Many objections to the ITT market review are simply incorrect, writes Sam Sims. But delivering on its promise will require some changes from ministers
Teacher training in England is undergoing a revolution. The induction period for trainees has been extended by a year. New National Professional Qualifications have been introduced. And each of these is now accompanied by an EEF-approved ‘core content framework’ (CCF) setting out what teachers should know and be able to do at different career stages.
The recent ITT Market Review proposes two further reforms. First, all providers should develop an evidence-based curriculum supporting trainees to “understand and apply the principles of the CCF”. Second, all providers should incorporate 20 days of ‘intensive practice’ – coaching in conditions that approximate a real classroom. Controversially, the review recommends these quality requirements become a condition of reaccreditation, and that this will require some providers to consolidate.
The proposals have gone down badly with ITT providers, who have raised a number of objections.
UCET, among others, have questioned the need for reform in the first place. They point to surveys showing that 70 to 80 per cent of teachers rate their training positively. However, this same data suggests that 20 to 30 per cent do not. Others point to the fact that almost all ITT providers have ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Ofsted ratings. However, these Ofsted inspection judgements have never been validated. In short, nobody knows whether ITT is currently ‘good enough’.
We might therefore be better served by asking ‘are there evidence-based ways to improve ITT?’
On this point, the University of Oxford has objected to the review on the grounds that it is “not based on any well-researched model of professional learning”. This is incorrect. The proposals closely reflect the paradigm of practice-based teacher education, on which there has been a proliferation of theoretical, case study and experimental research over the past 15 years.
The review actually understates the supporting evidence
Others, like Ian Mearns, object that the empirical evidence supporting the review’s proposals is thin. There is something in this. Indeed, the review actually understates the supporting evidence. Recent research supports the value of practice-based teacher education in helping teachers use ambitious instruction in English literature, effective classroom management and high-quality formative assessment*.
In addition, my own analysis of a recently-compiled database of randomised controlled trials supports the use of intensive practice as proposed in the review. Professional development incorporating intensive practice increases pupil progress by an average of two months. Professional development without intensive practice has an average impact of zero.
The objections to the destination set out in the review are therefore lacking in force. But that’s not to say providers don’t have well-grounded concerns about the route for getting there.
To begin with, the proposed timeframe for reaccreditation is too short. Consolidation is undesirable for almost all providers, which risks them pulling out. And the intensive practice placements require additional funding. These issues can be fixed with the flick of a ministerial pen.
More fundamental is the concern around the academic freedom of universities delivering the CCF. Oxford and Cambridge have threatened to pull out altogether.
Here, the government should consider creating an institution analogous to the General Medical Council. This would be staffed by experts, appointed based on their track record of research. No existing institutions have the requisite combination of independence and expertise. This new organisation would then inherit and regularly update the CCF and ITT Quality Requirements based on the latest evidence. This would presumably solve the academic freedom issue, since Oxford and Cambridge do not object to running medicine courses accredited by the General Medical Council.
It is essential that the government address these issues about the route in order to ensure that we reach the destination of more effective, more evidence-informed, more practice-based ITT.
*Cohen, J., & Wiseman, E. (2019). Approximating complex practice: Teacher simulation of text-based discussion. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Denver, CO