In 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.
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.