Is the crisis in initial teacher education and teacher recruitment beginning to hit the public consciousness?

It’s taken a while, but I was pleased to see at least one MP begin to question some of this Government’s policy in respect of initial teacher education and teacher recruitment this week. Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, has written this article in the Yorkshire Post that explores some of the key issues that I’ve been raising in this blog for a number of years.

Chief amongst these are, of course, the inadequacy of the Schools Direct model in terms of contributing the numbers of teachers that is required for the country as a whole, their geographical spread and subject specialism. She also questions the efficacy of Teach First as a model (and, I would add, the immense cost of sustaining a so-called charity with public funding).  She also mentions the huge costs involved in paying for supply staff to cover the gaps left in schools who are unable to recruit full time members of staff.

It seems to me that as headteachers in many schools face up to this crisis that, eventually, the public consciousness of these matters will begin to hit home. Sadly, by then, it will be too late for many schools and parents, who will find that their children are being taught by non-specialists, supply staff or, even worse, unqualified teachers with minimal, if any, teaching experience and little professional support.

The system of initial teacher education in this country is in a perilous state. The recently announced policy of unrestricting allocations to HEI will not help. It will only fragment further the issues of geographical spread and subject specialism. Year on year, there is a decreasing number of students opting for teacher education courses, with Schools Direct the worst culprit by far in failing to fill allocated placed. These trends have been analysed superbly by Professor John Howson over many years with his most recent observations on the current state of play published last week. Whilst organisations like Teach First play around the edge of the sector, contributing little sustained benefits and with the majority of their student teachers leaving after two years, the organisations that can and should be empowered to drive forwards quality in initial teacher education are being marginalised at every turn.

Almost every headteacher I speak to tells me that universities should be leading initial teacher education across the country. They know, better than anyone probably, that schools (with a few exceptions perhaps) are not wanting or willing to lead programmes of initial teacher education. The system implemented by this Government is falling apart. The NCTL has been shown as incompetent in managing the sector as a whole. Schools Direct is a complete farce. Teach First is propped up by public funding and making minimal impact in a national context. As pressure mounts, one can only hope that headteachers and parents will put pressure on the Government to rethink their approach before permanent damage is done to the infrastructure of the current and future teaching workforce.

Steve Reich’s Clapping Music: A new app!

UCan Play has recently been involved in a project with NYMAZ researching the delivery of instrumental music lessons online using Roland’s VR-3EX audio and video mixer and streamer. This work has been funded through NESTA’s Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

One of the other projects also funded by this fund is Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, a game-based app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad inspired by – you guessed it – Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. His piece has inspired all sorts of people from the famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie to David Bowie. The app also includes lots of additional content about Steve Reich and minimalist music, and unique recordings from the London Sinfonietta, including another piece by Reich, Electric Counterpoint.

The game has been developed by a team from three organisations – The London Sinfonietta, Touchpress, and Queen Mary University of London. It will be free for anyone to download from iTunes from late June 2015. You don’t need to be a musician to play, in fact the developers would love as many people as possible to download it and get tapping and clapping! You can find out more about the app here and the associated research project here.

The developers has asked us to help raise awareness of this new app. They would like you to play the game and complete three online surveys during the period from app launch to August 7th 2015; one before you download the app, another after playing for a little while, then another two weeks later. The surveys include questions about your musical experience, age and music listening habits and preferences. They will download your playing data from the game and look at this as well. As a thank you, they will draw 10 people at random from the participants who have completed and submitted all three surveys and enter them into a draw to enter one of 10 Amazon £50 gift cards.

Ready to sign up now? Send an email with the subject line ‘Sign me up to the research focus group’ to clappingmusicresearch@gmail.com.

More evidence of Teach First’s poor retention rates

As anyone who follows the machinations of policy in relation to initial teacher education knows, the retention rates of Teach First have always been poor. A cynic might say that the clue is in their name. Whilst the Teach First media machine is expert in smoke and mirrors, simple questions deserve a simple answer.

Well, Lousie Haigh (MP for Heeley, Sheffield) took it upon herself to ask Nick Gibb such a question recently. How many Teach First teachers in each (a) subject and (b) parliamentary constituency (i) began teaching and (ii) left the teaching profession in each of the last five years.. The answer was revealing and can been seen in full here.

The following table shows a summary of the figures for the number of teachers beginning to teach with Teach First as compared to the number of teachers leaving teaching having trained with Teach First over the last five years (as a total). I’ve also added a column showing the % loss of teachers for each subject area over the last 5 years.

