The Department for Education’s recent Teacher Training Performance Profiles for 2015/16 prompted inevitable cries in the media of “the end of initial teacher training in universities”. They’re wrong, argues David Spendlove.

Once again the DfE’s training figures, which showed an increase in school-led training, are more down to its own creative accounting than any radical shift in the way our teachers are being trained.

To clarify, the department’s artificial binary to classify ‘HEI-led’ and ‘school-led’ is completely misleading. This is particularly ironic given that these classifications exist to provide “transparent information on characteristics and trends of trainee teachers to the public”.

Since the inception of school-led teacher training in 2011, there has in reality been little transparency, evaluation or definition of what it actually means.

There has been little evaluation of what school-led teacher training actually means

What we do know is that the term ‘school-led’ was used in a provocative way by Michael Gove to signal a change in the way teachers were to be trained, based on a legacy “blob” view of how teacher education may have operated in the past.

There was little acknowledgement, though, that HEIs and schools have been statutorily required to hold “joint responsibility for the planning and management of courses and the selection, training and assessment of students” since 1992. It meant that at the heart of initial teacher education (ITE), there was a long-standing partnership model which, while not perfect, was central to provision.

At the forefront of the school-led system was the introduction of School Direct, in which schools were effectively given training places to grow their own teachers.

While there are many aspects of School Direct that are very good, it is not ‘led’ either by the university or the school but is rather a form of ‘extended partnership’, where in the best examples the university works closely with like-minded schools to collectively and collaboratively support the development of trainee teachers.

It is a joint responsibility with the ultimate accountability – for example for finance, safeguarding, compliance, Ofsted, quality assurance, QTS and academic awards – still residing with the university.

Therefore headlines suggesting that the increase in school-led provision to 52% somehow means a reduction in the numbers studying in universities are propagating false information; many of these models are simply indistinguishable from typical standard ITE programmes.

Even the modest number of school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) routes, which can genuinely claim to be school-led, are often working very closely in partnership with a university, particularly where they wish to provide an academic award such as a PGCE.

The system has become completely unwieldy

What is clear is that the DfE has now recognised that this has become completely unwieldy; trying to manage a system with approximately 10,000 courses is proving time-consuming and difficult to manage.

Perhaps more of a concern is that regardless of the claims that most training is now school-led, there hasn’t actually been a thorough review of School Direct, even with the increase in places made purely on ideological grounds.

Not even the hideously conceived Carter Review could conclude anything more than that debates around who leads ITT are not helpful, and that “the truth is that partnership is the key”.

Even more problematic are concerns that School Direct may be disadvantaging both certain types of schools (the Social Mobility Commission State of the Nation 2016 report raises this point on page 70) and particular candidates – reflected in a difference in minority groups and people with a declared disability enrolled in HEIs vs school-led routes. Therefore the recklessness of growing such provision without a thorough evaluation reflects badly on the DfE.

If anything, the last seven years of turbulence in ITE have demonstrated how robust and nimble universities can be. It certainly wasn’t pleasant observing Michael Gove’s myopic attempt to dismantle high-quality ITE provision.

It is refreshing that over the last year we have had positive signs from Justine Greening that the DfE may no longer be ideologically predisposed to any particular form of training, and we may finally have the opportunity for increased stability in teacher education and, more importantly, a greater emphasis on quality.

David Spendlove is Director of Teaching, Learning and Students and Strategic Director ITE at the University of Manchester