Warwick Mansell in the Guardian has an in-depth investigation into the uncertainty being felt at university teacher training courses such as the highly regarded one at Cambridge as government changes are pushing more training of teachers in schools…
Not long ago, Cambridge University academics were celebrating receiving what they say is the first ever “perfect” Ofsted report for a teacher-training course, with no areas for improvement. Now, the future of the prestigious course – and seemingly many others like it – is clouded by uncertainty because of changes to the way teacher training is organised. Elaine Wilson, who runs Cambridge’s postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) for secondary school teachers, is baffled by the government’s motives.
University courses training England’s next generation of teachers had the number of places for which they receive government funding cut dramatically last autumn, as the coalition embarked on a restructuring with the aim of training more teachers on the job in schools.
Higher education institutions across the country, including Cambridge, are now nervous about their futures. Wilson, a former research scientist and chemistry teacher, says: “If the government cuts our core numbers [the student places it funds directly] in future, there is a real possibility that the PGCE will fold. Why are they doing this?”
The government says the new system will be more responsive to demand for teachers, but some say the security of future teacher supply will be put at risk by creating a more market-based system in which schools train teachers and possibly buy in expertise from universities, rather than universities being in the driving seat. The education secretary, Michael Gove, wants more emphasis on students learning about teaching in schools. Many teacher educators have pointed out that student teachers already spend much of their time in classroom placement.
Last July, Gove announced a huge expansion of School Direct, the government’s main vehicle for funding teacher training through schools, with a subsequent cut in the number of places funded through universities.
The impact on certain subjects was drastic: the number of university courses funded to train secondary English teachers, for example, was halved, figures published last November showed, from 54 to 28. Nine university history teaching courses, and 11 for geography, lost their funding. Overall, if it recruits as the government hopes, School Direct is poised to expand from 300 to more than 6,000 places from this September, with university-led provision falling by 7%, from 28,000 to 26,000.
Under School Direct, students apply to a school or group of schools. Schools will typically work with a university, which will provide the more academic elements of the training. Crucially, any funding a university receives depends on the business it can win from schools, rather than having funded places allocated to it directly by government.
This month, Prof Sir Tim Brighouse, chair of the left-of-centre pressure group New Visions for Education, wrote that this meant teacher education was going through an “unpublicised crisis“, as universities were unsure of likely future funding and thus it would be more risky to take on and retain staff.
University teacher educators say this makes their cashflow much more unpredictable, with school needs likely to fluctuate dramatically and no certainty as to how many School Direct students they will be educating until the courses start.
Adding to the volatility, the government has said that only university teacher-training providers with “outstanding” verdicts from Ofsted are to be guaranteed any funding at all in future years, and even that thought to be at risk in the long term…