct.

Responsibility for initial training of teachers and qualified teacher status

The first and most alarming issue is that the need to train teachers at all has come into question. Michael Gove has said that neither Academies nor free schools have to have teachers trained to the Qualified Teacher Status standard. Given that he wants most schools to be either one of these, it is clear that he does not prioritise the need for teacher training. The number of academies has increased dramatically so that now over half the secondary schools in England have Academy or free school status and if Gove has his way this number will continue to grow. Coupled with this, Gove has given up the need to plan teacher training places nationally.

We have now reached a position where:

• no-one person or agency has the duty to ensure a sufficient supply of trained teachers nationally, or an efficient local distribution of training places covering all subject areas; and

• qualified teacher status is no longer seen as a necessary requirement for teachers in the English public education system, unless they are in LEA maintained schools.

This is very disturbing.

School Direct and the initial training of teachers

The second issue is the introduction of School Direct, which is a new school-based employment route into teaching which does not necessarily involve higher education and the award of Qualified Teacher Status, and an academic qualification in education. This should alarm parents of school-aged children.
The 2010-11 Ofsted annual report found that Higher Education (HE) routes into teaching were more effective than employment based routes. Ofsted evidence:

‘shows that there is proportionately less outstanding provision in employment-based routes than in HEI-led partnerships’ (The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2010/11, HC 1633, page 76).

The numbers are quite telling: 65 (47%) HEI-based courses gained outstanding whereas only 19 (19%) employment-based providers were found to be outstanding.

Charlie Taylor, the Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency, claimed, however, on 18 January this year while referring to improving the quality of teachers,

‘I think things can get better and the introduction of School Direct last summer will change things significantly’ (DfE In the News Speeches, 2013).

So, Taylor is overseeing the introduction a system that Ofsted believes produces significantly fewer outstanding courses in teacher education. He is right, however, when he says that it will change things significantly.

Postgraduate teacher training places

In November 2012, the placements for postgraduate teacher training were announced for September 2013 starts. Without any notice at all the numbers were cut by a third. The situation was particularly bad in the arts and humanities.

It appears that anyone without an ‘outstanding’ in their last Ofsted inspection lost their provision to train teachers, again, particularly in the arts. This left strange regional variations.

Places in English

As the new-year turned, London, for example, with a population of 8 million had only 163 places left, in English, for HE providers for 2013 starts, a reduction of 27%. The number of providers was cut from seven providers to just three – The Institute of Education, King’s College London and Roehampton University. Roehampton has just been Ofsteded again and this time they only received a good which may mean that next year their provision may go.

In Leeds (36 places to zero) and Sheffield (23 places to zero), too, for example, they have no more English. The situation has changed slightly in some places. Recently, for example, we have heard that Goldsmith’s, in London, were offered some of their places back as was Leicester, but the picture has changed little. Oxford-Brookes which had all their places in English taken away only to have ten of them returned is not going to pursue a PGCE for English in 2014 as the landscape looks uncertain.

And this is part of the problem. Apart from making the distribution of teacher training places in England startlingly haphazard, with no serious calculation of teacher need, the difficulty of transferring the number of places in HE to schools is that HE providers cannot guarantee jobs for people if they are unclear how many students they will need to support through School Direct. There are departments that have transferred all their work to School Direct provision – Reading University being one such an example. They too lost all their HE provision for English but have 18 School Direct places. They are still, however, in the hands of the schools. It is schools which decide whether or not they are going to have a student, and thus determine whether university provision is required. It is quite possible that a school will decide that they do not want a student in a given year.

HE school partnership in teacher training

The other problem with the introduction of School Direct is that Charlie Taylor appears to think that HE providers do not use schools in their teacher training. In his North of England speech, he said ‘In the past teachers were often parachuted into schools from on high without any direct school involvement in the content or the focus of their training course’. Although he does add ‘that there are many examples of excellent partnerships between schools and providers of teacher training’ he downplays the role of this partnership so much as to distort the truth of the relationship between schools and HE.

Trainee teachers spend 60% of their time in school and only a third of their time in college. That means that the bulk of their training is school-based. Much of their time in college is spent on subject work at the very beginning of the course by teachers preparing for secondary teaching. In that subject work, they explore ways of turning what they have learned in college into work that can be tackled by teenagers. They look at, for example, how you plan lessons and schemes of work, differentiate the work for pupils of various abilities, and how you assess pupils both formatively and summatively. This is a very cost effective way of doing it because it means that students are trained together en masse. There is also time for students to reflect on what they are doing and time too for students who are in different schools to talk about how their school tackles the subject. Ofsted, in the 2010-11 report adds that,

‘The ability of trainees to reflect critically on their practice is a significant factor in promoting their progress, particularly in HEI-led partnerships where staff use their own research activity to promote critical thinking and link the development of subject knowledge with underpinning theory of how children learn’ (Ibid, page 77)

School teachers or mentors do not have the time for this and soon university departments may not be able to employ people to do this type of research. One good thing about the Post Graduate Certificate of Education is that it keeps both sides – the academic and the school teacher – in touch with one another so that they can learn how children learn.


The question of the partnership between schools and universities is ever changeable but to divorce them completely is a mistake and to suggest that teachers need no training at all is a grave error. Teaching is a complicated business and you must have time to reflect on the pedagogical processes involved. It appears that Michael Gove considers subject knowledge enough. What he appears to fail to see is that you need far more than subject knowledge if you are going to stand up in front of thirty children and teach them stuff that they do not already know and inspire them to want to learn more. You need time – mostly at school but in college too – to learn to do this. For this to continue HE must have a more of a guarantee than School Direct can offer. As it stands at the moment the offer of places is too ephemeral for university departments to continue to employ people. Oxford Brookes may well be just the first of many universities to decide that it is no longer economic in such uncertain times to continue to run strands of PGCE – or perhaps PGCE courses at all.

This paper has focused on the initial education and training of teachers in just one, albeit vital, secondary subject (English) but as we suggest the same problem applies across all subjects and in the primary sector too where there is an imminent need for many more teachers as the pupil population rapidly expands over the present decade. To leave the training of teachers to the market with no attempt to plan places is a dereliction of duty and will accelerate the realisation of the present Secretary of State’s belief that no training is required to teach. All the research and evidence of other successful systems elsewhere in the world suggests otherwise. We wonder too how many parents really want their children taught by unqualified teachers. Unless something is done, we shall soon find out.

Tim Brighouse
4 April 2013

Further Background
Under section 62 of the Education Act 1944, the Secretary of State had a duty to secure sufficient facilities were available for the training of teachers and a power to direct LEAs to give whatever assistance was needed to ensure the presence of sufficient Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in their areas. The Secretary of State was responsible for awarding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), the main function being the awarding of ITT courses to higher education institutions. Under the Education Act 1994, these duties (and responsibility for funding courses from HEFCE), went to a quango the Teacher Training Agency, latterly the Training and Development Agency (TDA), and the standard for the QTS went to the General Teaching Council England (GTCE) following the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. Following the abolition of the TDA and GTCE on 1 April 2012 under the Education Act 2011 the duty on the TDA to secure sufficient ITT was repealed and not passed to the Secretary of State. A few functions relating to the management of the teaching workforce, such as induction for teachers who have gone down the QTS route, funding of initial training, and banning individuals from teaching have passed to the Secretary of State which is exercised through an executive arm of the DfE called the Teaching Agency (TA). This is headed by Charlie Taylor whose recent experience was a headship of a small West London special school. The TA will merged with the respected National College for School Leadership (NCSL) on 1 April 2013 with Charlie Taylor in charge