Government has a dangerous lack of ambition for teacher training

10 Jan 2020, 13:40

The teacher training core content framework is an unambitious document, writes David Spendlove. It’s the opposite of what the profession needs to improve retention and recruitment.

Rushed out last November – ahead of schedule to avoid election purdah rules – the initial teacher training core content framework (CCF) was an attempt to reverse engineer the early career framework (ECF) published last January, to establish a foundation upon which to build progression for initial teacher training (ITT) and education (ITE), and feed into the government’s recruitment and retention strategy.

Unfortunately, rather than building in coherence for the teaching profession’s progression and ambition, the new CCF replicates the fragmentation evident within the Early Career Framework, and in ITT/ITE as a whole. More specifically, the CCF speaks of a low ambition for our classroom practitioners which could have significant unintended consequences for future learners.

In reality the level of aspiration had already been set low by the Early Career Framework and as a consequence the CCF could either reject its alignment with it or compromise with it. In the end it did the latter and now looks like it was set up to fail from the start, given the restricted scope of its operation. As a result, the CCF ends up making three fundamental errors.

First, despite the CCF being endorsed by the Education Endowment Foundation – though interestingly not by the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) who were review panel members – it remains a disconnected, fragmented and piecemeal collection of approaches. This was almost inevitable. Attempting to underpin the framework with anything that was substantial or coherent was always going to prove difficult for the DfE’s chosen  ‘panel of experts’.

The potential unintended consequences and risks are significant

Effectively, not only was the the cart already before the horse by the time the content review started, but the wheels had already fallen off. The first step should have been to ask in earnest how to prevent the ECF from compromising any ambition for the CCF, and no second step should have been taken until that question had been addressed.

Secondly, whilst this was claimed to be an ITT content review, it was far from being comprehensive or systematic. The CCF draws upon the evidence base of the 2015 Carter Review, which was in itself a deeply flawed and limited review of existing provision. Likewise, this review ignores swathes of existing provision and is poorly informed by what may or may not be current or most effective practice. The result is a collection of statements that reflects the government’s limited ambition of how the CCF should be  embodied by providers.

The third error the CCF makes is in framing teaching and learning in an unsophisticated manner. Whilst this appears to appeal to the zeitgeist of ministerial influence, it simply isn’t a satisfactory way to support world-class teacher development. It is important to note that this isn’t a rejection of cognitive science in learning. Rather, it is a concern regarding the prioritisation of reductionist approaches and particular forms of learning.

Inevitably, some will see the CCF as an important contribution to the teacher education landscape. Yet the absence of acknowledgement of the importance of social and emotional contexts of learning, the scarcity of emphasis upon different demands of phases and subjects, and the lack of consideration for special educational needs mean that the attempt to define the content has resulted in a lowest-common-denominator approach of little sophistication or use.

The potential unintended consequences and risks are significant. In setting the bar so low, the CCF implicitly acknowledges the complex and fragmented system in which ITT now operates and undermines the very idea that there is a credible and meaningful recruitment and retention strategy in anything but words.

Attempting to reconcile this by resorting to popular, overly-simplified and reductive content is sadly consistent with the government’s continued series of knee-jerk measures to address its appalling record on recruitment and retention – which now looks set to continue into a new decade. Ultimately, what is now needed is a comprehensive, informed and independent review of the entire landscape of teacher recruitment, ongoing development and retention.

Maintaining the current direction, trying to solve teacher supply and development through reducing ambition and expectations, is naïve, damaging and dangerously misguided. The new government now has five years to restore ambition, confidence and coherence to the system it has clearly damaged over the previous decade.

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