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.