Category Archives: Schools Direct

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?

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.

The continuing farce of School Direct

One of Gove’s flagship policies – School Direct – continues to lurch from one crisis to another. It does seem to be terminally ill. Following sustained pressure from various groups, the Government have released figures today of the number of graduates that have applied to undertake initial teacher education as part of the initiative. However, as usual, this only tells half the story at best.

Firstly, the figures only report applications to the programme. Headteachers, who are ultimately the ones who have to agree to training a student on the Schools Direct programme, are being highly selective (and rightly so) about taking on those graduates who have applied. A number of sources have told me that less than 5000 potential students have been accepted by their schools. This is figure being quoted by the BBC and other media today. In reality, the figure may be closer to 40% nationally. In some parts of the country, the ACSL are reporting that 66% of places have remained unfilled. Whatever way you look at it, it is a very long way short of the 10,000 places that the Government want to have secured by September.

The consequences of this for the number of teachers that our country needs are disastrous. But, amazingly, no one is collecting information nationally about how many teachers are being recruited, in which subject areas, or phases. The ACSL comment that:

Although the previous system wasn’t perfect, one advantage it did have was an overall plan to ensure there were enough teachers coming through in every subject. The problem now is that no one is collecting data nationally, so there is no big picture of teacher recruitment, retention, advertisement of vacancies, and how many go unfilled. The last thing schools want more bureaucracy, but there is a need for national data. By failing to collect that data and use it to inform what happens, we will not know where the shortages are until it is too late. (my emphasis)

Staggering, isn’t it?

Professor John Howson from Oxford Brookes University has documented the potential impact of the failure of School Direct in great detail over on his blog. Over the last few months he has documented the availability/unavailability of places via the School Direct website. From this, he has analysed the consequences for the provision of teachers in various subjects, identifying significant or serious risks of shortfalls from the end of next year. It makes sober reading.

If there is a shortfall of 50% across the board as a result of the chaotic, rushed and un-evaluated approach taken by School Direct, can other routes that provide teachers with QTS pick up the pieces? At the moment, HEI are hamstrung. They are penalised if they recruit more than their allocated numbers (in my university, we can’t even make a reserve list as students are required to have completed their initial skills tests prior to the commencement of studying on our courses); Teach First have closed their recruitment and have just started their summer institute so won’t be taking on more students either.

In addition to this, Gove is desperately seeking to cover his tracks quickly having presented a series of half-truths to the House of Commons last week. In relation to this question by Bill Esterson:

In 2011-12, there was a 10% fall in the number of graduates applying to teacher training programmes; there has also been a 17% rise in the number of schools using supply teachers, and we see reliance on unqualified teachers. How will those approaches raise standards and improve the outcome for children?

… he said this:

Michael Gove: I am pleased to be able to say that the statistics the hon. Gentleman quotes come from a period before the introduction of our school direct programme, which has achieved a dramatic increase in the number of highly qualified graduates entering the profession.

This is clearly untrue. In this academic year, there are only around 500 graduates undertaking Schools Direct placements. There is no way of knowing whether from September 2013 there will be a ‘dramatic increase’ in ‘high quality graduates’. In comparison to what? This year’s intake (which is smaller than the secondary PGCE course in my university and clearly tiny in relation to the number of teachers the country needs). Anyway, all the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction.

The sadness in all this is that we did have a high quality, perhaps world-leading, system of initial teacher education in this country. My best guess is that Gove is wanted to deliberately wreck this in order to privatise it at some point later down the road. Does that sound familiar? As Howson points out, the only short term winners in all this will be recruitment agencies. Pupils will loose out; HEI will continue to suffer despite offering our country the best and most rigorous training programmes for initial teacher education; schools will suffer and will be forced to employ unqualified staff or make teachers teach outside their subject specialisms. This is not a recipe for a world class education system in any way, shape or form.

And what about the other person charged with responsibility for this shambles – the head of the NCTL – Charlie Taylor. I’ve been told he’s off on sick leave.

