The transfer of initial teacher training numbers to the School Direct programme has all the makings of a crisis in future teacher supply

There is no doubt that Michael Gove’s reforms to teacher education have left new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan with a dilemma.

On the one hand, some of her colleagues still regard university education departments as hot-beds of left-wing extremists; on the other, all the evidence suggests that the transfer of initial teacher training numbers to the School Direct programme has all the makings of a crisis in future teacher supply.

The caricature of university providers bears little relation to reality. Universities have worked in partnership with schools for years, and not only on teacher training. As local authority advisers dwindle, universities have increasingly been a port of call for schools seeking to improve outcomes and for staff seeking professional development. These partnerships, which include joint interviews of trainees to initial teacher training (ITT) courses in universities, reflect the mutually beneficial relationships between schools and universities common in countries that perform well in pupil achievement and outcomes.

The announcement that 17,000 training places will be allocated to the School Direct programme in the next academic year defies common sense and evidence about the programme’s recruitment. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) has admitted that School Direct does not recruit to target. This may be news to MPs who often refer to the number of applications rather than recruitment outcomes.

Questions about the reliability of School Direct came to the fore again this year. Having tried to reallocate training places that School Direct schools had relinquished to other schools in the programme, NCTL finally admitted defeat. In early July, universities were asked to bid for more places for the 2014-15 year, albeit that the latter was starting within weeks. This is hardly a confidence vote in School Direct and universities are likely to be cautious about coming to the rescue in the future.

It seems that the fall-back strategy is to over-allocate ITT numbers across all providers against the target number of teachers required. This is why NCTL has allocated 43,000 places, even though the recruitment target for 2015-16 stands at only 29,787 trainees.

The caricature of university providers bears little relation to reality

University education departments need to have enough ITT numbers to ensure sustainability and investment in the specialist staff and research upon which schools rely. The preference for some academy chains and schools to grow their own teachers is not surprising, but it is not the basis for a national teacher supply model that must serve all regions and schools.

The teacher education reforms risk breaking models of collaboration between universities and schools that are vital to providing the continuous professional development framework that many teachers crave and that is standard in other countries.

It is also worth asking how this is all plays out with aspiring teachers. The answer is “not well”. Potential recruits have more choices as the economy recovers and the supply of teaching assistants, who schools recruited from in the first wave of the School Direct programme, is coming to an end.

NCTL has reported that would-be teachers are confused about the different routes into the profession, as well as the qualifications that they are likely to obtain. In fact, as a standalone qualification, Qualified Teacher Status is not transferrable to many other countries, including those within the UK. We can therefore expect to see another teacher recruitment campaign in the autumn, with eye-watering bursaries offered in some subjects — despite there being little evidence that they will prove value for the taxpayer or improve retention in the long term.

The schools of tomorrow deserve teachers with academic and professional qualifications and in-service opportunities to reflect on their professional practice. This means a return to both respecting and valuing the contribution of universities to teacher education. It cannot come a moment too soon.

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Pam Tatlow is Chief Executive of the university think-tank, million+