Category Archives: ITE

GUEST LECTURE: Andrew Curren, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital

Faculty of Education, Birley Fields, MMU Thursday 12th March, 10.00 – 3.00pm

andrew-curran-publicity-photoWe are delighted to welcome Andrew Curran, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist working at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, to the Faculty of Education, MMU. Andrew is committed to using his extraordinary knowledge of the workings of the human brain to make a difference in the educational experience of all young people. He believes passionately in the importance of understanding the individual, connecting with them emotionally and leading them into self directed learning. His book, the Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain (published by Crown House Publishing), is recognised as one of the leading books about understanding brain based learning and the importance of emo- tional literacy in our classrooms and in our lives.

Andrew will be delivering two guest lectures during the day.

Lecture 1, 10.00 – 12.30, Birley Fields G.44

Andrew’s morning session will explore the brain, its neurology and how this impacts on a child’s learning. In Andrew’s words …

What is the message that I am delivering through many years of studying the neurobiology of the human brain that appeals to so many people? It’s really very simple.

If each child in front of you feels understood, then this is good for their self esteem. If these two things are happening then the child will feel self-confident. And if these three things are extant the child will be emotionally engaged with learning. And if that happens, then the child’s brain is neurobiologically optimised for learning.

Lecture 2, 1.15 – 2.45, BirleyFields 2.51

In the afternoon session, Andrew will predominantly focus on the brain and music, considering how the two interrelate and the consequences of this for teaching and learning about music. Andrew brings a unique perspective to this through his own work as a singer/songwriter.

All are welcome to either session. BUT …

Please email Dr Jonathan Savage ( to confirm your attendance.

Space is limited.


UPDATED 9/1/15: ITT students to be withdrawn from the National Student Survey

9/1/15: I’m pleased to announce that this decision has been reversed and these students will be included in this year’s NSS. However, the chaotic decisions that lay behind this debacle are indicative of this Government’s careless handling of ITE in general. 

The Times Higher Education Supplement are reporting today that teacher training students are to be removed from the Government’s National Student Survey with immediate effect. This unheralded announcement comes within a few days of the commencement of the 2015 survey.

One vice-chancellor (who didn’t want to be named - why not?), said that “this is an insult to each and every”  ITT student and called it a “disgrace”. I agree with this entirely.

I also agree with Pam Tatlow who said that ““One can only assume that NCTL would prefer prospective trainees not to be informed by evidence of the high satisfaction rates linked with university teacher training courses”.

The Chair of TEAG, John Cater, was also disappointed, stating that “it contradicts government policy since 2005 and is in conflict with the current administration’s firm commitment to ensure that a full range of empirical evidence is available to students and trainees entering programmes of study”.

Is there a looming teacher shortage for September 2015?

I’ve enjoyed reading John Howson’s blog. His analytical take around the number of teachers that we, as a country, need is incisive and informative.

The release of the ITT census a week or so ago was given the ‘Howson treatment’ in this post. I’d strongly encourage anyone with an interest in teacher education to read it. If you are a parent concerned about your child’s education perhaps you should read it too. We are heading for a major shortage of qualified teachers in many subject areas. We are at least 1,300 secondary school teachers short across the country. There is also a 7% shortfall in primary school teachers this year.

As someone with an interest in music education, one key fact stood out for me from the post. Across the country only 81% of planned training places were filled. Regular reads of this blog will remember that the MMU Music courses for a September 2014 start were filled well in advance; in July we received a panic email from the DfE asking us to fill an additional 7 places. We were able to do this. Through discussions with other colleagues across the country I’ve found out that many universities received a similar request. Many of them were not willing to reopen courses.

This chaotic, piecemeal approach to the training of our teachers is pretty shoddy. It is certainly not helped by this government’s preoccupation with Schools Direct. Howson’s analysis shows us that Schools Direct only manages to recruit 61% of total places. SCITTS only managed 79%. HEI led courses recruited 90% of their allocation. I am constantly amazed that the DfE seems determined to pursue a policy of school-based training provision like this when the evidence shows clearly that it is poorer quality, patchy in terms of its provision, and pedagogical and intellectually weaker in many aspects compared with HEI-led programmes.



The (still) continuing farce of School Direct

For anyone who has been following this Government’s flagship policy of School Direct over recent years, this article in yesterday’s TES will be no surprise at all.

The key result of this policy to try to move initial teacher education away from HEI and relocate it in schools is that schools themselves are now facing the most severe teacher shortage in a decade. Congratulations to all those schools and head teachers who thought it would be a good idea to try and train their own teachers! You are complicit in causing severe damage to our national ITE infrastructure. The TES report shows that the number of vacancies going unfilled is increasing and that while some subjects are meeting recruitment targets, others are falling far short.

