There would be nothing to fear from a genuinely impartial ITT review, writes David Spendlove, but does anyone believe such a thing possible?
In normal circumstances, a review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT) might be welcome and considered long overdue. But these are not normal circumstances. And given the Sewell Race and Ethnic Disparities report, concern over another government review conducted by handpicked ‘insiders’ selecting the evidence to fit a desired conclusion is well placed and fully justified.
The government’s view – that universities maintain an unhealthy monopoly over ITT and that university departments are ‘the Blob’s’ preferred breeding ground – are overt. In that context, stating an intent to establish a new ‘Institute of Teaching’ in tandem with the announcement of an ‘ITT market review’ clearly signals a foregone conclusion.
The policy direction is therefore progressively shaping up to be an existential threat to university education departments. Across the sector, many anticipate the review recommendations will emphasise increased marketisation of ITT, driven by cost reductions and increased control of content, and powered by new forms of provision.
Accordingly, the ‘flagship’, ‘world-leading’ Institute of Teaching will have its own awarding powers, and the simultaneous roll-out of new Teaching School Hubs means the government will have all its proverbial ducks in a row to increasingly control and compete in its own ITT market.
Taken together, reducing costs, increasing centralised control of content (as exemplified by the Core Content Framework), influencing the market through its own institution and holding the power to award contracts to providers give the government unprecedented leverage to manipulate this ‘market’. The government will consequently have the ability to disincentivise established universities from remaining involved in ITT alongside the mechanisms to curate and shape new forms of provision.
Teacher training is only the first part in a continuum of centralised control
But teacher training is only the first part in a continuum of centralised control through its ‘shadow state’ organisations. Initial teacher training, the Early Career Framework, continuous professional development and a new suite of NPQs launching this September add up to full-spectrum control of teaching, from classroom novice to school leader.
What is of particular concern within this continuum is the artificial inference that these organisations will be informed by the best available evidence. In reality, we are observing the sustained bypassing of universities in conjunction with the removal of teacher autonomy and criticality through a combination of subterfuge and the blurring of ‘governance’ structures.
Inevitably, we are witnessing the structural reconfiguration and transformation of teacher development in favour of outsourcing to tight-knit, ideologically aligned organisations, operating under the ‘respectable’ cover of low-cost imitation puppet institutes. Equally, can anyone honestly say that the DfE is best placed to identify what a ‘world leading’ institute looks like or what a teacher needs to enjoy a sustained career?
It all begs the question of what might have been achieved if the government had committed to investing in and developing the existing infrastructure of world-leading universities and local education authorities instead of succumbing to hyperbole and chasing hypothetical savings with half-baked initiatives. The decade-long attack on academics led by obdurate minister Nick Gibb makes little sense if it isn’t precisely and cynically about control.
The longstanding absence of an authoritative voice advocating on behalf of universities further belies the accusation of an organised and obstreperous sector. Sadly, it is also why we may soon witness ‘Ex-ITT’ – a Brexit-styled departure of universities from initial teacher training. While there may be a similarly protracted transition period, it would appear to be a matter of time before the desired effect of lazy anti-expert rhetoric comes to fruition.
Of course, an independent review could look at all the evidence globally about the nefarious effects of marketisation. It could look at other sectors – and other parts of the education sector – in England that have been subject to similar polices. And it could recommend that the risks are too high.
Likewise, the review could look at the role universities might continue to play in teacher and leadership formation and conclude that Gibb et al are wrong.
Well, it could. Couldn’t it?