Desperate tactics as Schools Direct continues to flounder

Here’s a copy of an email that the DfE has sent to anyone registered on the School Direct (SD) applications portal. It is encouraging those who might already have applied for a mainstream PGCE to switch towards SD in an desperate bid to fill the many outstanding places on this untried, untested programme.

schools_direct_email

This email has caused quite a stir in the ITT community. It seems like a deliberate attempt to poach students from PGCE routes for Gove’s favoured SD route. It also contains many inaccuracies:

‘Competition for training places is high’. No! Not for a Schools Direct place. In fact, when asked a parliamentary question on the 24th April 2013 about how many students had been recruited, Mr Laws’ best answer was, “The National College for Teaching and Learning will be publishing data on how many applicants there have been for Schools Direct places starting in September 2013 shortly”. In private meetings, DfE officials have been pushed to provide this information and but have refused on countless occasions. It seems clear that they have massively under-recruited but do not want this news getting out at this point; it would clearly be detrimental to those students considering this route. But the key question is, of course, why is the programme under-recruiting?

‘You can train as a teacher with an expectation of a job once you qualify’. No! You can expect whatever you want, but all the schools I have been in touch with are not offering any SD student a job following their training. Many schools have been put off from partaking in this programme because of this DfE-inspired myth.

‘You could receive a bursary of up to £20,000!’ No! Only if you teach one of a very few shortage subjects.

‘Or even be paid a salary’. No! I’ve yet to hear of one school offering a training salary of the type that the old style GTP offered.

All this is very sad. The UK had a very high quality programme of HEI-led of initial teacher education delivered in partnership with schools. This has slowly been dismantled by Gove for ideological, not educational, reasons. Anyone who has been following this blog will have read the views of other significant people in the educational community who are warning of a crisis in teacher training if this continues. Recently, Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Vice Chancellor of the University of Leicester, has written directly to Michael Gove about his concerns.

Schools Direct is the latest ill-thought through, hastily implemented, and pretty much unworkable idea that Gove and his new crony, Charlie Taylor, have come up with. Anyone with an ounce of common sense and knowledge in this area will know that it is bound to fail. Yet in another parliamentary question asked to Mr Laws on the 24th April 2013 he couldn’t even confirm that a formal external evaluation of Schools Direct would be commissioned.

Interestingly, of course, the email didn’t encourage students who had applied for Teach First to also apply and transfer for the Schools Direct programme. Funny that.

What should the leaders of our Faculties of Education do in response to this? Well, UCET did issue a response to this email (although today this seems to have been withdrawn from their website). My view is that all universities that are involved in Schools Direct should withdraw their staff and other resources from it immediately. We are only shooting ourselves in the foot by engaging with this scheming and manipulative approach to teacher training.

Whilst they are at it, all universities should refuse to cooperate with Ofsted until the obvious political bias of and influence on their work has been examined and removed. They are not an independent watchdog anymore and their judgements cannot be trusted.

Gove, Wilshaw and Taylor. What a damming testament to the state of initial teacher education in this country.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse speaks out the ‘Government’-induced crisis’ in Initial Teacher Education

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse is a teacher, professor and educator to whom everyone should listen. His experience of education across the UK is second to none, and he has done a range of jobs that most of us could only dream about. He is also prepared to call a spade a spade, which is a refreshing change for an academic in my experience. On the view occasions that I have heard him speak live, I have been impressed by his vast knowledge and wisdom, his ability to bring humour into different discussions and also his compassionate humanity.

For all these reasons, the publication of this statement by Sir Tim is an important marker in the current political debate surrounding initial teacher education. I would urge you all to read it carefully. For those of you that feel that I’m sometimes provocative, intemperate (just too grumpy) and perhaps prone to exaggeration, I’d encourage you to listen to this highly informed and well respected voice. These are some of the key points that Sir Tim makes:

