Universities ‘compromise’ teacher training in response to School Direct challenge

Universities are “compromising” their position in initial teacher training (ITT) in order to survive the changing teacher education landscape, a report released today claims.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University interviewed more than 120 people based at universities, schools or currently on a School Direct training route, to determine how ITT has been affected by government policies.

Authors analysed how the School Direct programme, in which schools select and recruit their own trainees, has affected “traditional” university-led teacher training routes.

Universities’ reliance on income from the education department meant they were changing their offerings, the report found, with academics putting a greater focus on research, for which income was more reliable, than on ITT courses.

School Direct was seen as a way to generate income but had led to bidding wars. The report states: “As one university-based teacher educator explained, different universities are charging schools differing amounts for the school-based placement, forcing universities to ‘undercut one another’ whilst schools are choosing to go with another provider ‘because they’re cheaper’ whilst from their perspective it is an advantage ‘that they don’t spend so much time in university’ because they ‘want them at school’.”

Schools Week has previously reported concerns from universities about changes in teacher recruitment. Since September new rules mean universities face a blanket ban on taking more trainees once a national target has been met. The change was brought in to expand school-led training routes but it has been labelled as “chaotic, shambolic and unethical” after universities said it would mean the closure of their courses.

Today’s report finds that universities are “reducing” and “redesigning” their courses to deal with unpredictable trainee numbers.

The authors said, while there was “limited data” on the impact on trainee experiences, “it seems that universities are having to compromise their position, the content and structure of their courses in order to survive.”

In response, the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), made up of 142 school-led training institutions, defended Schools Direct saying it allows trainees to “hit the ground running”.

NASBTT said that while “the report seems to imply that schools-led provision is in danger of neglecting the importance of theory” its members “entirely subscribe to the view that the ‘craft’ of teaching should be underpinned by relevant theory and the findings of recent research”.

The organisation also said it did not “underestimate” theory but that for some skills, such as behaviour management, theory is more relevant once teachers have built confidence in their practice.