The study was done by Professor John Howson, whose blog has charted the continuing challenges and chaos around teacher supply over the last few years. Howson is particularly scathing about the inability of School Direct to address shortages in key subject areas such as Music, Design & Technology, RE, Biology and Physics.

Anyone who has read my blog over the years will know that I’m no fan of School Direct. It has  created chaos in the ITE system as a whole and has no significant advantages over an HEI led system which, as anyone who knows even a small amount about ITE, is delivered in partnership with schools already (every student has to spend 2/3 of their time in school anyway, and this is legislated for).

This is not to say that individual students on School Direct do not have a good experience. Our current cohort of Music PGCE students contains seven School Direct students and I would like to think that they get a great experience during their time with us at MMU. But the blunt reality is that the School Direct system as a whole is failing and should be abolished immediately after the next General Election. It has been a terrible policy, poorly and hastily implemented, and now we can see clearly that it is failing to deliver in key areas. 

Tristam Hunt – will you commit to dismantling School Direct if Labour come to power next year?

Today, we are celebrating the career of Geoff Reed – a distinguished colleague and great friend

I’ve never been a fan of honorary doctorates. On the many occasions that I’ve sat on the Bridgewater Hall stage for MMU graduation ceremonies, I’ve seen them given out to various celebrities and wondered why they deserve the conferment of an academic award for basically doing the day job. Also, as someone who worked hard to get a PhD in the proper way (none of the PhD by publication rubbish that’s becoming popular nowadays), I suppose my view is that you need to work hard to get this qualification (actually, work really hard) and not just be dished one out to add to your collection of gongs. I know that sounds a bit petty.

This morning, at MMU’s Faculty of Education graduation event at the Bridgewater Hall, things will be different; very different. In this morning’s event, my friend and colleague Geoff Reed will receive his honorary doctorate.

Geoff has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a music educator. During the final part of this, over the last ten years, he has been working at the RNCM in collaboration with MMU supporting our PGCE in Music and PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching courses.  He has worked tirelessly with hundreds of MMU’s students in this role . His warmth, wise counsel and humanity have shone through all his dealings with them.

For myself, Will and Jane, as a team of MMU tutors, Geoff has been an outstanding colleague. His advocacy for music education never fades and his commitment to provide the very best quality educational experience for our students has never dipped. At a personal level, we have all benefited from his broad perspective and wisdom on all matters to do with music education within higher education, schools and music services. Geoff is widely respected within the field of music education across the United Kingdom and Europe, through the Association of European Conservatories.

Geoff is a quiet and humble man. He would never have put himself forward for an award such as this. However, it was our belief that he would be an ideal candidate to be recognised in this way because of his:

  • Commitment to high quality music education of the highest order shown throughout his career at various schools, Sefton Music Service and latterly at the RNCM;
  • Collegial approach to working with and supporting MMU staff in the most constructive and positive manner;
  • Advocacy for MMU students and staff through our long standing collaborative engagement with the RNCM;
  • Wonderful humanity that has shined through all our work with him. This will be testified to by a huge range of other colleagues, musicians and educators .

This event marks the end of Geoff’s career. He is retiring shortly from the RNCM. I am pleased that we are marking this by honouring Geoff with this award. It is full deserved. Unlike so many who dabble in initial teacher education today, Geoff understands deeply how the process of initial teacher works and how vital the role of the university is in caring for and nurturing students through this process . His wisdom and counsel has been a daily inspiration to us.

Congratulations on your retirement Geoff. Enjoy being Dr Reed. It is well deserved.  We will miss you.


60% of Andrew Carter’s ITT review panel have no experience in ITT at all. Does it matter?

As you may remember, in May 2014 Michael Gove (remember him?) appointed Andrew Carter, Headteacher of South Farnham School, leader of a school-centred initial teacher training (ITT) provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council, to chair a so called ‘independent’ review of the quality and effectiveness of ITT courses.

