Universities ‘compromise’ teacher training in response to School Direct challenge

Universities are “compromising” their position in initial teacher training (ITT) in order to survive the changing teacher education landscape, a report released today claims.

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University interviewed more than 120 people based at universities, schools or currently on a School Direct training route, to determine how ITT has been affected by government policies.

Authors analysed how the School Direct programme, in which schools select and recruit their own trainees, has affected “traditional” university-led teacher training routes.

Universities’ reliance on income from the education department meant they were changing their offerings, the report found, with academics putting a greater focus on research, for which income was more reliable, than on ITT courses.

School Direct was seen as a way to generate income but had led to bidding wars. The report states: “As one university-based teacher educator explained, different universities are charging schools differing amounts for the school-based placement, forcing universities to ‘undercut one another’ whilst schools are choosing to go with another provider ‘because they’re cheaper’ whilst from their perspective it is an advantage ‘that they don’t spend so much time in university’ because they ‘want them at school’.”

Schools Week has previously reported concerns from universities about changes in teacher recruitment. Since September new rules mean universities face a blanket ban on taking more trainees once a national target has been met. The change was brought in to expand school-led training routes but it has been labelled as “chaotic, shambolic and unethical” after universities said it would mean the closure of their courses.

Today’s report finds that universities are “reducing” and “redesigning” their courses to deal with unpredictable trainee numbers.

The authors said, while there was “limited data” on the impact on trainee experiences, “it seems that universities are having to compromise their position, the content and structure of their courses in order to survive.”

In response, the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT), made up of 142 school-led training institutions, defended Schools Direct saying it allows trainees to “hit the ground running”.

NASBTT said that while “the report seems to imply that schools-led provision is in danger of neglecting the importance of theory” its members “entirely subscribe to the view that the ‘craft’ of teaching should be underpinned by relevant theory and the findings of recent research”.

The organisation also said it did not “underestimate” theory but that for some skills, such as behaviour management, theory is more relevant once teachers have built confidence in their practice.




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  1. The danger of both this article and my response is that it appears to fuel a divided narrative (school-based vs. university-based, teacher-training vs. teacher-education). However I feel the need to comment and risk doing just that. I would agree that universities are being forced to compromise in this current landscape. I would argue that sometimes this creates a timely opportunity for developments in teacher education practices, but hesitate to suggest that this is always in the very best interest of the student teachers (or trainees as we are expected to call them). I take issue with the reported comments from NASBTT. These comments position universities as if we simply trade in theory and that is an unreasonable characterisation. Theory and personal theory-building do matter when entering a complex professional domain, but universities work hard to support new entrants into the teaching profession to develop a working understanding of the relationship between theory, research and practice. I am also not at all convinced that ‘hitting the ground running’ is the best preparation for a successful career through which the teacher will continue to learn and develop in the long term. It seems to promote the act of surviving to meet the immediate needs of the school. We need to promote the condition of thriving to meet the current and evolving needs of the new teachers, their students, their colleagues and the schools. If we run too fast and too soon we run out of puff, or sustain injury. Let’s build an integrated teacher education system which ensures that becoming a teacher is a process of genuine formation which contributes to the good health of all education sectors and to great outcomes of those that they serve.

  2. Paul Hopkins

    Sadly the current government have an ideological position which is uninformed by any form of evidence so we have systemic and organisational change which has no basis in evidence based or analytical process. This has led to the development of an academy school based system, where there was little evidence of it need and little evidence it has been effective and the destruction of a teacher education system under the same axioms.

    The recent NAO report has indicated that the different routes for teaching provide similar outcomes but that the cost effectiveness is very different. However, the biggest lie has been that university based education is not rooted in school and in school partnerships. All university based training at PG level (the significant majority) is more in classroom than the lecture hall (and much more than many of those above us in the beloved international league tables) and even at UG level there is significant time based in the classroom.

    The core question has to be do we want teachers who are professionals – so rooted in the theory and research as well as the practical and who have reflection and reflexivity skills and who will continue to use research and evidence in their career, or do we want technicians training “on the job”?

    Whilst this is anecdotal the schools with whom I work tell me that they do not have the time, or the knowledge of theory and research nor the time to properly work with trainees. They also do not have the scale where they can work with groups of 20, 40 or 100 trainees having as they do only a few trainees. The problem with hitting the ground running is how many stumble, trip or splat?