Coronavirus: Calls for virtual ITT placements and forcing schools to open their doors to trainees

Teacher training providers want to explore forcing schools to offer opportunities to trainees and are in talks about running virtual placements as they adapt to life amid coronavirus.

A new policy paper by three initial teacher training providers published today has called on the government to set up an expert group that can put together a recovery plan for the sector.

It comes amid a dire warnings of disruption in initial teacher education, with ensuring quality placements are available for trainees next year’s “single biggest issue”.

Should active participation in ITE be a criterion Ofsted assess when inspecting a school?

Schools Week revealed last month how a “worryingly high” number of schools had pulled out of offering teacher training placements next year as they adapt to a post-pandemic world.

The report suggests looking into whether mandating schools to provide placements, or making ITE participation an Ofsted criteria, are possible solutions.

“Exceptional times call for creativity, innovation and closer collaboration,” the report read. “We believe that the scale of the current crisis presents enormous challenges to ITE; however, we also believe these challenges can be met and that quality provision can still be assured across the country.”

The report was put together by the MillionPlus, the association for modern universities, the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) and the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.

They say a national response plan would “create a blueprint that would inspire confidence and would deliver for the sector” with input from schools, teaching school hubs and academy trusts, as well as training providers.

One of the more controversial suggestions in the paper is around teacher placements. The report states providers need “more schools to play an active part in training future generations of the profession” to “secure a greater number of placements of appropriate quality”.

“The plan should make this a key focus of its work and explore why schools do not engage and then determine how more can be encouraged to do so in the future,” the report read.

“Is there value in considering whether mandating schools to play an active part could be effective? Should active participation in ITE be a criterion Ofsted assess when inspecting a school in the future?

“We believe these questions, and others like them, would be of value to the profession and could take ITE forward in a positive direction.”

But Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said while exploring ways to incentivise participation is a “good idea”, making placements mandatory or part of Ofsted inspections “would send out the wrong message”.

She added: “For ITE to be effective, it must be a positive exercise, in which schools have the capacity and resources to provide high-quality placements, rather than being something forced upon them regardless of the circumstances.”

The report also calls for consultative work around whether ITE can be “modified” so it continues to “deliver in a covid-19, and a post-covid-19, world”.

One consideration is around whether virtual learning should have a place within the ITE curriculum, including any adaptions to the teacher standards to “reflect this new reality”.

Schools Week also understands providers have been in talks with the department over whether virtual placements can be utilised as part of training.

Adam Haxell, senior parliamentary officer and secretariat to the MillionPlus Deans of Education Network, said it’s likely virtual and blended learning will form a part of ITE as it responds to the covid-19 challenges.

He added: “Therefore it is important that these additional tools and skills are encompassed within the standards framework. This type of learning, coupled with placement opportunities, will help to ensure that ITT providers can not only help trainees develop the core skills of the profession but also develop newer ones that will be important in the years ahead.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said they are “already working extremely closely with the sector to help understand the training needs for trainee and newly qualified teachers… We will explore the recommendations made in the report with the sector in due course.”