Professor Sonia Blandford is the founder and CEO of Achievement for All, a charity working with thousands of schools in the UK to raise the educational attainment of pupils, and particularly those facing barriers to learning.
Writing exclusively for Schools Improvement, here Sonia calls for a more joined-up approach to teacher training.
Over the last few days there have been a number of statements on how certain issues that are proving challenging for schools are to be addressed by adding to initial teacher training programmes. There is absolutely no denying the importance of these issues however, is the inclusion of ‘autism’, ‘character’ or other extremely relevant areas of development in initial teacher training practical or impactful? At a basic level, if change is needed, the profession as a whole needs training, not 30,000 trainees of which at least a quarter are likely to leave in the first three years of their engagement with the profession.
The teaching profession comprises of around half a million practitioners who are arguably the most committed workforce alongside health, law and social work practitioners. The importance of training has been recognised for each of these professions with significant changes to qualifications, professional learning and continuing professional development being introduced to each over the last hundred years. What sets teachers apart is the diversity of routes, influence of government and range of governance, and the inevitable impact that this has on knowledge, skills and understanding, that is the quality of teachers in our classrooms.
What is the purpose of initial teacher training? Oxford and Cambridge universities introduced Masters qualifications to distinguish those who could teach as ‘masters’, postgraduates able to impart knowledge and skills. Schools had embarked on an apprenticeship scheme for the training of teachers for schools. During the last 150 years or so initial teacher training has gone through numerous iterations, led by the Church, governments, academics and by particular methods of which Steiner and Montessori are two examples. There are unifying words that describe the essence of the purpose of initial teacher training – knowledge, skills and understanding of pedagogy that relate learning to teaching.
So why do governments want to determine content? Clearly, there are needs to be addressed but is this the right approach? Perhaps the following might help policy makers and those responsible for initial teacher training to reflect on the importance and place of initial teacher training.
What are the routes to becoming a teachers? There are currently 33 routes into teaching. Not counting subject or phase, teachers can be trained on short (6 weeks), medium (a year) or long courses (3 to 4 years). They can receive training in school (SCITT), on-line, in a university, through a university and school partnership or from overseas and further training. Qualified to Teach Status (QTS) can be awarded by a range of government approved providers, which according to the White Paper is about to increase. It should also be noted that academies and independent schools can appoint teachers without QTS.
What is the impact of the 33 routes? A question that can only be answered on one level by Ofsted, who have rated the majority of initial teacher training courses as good or outstanding, there are very few providers that have a low rating for a course or even a subject within a course. In practice, the impact of such a diverse range and huge number of routes is that teachers arrive in the classroom, responsible for the future of children with a significant range of expertise.
How do government policies influence initial teacher training? Teacher standards have been determined by government since the 1940’s, with a number of changes impacting on content, delivery and assessment of initial teacher training in each decade that followed. During this initial teacher training has achieved degree and post degree status, and has been the subject of many ideological and administrative changes, as reflected in this weeks news.
Who governs initial teacher training? No one and everyone? Schools, government, Ofsted, universities and a plethora of other agencies have a role. In addition, the Quality Assurance Agency monitors degree awarding powers. There are also programmes that exist within schools that are self-governed at best, with limited or no benchmarking against any standards relating to content, delivery or impact.
All of the above and more, leads to the point that initial teacher training is not the place to add courses or areas of development of teachers where there is a significant or identified need. The profession as a whole needs developing. The Baker days of the 1980s went part way to addressing this issue with 5 days a year committed to continuing professional development. Although there is little or no evidence on the impact on practice, this change recognised the importance of continuing professional development and professional learning for teachers – all teachers that is. So much so that Teaching Schools have joined the plethora of agencies that provide, but not always monitor continuing professional development across the country.
The fact that there are so many routes, policies, governance and practice is indication enough that initial teacher training in all its forms is not the place to provide training in areas of particular importance or relevance to the profession as a whole and should be seen for what it says ‘on the tin’, initial training. It is self-evident that teaching as a profession needs to join up initial and continuing professional development, a single spine of training – the impact on teacher practice and retention would be significant as would the impact on the issues government seeks to address.
Sonia Blandford is the author of four new books. They each share the lessons that can be learned from the thousands of schools who have signed up to Achievement for All’s high impact approach to education and who have bought into the charity’s commitment to close the achievement gap in Britain’s schools.
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