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The figures show clearly that Teach First is failing admirably to train teachers who spend more than a few years working as teachers. Perhaps this doesn’t bother them very much. Maybe their argument is that schools, and the young people they teach, are better off having their ‘ambassadors’ working with them even if it is just for a short period of time rather than not at all.

For me, this represents a complete failure. Both this Conservative Government, and the Labour one that preceded it, have wasted vast sums of public money on a charity who have failed to train teachers to enjoy long and productive teaching careers. The costs of training teachers in each initial teacher training route were examined recently. I’m not sure whether the poor retention rates as illustrated by these figures, and others published by the Select Committee in the last session of parliament, were considered within this work. I will look into that next week. But I do know that our universities train teachers who do enjoy long and sustained careers as teachers and, as such, provide a much better quality of training with a greater degree of cost benefits than Teach First could ever hope to provide.

Unqualified Teachers! This is what happens under a Tory education system

norwich_primary_academyNorwich Primary Academy, part of the inappropriately named Inspiration Trust, is advertising for four unqualified teachers to start this September. The full advertisement text can be downloaded from here (these things have a habit of disappearing).

In his interview today on the World at One, Tristram Hunt attacked the Inspiration Trust for its potential recruitment of unqualified teachers. He cited an example from South Leeds Academy back in 2013 who advertised for two unqualified teachers of mathematics. Their advertisement was quickly withdrawn, along with the application pack, but both are still available on this blog here.

In my view, unqualified teachers have no role to play in state schools in England. Teachers should be appropriately qualified with a degree, a PGCE and QTS. Parents expect this and our children deserve to be taught by qualified professionals. I am 100% behind Labour’s position to put an end to the de-professionalisation of the teaching profession that this Government has initiated. It is yet another reason to vote for a Labour government next week.

 

Labour will abolish School Direct

The main Birley building will be home to 6,500 students and staffIn one of the most welcome announcements in respect of educational policy, I was delighted to hear from Tristam Hunt yesterday that Labour will abolish School Direct, the (in name) school-led system of initial teacher education. The reality is, as anyone who has worked in the initial teacher education sector will know, that university’s have propped up this ideological experiment ensuring that individual students feel a modicum of success by partaking in the programme.

Hunt’s view is that School Direct has been haphazard in its implement, resulted in a crisis of teacher recruitment and a looming national shortage of teachers in key areas (both by subject and geographically). I would agree with all these points. Those who doubt the veracity of these statements should spend a few minutes reading Professor John Howson’s blog. He has, more than anyone else I know, charted the lows of this Government’s policy on teacher recruitment with unfailing energy and a criticality often missing in debates in this area.

At a national level, School Direct has been a complete failure. Last year, it only filled 61% of its total places (down from 68% last year). These statistics may themselves be over-optimistic and inflated. Interested readers should read this recent post by Professor Howson. Figures for this year’s School Direct recruitment look even worse on a month by month analysis.

This failed experiment is in stark contrast to the work done by MMU and other HEI in bolstering their initial teacher education provision, in partnership with schools of course, resulting in an over 90% recruitment success of students to PGCE courses in primary and secondary initial teacher education across the entire UK (the figure at MMU is much higher). Additionally, huge capital investments such as the new Brooks building for the Faculty of Education (at a cost of around £150m; see picture above and below) have ensured the students have access to the very latest and most impressive space and facilities to learn within.

mmu

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of this whole sorry episode is the fallacy that university led ITE provision is done in isolation from schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 15 years that I have worked for MMU, the partnership of schools across the north west of England has been central to our work, every day. Later today, I’ll be visiting one of these to support a student in Macclesfield who has benefited immensely from his experiences there on a teaching placement. He has benefited immensely from the structured university led programme of education and the support of dedicated colleagues who have helped him navigate the complex process of becoming a teacher.

Incidentally, the school where he is currently working has also benefited immensely in the process too. Despite being at the forefront of the training school programme themselves, they have employed more students from our PGCE in Music course than any other school in the north west of England, with the current Head of Department and two other staff having completed their training with us over the last ten years.

What does the future of ITE look like under a Labour Government? Hunt had this to say:

What we need to do is to take the best of the School Direct system, which is school-based training and practical training, but re-introduce some order into it. [We must] continue a role for higher education providers, which would be obliterated under a future Tory government, and have a regional model, rather like a medical deanery model, [made up] of excellent higher education institutions at the regional core of teacher training programmes.

This seems like a much more sensible route forwards. HEI have the expertise, experience and capacity to manage programmes of ITE. Schools don’t. Generally, they are overwhelmed by the responsibility and student experience suffers. Partnership working has always been, and will remain, the way forward with HEIs leading and schools working alongside as vital partners.