  1. There is a Government-induced crisis in Initial Teacher Education. It is not the fault of the sector itself. It has been caused directly by ill-informed and careless handling of educational policy by Gove and his new puppet Charlie Taylor;
  2. There is no one person or central agency that can ensure a sufficient supply of of trained teachers nationally, or an efficient local distribution of training places covering all subject areas. The distribution of places is now ‘startlingly haphazard’;
  3. QTS is no longer seen as a necessary requirement for becoming a teacher in the English state education system (unless you work for a LA-maintained school);
  4. Charlie Taylor, the new Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency, is overseeing a new system (Schools Direct) that Ofsted believes produces significantly fewer outstanding courses in teacher education;
  5. Many universities have now lost all their PGCE provision and are wholly reliant on schools choosing them to partner with for School Direct places (and what happens when they don’t);
  6. Many universities have, or will, withdraw from the provision of ITE and PGCE type provision because it is both financially and politically too unstable and too risky to carry on their involvement;
  7. Partnership approaches between universities and schools have been the bedrock of the UK’s provision in this area for years, but this is no under threat. HEIs bring much of value to this partnership that, once undone, will not be easily replaced.

I expect that Gove will dismiss Sir Tim’s paper as more ‘yada yada’ from a leftist academic. However, I would encourage you to read Sir Tim’s paper carefully. It comes from a responsible and respected pillar of the UK education system whose opinion we should take very seriously.

 

School-led partnerships setting the benchmark for high quality teacher training. Seriously?

Ofsted’s latest press release about initial teacher training is ‘misleading, inaccurate and inappropriately political’. Not my words, but the words of James Noble-Rogers, head of UCET, in a letter yesterday to Sir Michael Wilshaw. Apart from the numerous inaccuracies in the press release, Noble-Roger’s main charge is that:

The OFSTED inspection regime is now open to the charge that, far from reporting candidly and with impunity on the state of provision, it is concerned to seek to justify government policy on ITT. There must now remain a suspicion that OFSTED ratings are a reflection of bias against university involvement in ITT. 

This is a very sorry state of affair which, unfortunately, was entirely predictable. Whilst the HEI sector has worked tirelessly with schools to create partnerships where high quality teacher education can flourish, those very same schools and other organisations such as Teach First have benefited from ideological and political reforms which, in my view, are clearly unsustainable in the longer term.

Whilst anyone with a dose of common sense knows that Wilshaw is just Gove’s puppet, there is a significant risk of irreversible damage being done to the mainstay of our initial teacher education provision in the UK, i.e. our higher education institutions. Whilst I’m well aware that I am open to criticism of individual bias (being employed by one of these institutions), I can honestly say that this is not a concern driven by personal considerations.

Over the last 12 years I have worked with HEI (my own and others as an external examiner), GTP and SCITT groups. I have also had very close friends and colleagues work alongside Teach First (never a pleasant experience apparently and one best avoided, but that’s another story). Clearly, there are dedicated professionals working for the best of their students in every ITT context. However, the political bias in favour of SCITTs and Teach First is beyond a joke. Anyone with a genuine concern for the future of our teacher education programmes in the UK should stand up and speak up against Ofsted and this Government’s misleading and ill-informed propaganda about what works, and doesn’t work, in terms of quality initial teacher education.

The headteachers of schools who pander to Gove and support these politically driven reforms should take a serious look at themselves. Short term political favour and financial advantage will get them so far; but the longer term potential damage to them and their schools as these reforms are seen for what they are (unviable in terms of scale, unsustainable in terms of financial resource, and will result in poorer quality teachers) will come back to haunt them, and their schools, for years to come.

The leaders of our HEI ITT programmes should also get a grip on reality. Dancing to Ofsted’s tune is a dangerous strategy. A more robust response is needed by the sector as a whole. Gove and his SPAD attack buddies, Wilshaw, Wigdortz and others who are seeking to capitalise on the creation of ‘free’ market for ITT (or, in the case of Teach First, a ‘free’ market subsidised by millions of Government development funds), will not go away. By 2015 the damage will have been done and I’m doubtful that any future Government will reverse the damaging policies that are being inflicted on the sector right now.

These are sad times for those working within initial teacher education in the UK. Quality programmes are closing across the country, organisations that have worked in partnership for years are being turned against each other, individual academics are frightened to speak out about the truth because they are worried about their own and their colleagues’ jobs, and what counts as ‘quality’ has been turned on its head. The ‘nasty party’ has returned and is spreading its nastiness across the sector in bucket-loads.