He asked Carter to look across the full range of ITT courses and will seek views from those involved across the sector to:

  • Define effective ITT practice;
  • Assess the extent to which the current system delivers effective ITT;
  • Recommend where and how improvements could be made;
  • Recommend ways to improve choice in the system by improving the transparency of course content and methods. Continue reading

DfE announce an ‘independent’ review into initial teacher training

The DfE has launched what it [laughably] calls an independent review of initial teacher training courses within the UK. You can find full details here. I say laughably, as the review is being led by an Andrew Carter (and don’t forget his OBE), who is chair of the review. Carter’s qualifications for undertaking this role are that he is a primary school head teacher (at South Farnham School, a very good primary school by all accounts), leader of a school-centred ITT provider and ITT lead on the Teaching Schools Council. He’s also a DfE favourite, having acted in an advisory role for schools wishing to become academies (following his own lead in re-designating his own school as one of the first primary academies). Given this experience, I’m struggling to see how he could be an independent chair in any traditional understanding of the word ‘independent’.

The other funny thing about this is that we already have an apparently independent organisation that undertakes an annual review of initial teacher education, following detailed inspections of various providers of all shapes and sizes – Ofsted. Clearly, Gove does not like what Ofsted report, namely that HEI-led partnerships have consistently outperformed school centred, School Direct, Teach First and other school-led programmes over many years. They will continue to do so whatever Carter and his team may report back to Gove.

The review will begin its business shortly and report back to the DfE by the end of the year. When the review team is appointed I’ll let you all know its constituency alongside any further news about the way in which it is going to conduct its work.

Celebrity Teachers: Tough young teachers, social class and inspiration


I really enjoyed reading this post by Heather Mendick today. I would encourage you to read it and follow up on some of the references contained within. Heather argues that Teach First is a form of social class reproduction. This occurs through:

  • the accumulation by participants of additional social and cultural capital;
  • the reproduction of middle-class values and stereotypes of the working-class ‘other’;
  • the obscuring of middle-class advantage through discourses of ‘natural ability’.

The broader politics around Teach First are also explored. In her research, Heather recounts  ’TF participants referring to themselves as ‘fire fighters’ and ‘saviours’’ and she asks hows this influences the position and perception of all of the other teachers in our schools (as well as  what it says about how Teach First and its teachers view the young people with whom they work?).

In terms of cost, I’m in agreement with Heather when she states that:

In an age of austerity, it is clearly an ideological choice that has led politicians of all stripes to robustly support Teach First, by far the most expensive form of training, while Gove destroys the best value and most effective form of initial teacher education, within universities. As the series has progressed, we’ve seen the ‘tough young teachers’ improve, and the inclusion of a second year teacher who is more self-assured, signals this developmental narrative thread that supports the effectiveness of on-the-job training and thus the move of teacher education into schools.

Thanks for such an informative insight into your research Heather.

Dealing with a ‘Caleb’?

In light of my previous post, it was interesting to read this blog from a head teacher over the weekend. I haven’t got time today to write a response, but I found this paragraph very telling:

[This is why] proper training is important. You’re not dumped straight in at the deep end without the professional maturity to deal with challenging behaviour appropriately. Of course no aspiring trainee teacher is either…but we learnt through placements and lectures how to do it. Our hands were held along the way. Our mentors weren’t out of our sight as we completely messed up telling a child off, letting  a child off, missing what that child over there was doing and their feedback only made us stronger. We became used to feedback and reflections so that in our NQT year, when the stabilisers were off and we were really on our own, we could cope when getting further advice (we didn’t need to compose a song in the toilet).

I feel waves of sympathy towards these ‘ToughYoungTeachers: I couldn’t have dealt with Caleb after six weeks; after six years I probably would still have needed help. But then I flip and feel a bit cross – where is their support? Many TeachFirst folks have answered my queries on Twitter and assure me that support is in place and it’s really good. I hope so, if only so in years to come, the leaders of Teach First can sleep at night.

Whatever support may or may not be in place, it is still my argument that these teachers are woefully underprepared because the notion of gradualism is weak in Teach First’s course structure.

The Importance of ‘Gradualism’ in Initial Teacher Education

Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve been watching the series Tough Young Teachers. I’ve enjoyed following the journeys of the six student teachers and their various trials, tribulations and successes. I take my hat off to anyone who trains to be a teacher, let alone one who decides to train with TV cameras in their classroom capturing every moment for public broadcast! Well done guys and girls!

I think that one of the key features that marks out a PGCE programme from the programme offered by Teach First is the notion of gradualism. By this, I mean the gradual process by which students are carefully and systematically introduced to the teaching of whole classes of children. Much play is made in Tough Young Teachers of  Teach First students beginning teaching from the outset of the academic year with 400+ pupils to teach each week. Personally, I think this is more often than not a recipe for disaster and does not help the Teach First students develop their skills in coherent, systematic or sustainable way. They suffer, and their pupils suffer (sadly) as they are experimented on week in, week out, until improvements are made (which they will eventually in most cases). Continue reading