Ed Miliband delivers speech on NHS reform at MMU

As events go, our retiring VC John Brooks must have been delighted to discover that Ed Miliband  chose to deliver his key note speech on NHS reform in the atrium of the recently renamed, after himself, Brooks Building on the Birley campus. He’d even prepared a short speech, in hand:

brooks

By around 11am, a huge crowd had gathered that spanned the entirety of the ‘Spanish’ steps and spread upwards across all remaining floors of the faculty. Students, staff and the general public alike had come to hear the Labour leader;

crowd

crowd2I’ve not heard Ed Milliband speak live before. I was very impressed. He was entertaining, warm, obviously well prepared and came across as a natural and engaging person. After a 10 minute speech outlining the various NHS reforms his party would implement, he spent well over 40 minutes answering questions from the general public before responding to a few questions from political journalists from the BBC, Sky and ITV.

edThe other good news from John Brooks’ point of view, was that he clearly loved the venue. Here’s a snippet of video from the very beginning of the event when he clearly looked up and was seriously impressed by the wonderful building that is our Faculty of Education.

 

He even promised, in front of hundreds of witnesses, to come back for a consultation meeting with a group of student nurses once he is elected Prime Minister. Fingers crossed for the election result in May.

 

Ten Pieces is not enough! Coming to a primary school near you – 100 pieces!

Coming soon to a primary school near you – a prescribed list of 100 pieces of classical music that every child should be familiar with. No, this isn’t a joke. This is the cornerstone of future Tory music education policy according to the speech given by Nick Gibb at the Music Education Expo this week.

For clarity, here’s is the complete extract from the speech together with the suggestions that the preeminent expert on music education thinks should be included (that’s sarcasm BTW ;) ):

While there is already a great deal of good practice, we also want to make sure there is support available for teachers who may need it – in particular, practical help for non-specialist primary school teachers. I am delighted that Classic FM and the ISM are going to compile, and give schools access to, a new list of 100 pieces of classical music that every child should be familiar with by the time they leave primary school.

Being familiar with the best known classical works is as important as reading the canon. Music has been important to me personally and my suggestions for pieces to include would range from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Parry’s setting of ‘I was glad’ and Allegri’s ‘Miserere’, which I still remember singing as a choirboy. I very much hope there will be strong engagement from those within music teaching with ISM and Classic FM as they develop the list.

The full speech can be read here. I challenge you to find another single idea about the future of music education within it. Music Education Expo is the premiere music education event in the UK each year. As a platform, Gibb had the chance to set a future vision for music education under a Tory government. This was the best he could come up with. I’ll leave you to make your own judgement.

El Sistema: A conference to explore and critique what it means for music education

The Venezuelan youth orchestra program known as El Sistema, founded in 1975, has attracted considerable international publicity and funding in recent years. Said to be an effective means of resolving a wide range of social problems and now operating under the banner of ‘social action through music’, it has inspired attempts to adopt and adapt it in dozens of countries around the world.

However, there are very few critical analyses of the program’s aims and no rigorous studies which demonstrate that it achieves them. Furthermore, its methods are poorly understood and obscured by idealistic rhetoric. Efforts to transplant El Sistema overseas have taken place without reliable written sources about its history and its pedagogical and philosophical program. Continue reading

Musical Futures cited as a model of progressive music education

Geoffrey Baker’s new book, El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s Youth, is a stinging critique of the Venezuelan instrumental and social music education programme. Baker’s research is far reaching, drawing on observations of the programme throughout Venezuela and interviews with key participants in the programme and students themselves. As a piece of qualitative and ethnographic research, it is beautifully constructed. Throughout his book, which I reviewed here for the Music Education UK websiteBaker is at pains to justify his assertions about the programme and, when necessary, points to the limitations of his research and the conclusions therein.

In the final chapter of his book, Baker points to a number of projects that exemplify what he calls a more ‘progressive’ form of music education. At this point, it was lovely to find references to Musical Futures, a project that surely every music teacher here in the UK must be aware of that has made a significant and positive contribution to music education over the last ten years. This was what Baker has to say about Musical Futures:

One of the most radical and promising music education initiatives is Musical Futures, which began in the United Kingdom in 2003 and is spreading internationally. Musical Futures builds on Green’s (2002, 2008) work on informal learning and its application to the classroom. It’s central element is copying recordings by ear, and it integrates listening, improvising, and composing into the learning process, which is holistic and student-led (rather than sequential or drill-based) and promotes student choice of instruments and repertoire. Green (2008, 199-80) applies this informal learning pedagogy to ensemble playing and classical music, revealing that there is no inevitable bond between El Sistema’s curriculum, collective ethos, and conservative pedagogy. (Baker 2014, p.318) Continue reading