By way of a footnote, a FOI request has been made to Ofsted and the DfE regarding the communications around this press release between these organisations. A copy of UCET’s letter to Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary at the DfE is available here. I hope a response is forthcoming but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Gove’s DfE doesn’t have a great record in this respect.

How much does it cost to train one teacher?

Do you know the exact answer to the above question? If not, you are not alone. It seems that even the Government and its various agencies can’t agree on precisely how much it costs to train one teacher either. During this morning I listened to the Education Committee’s gentle interrogation of TDA senior managers and representatives from Teach First, Cambridge University and others. You can view the session here. It was hardly overwhelming.

The Committee asked some straightforward questions about the cost of training one student on the various routes (Teach First, PGCE, SCITT and EBITT) yet failed to get a straight answer from anyone. However, from the answers given and a bit of my own investigation, I can reveal the following:

  • PGCE/SCITT routes cost just under £9k per student (this comprises of a TDA payment of just over £5k along with the £3.3k fees that students pay);
  • EBITT (employment based ITT) costs around £24k per student;
  • Teach First costs around £38k per student.

Even with the increasing tuition costs associated with HEI routes (which would push the cost up to around £14k per student – of which taxpayer’s contribution would certainly be no more that it is presently, i.e. just over £5k and possibly less) there is a massive disparity within these routes. When questioned, the Teach First witness to the Committee tried to argue the added value and benefits of their training, along with supposed benefit of a school obtaining an additional teacher (er, no – they are a student learning to be a teacher), and suggested that the cost of an average teacher’s salary ought to be subtracted from their £38k figure in order to make a fair comparison. This is clearly ludicrous. Teach First trainees are in no way intrinsically better than students on other routes, nor are they equivalent to an experienced teacher and shouldn’t be seen as such. They need mentoring, support and training just like any graduate on any ITT pathway.

The only question that ought to be answered is this. In times of austerity, why is the DfE favouring a route to teaching that costs four times that of the high quality, well- established and well-trodden HEI-based PGCE route?

 

A consideration of the ‘financial incentives’ of the new ITT framework for 2012/13

Michael Gove has, today, announced the new framework for initial teacher training (note, not initial teacher education) that will kick in from September 2012. All the details can be found here. In the publicity surrounding the framework, much will be made of the £20k incentive to attract physics’ graduates into the profession. But, it is worth remember that this £20k incentive does not take into account the new fees that postgraduate students will have to pay for PGCE courses. My sources tell me that most universities will be charging £9k for a PGCE starting in Septmeber 2012.

For other subjects, including Music, the apparent ‘financial incentives’ for becoming a teacher are a mere illusion compared to the current system. This is how it works out.

At the moment, studying for a PGCE in Music will will cost you around £3k in fees. Therre is no bursary payment this year. Last year, music students received a £6k bursary; the year before that Music was a shortage subject and they received a £9k bursary.

So, how does the new system compare to the current system?

Fees

c.£3k fees will rise to c.£9k from September 2012

Bursary

Currently £0 will rise to £9k if you have a 1st class honours degree, £5k if you have a 2:1 and stay the same (i.e. £0) if you have a 2:2 or below.

Conclusion

If you have a 1st class honours degree, your financial incentive to train to be a music teacher are slightly improved (at the moment you may pay the £3k fee but from next year your fees will be cancelled out by the £9k bursary payment).

If you have 2:1, from next year you will be £4k worse off training to be a music teacher. Your bursary will not cover the fees that universities will charge for your course.

If you have a 2:2 or below, from next year you will be £9k worse off training to be a music teacher.

All these figures, of course, don’t include the cost of living whilst training. So, even with a 1st class honours degree and a £9k bursary, you will have to take out loans or rely on the bank of Mum/Dad for your living expenses.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this has on recruitment to ITT courses. Gove’s timeline contained within the ITT framework indicate that we will receive details of numbers for ITT courses from the TDA this month. Obviously, we are hoping for no further cuts to our MMU courses following the 40% cut last year.

Please note that all these figures are based on the premise that universities will be charing £9k fees for postgraduate courses such as the PGCE. My sources tell me that this is highly likely to be the case.