The government wants schools more involved in initial teacher training, but how can we encourage them to offer more placements, asks Jack Worth.
The initial teacher training (ITT) market review articulates a clear desire for a greater role for schools in ITT, including greater alignment between the ITT curriculum and what is done in schools, ‘intensive’ placements, mentoring and support, and more weeks in school.
However, our research has shown that Covid-19 led to schools being less willing to offer placements, and also highlights the regional variation in placement capacity, which is particularly low in London’s secondary schools.
So what are the solutions?
The Department for Education (DfE) applied short-term flexibilities to the 2021 ITT requirements, and has a decision to make about whether they are extended to next year. While the detail is arguably out of scope for the market review, it recommended that Ofsted “explore further” the idea of including ITT engagement in Ofsted inspections.
Our research points to two potential longer-term solutions: increased funding and aligning incentives. While both have their own challenges, they need to be considered if the DfE is serious about realising the ambitions set out in the market review.
Placements are a ‘public good’
A key reason why the system tends to under-provide placements is that schools do not have a strong incentive to provide them.
Placements are what economists call a ‘public good’: all schools benefit from healthy teacher supply, but only the schools offering placements pay the ‘cost’ of providing them.
These costs include both direct costs as well as opportunity costs, such as making senior staff time available for mentoring that isn’t spent on other priorities. Therefore, schools can ‘free-ride’, reaping the benefit from other schools delivering placements.
Of course, placements are not a pure public good: there are also benefits for the placement school, such as the opportunity to observe the trainee in practice and first refusal on recruiting the trainee (if the school has vacancies). Many schools also recognise the public benefit and act in the wider public interest.
Nonetheless, even a partial public good can lead to under-provision at a system level. ITT providers require that all trainees gain practical experience, but they need schools’ co-operation to achieve this.
Solution 1: paying more
The main way this incentive misalignment is currently overcome is for ITT providers to pay schools for placements. This realigns the incentives and solves the ‘market failure’.
However, Covid-19 has changed the incentives. Schools are less willing to provide placements given the additional strains on mentor capacity and the challenges of operating under the Covid guidance. As teacher retention has been higher, they also have fewer vacancies to fill.
One solution to solving the placement capacity challenge could be to increase payments to schools. More than half of school leaders we surveyed said that increased financial support from government would encourage their school to offer more placements.
But there are challenges with cash injection as a policy solution: ITT providers have constrained budgets, while central government does not have good-quality local information on what level of funding would be required to provide enough placements where they are needed.
Solution 2: realigning incentives
Another potential long-term policy solution is to better align the incentives. Schools and ITT providers being part of the same overarching governance structures could provide a structural solution to the incentive problem.
A growing number of schools are part of school trusts that also train teachers through an in-house ITT provider. Trusts overseeing both the schools and the ITT provider gives an incentive for more strategic management of placements.
For example, it is common in larger school trusts for the number of placements schools offer to be mandated by the trust. Our survey found that this is the case for 23 per cent of secondaries in trusts, and 43 per cent in trusts with more than ten schools.
However, this is also no silver bullet. We found that schools in trusts without mandation offered the same number of placements as those in trusts who did mandate placement numbers. This structural solution may not, on its own, be sufficient to tackle the issues unless governance is strengthened further within partnerships.
The market review’s assessment of its proposals’ implications is that “many providers…will need to come together to have the capacity to deliver these raised expectations”.
Carefully-formed large partnerships could offer an opportunity for creating strong incentives through clear governance structures, which encourage schools to engage with ITT. However, partnerships could also fail to deliver if they are too large or disparate, or not well governed.
The national rollout of the early career framework from September further adds to the need for mentoring capacity in schools, which is a key factor for placement capacity. It seems clear that without further policy action, the current lack of capacity may risk the vision of the market review being fully realised.