Six months or six years before qualification? The end of university PGCEs? Kiran Gill sifts through the white paper’s proposals on initial teacher training

Speculation and punditry are de rigueur in the run-up to the referendum on Europe. Initial teacher training (ITT) is a less debated topic, so this week, I’m throwing my euro-cent’s worth on the possibilities and potential pitfalls that follow the white paper.

A mixed economy

ITT has changed radically since 2010. Where once most new entrants studied for a year in university before gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), now only half take this traditional route to the classroom. A proliferation of routes with teachers qualifying on the job has followed the move towards a “school-led system”. Some include a salary, others don’t; some require PGCE study, others are “assessment-only”; providers span higher education institutions, teaching school alliances, multi-academy trusts and charities such as Teach First.

Six-year teacher training?

The forthcoming education bill will shake things up further, when QTS is replaced by a “stronger, more challenging accreditation”. The white paper draws a comparison with law, where trainees complete a legal practice course (think: PGCE equivalent) before a number of years of further professional training. Some longer teaching training has already begun. The Department for Education’s Future Teaching Scholars programme will take six years; the first three alongside undergraduate study and the following three within a teaching school alliance. So will we see an influx of highly skilled entrants to teaching over the coming decades?

Ever closer … accreditation

Maybe not. Rhetorical rigour is undermined by other details in the white paper. The new “QTS-and-then-some” will no longer be accredited by universities. Instead the school a trainee works in will put them forward for accreditation. (How this will work in a PGCE placement is yet unclear… If PGCE no longer assures QTS, there could be fewer applicants and a partial HExit from ITT.) But is there scope for abuse if heads decide who makes the cut? Trainees have told me of their concerns – what if they fall out with their head of department? Or push back on an onerous marking policy? Might we see the development of a compliant, unquestioning workforce years down the line?

These are likely to be exceptions rather than the rule. Even so, other incentives could push principled principals to delay accreditation. As budgets tighten, cash-strapped leaders may want to eke out a few more unqualified years from their “trainees”. If this avoids redundancies, who can blame them?

Is there scope for abuse if heads decide who makes the cut?

Six-month teacher training?

That said, schools are short of teachers, not just funding. It could become faster, then, not slower to attain “QTS-but-bigger-better”. Keen to tempt a science, or a maths graduate perhaps, heads might offer fast-track accreditation as a sign-on sweetener. The DfE has already hinted that some trainees could qualify in just six months.

As different routes to “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-QTS” spring up, they could acquire different statuses. Research into the earning power of UK degrees reveals huge disparities in pay between Oxford, Russell Group and non-Russell Group graduates. Might Ark QTS or Teach First QTS develop distinct status in the profession, with impact on salaries?

A race to the bottom

The 2015 independent review into ITT recommended a “framework of core content” so that “the essential elements of good ITT” could be standardised. But in an increasingly diverse market of providers offering different combinations of training, study and qualification, this seems unlikely. And in a future where every school is an academy, it will ultimately be up to the head to hire whomever they want, regardless of qualification or accreditation.

The issue of teacher quality is a quieter one than the EU referendum, but it is also crucial to the future of the country. The government must think carefully before it rushes into change.