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.

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