04 May 2017
The decision of the Department for Education (DfE) to belatedly publish on 9 May 2017 a full list of the teacher training places allocated to universities in October 2016, is welcome. All those interested in teacher education will, however, wonder why it took a complaint from MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the ‘guardian’ of the Freedom of Information Act, for this information to be made public.
The allocations to individual universities were made some seven months ago to allow universities to recruit to initial teacher training (ITT) courses commencing in 2017-18. So, you may well ask, what’s the problem? The problem was that these allocations were controversial. For the first time, a small number of universities were awarded multi-year allocations while the majority received allocations for 2017-18 only.
Despite repeated requests, the DfE refused to publish the full list of allocations and the reasons for them. Answers to parliamentary questions from MPs seeking to understand how and why their universities had fared differently to others were also ‘fudged’. Vice-Chancellors, Deans and Heads of Education were equally frustrated. After all, multi-year allocations give some universities market advantage over others on what might be a questionable interpretation of any metrics and criteria applied. Just as important, some universities were given the opportunity to plan their teacher education programmes and offers to schools based on a three-year strategy of guaranteed ITT numbers while the majority of universities have been left with a one-year only allocation at a time of teacher shortage.
Transparency in the operation of Departmental policy on an issue of public interest is also important. Whatever else, public and headteacher interest in teacher recruitment and retention is at an all-time high. After the DfE rejected an initial Freedom of Information request, MillionPlus registered a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office. In a response, the DfE finally agreed to publish the information in May.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Department’s own response (published on the 2nd of May in the dying hours of this short parliament) to the Education Select Committee’s report on teacher recruitment and retention, is silent on all of this and on the questions raised by universities about the merits of the metrics thought to have been used to identify some universities for multi-year allocations. Little wonder then that in referring to the government’s response, Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said: “the problems of recruiting and retaining teachers will remain a significant challenge for schools over the coming years...” Few in universities or schools in England would now disagree with this verdict.
It is increasingly clear that the approach taken by the government to teacher training over the last seven years has contributed to the crisis in teacher supply. The delaying tactics that have been used by the DfE in publishing full information about the allocations have simply muddied the waters. Universities had been expecting the Department to consult on new innovative ways to promote a more stable system of allocations but this has been deferred because of the general election.
The problems of teacher recruitment and retention will not go away unless the next government returns to a system in which the role of universities in initial teacher education and in the career-long professional development of teachers is highly valued and properly funded. Countries which achieve better outcomes in educational attainment than the UK all require teachers to achieve academic and professional qualifications with universities at the heart of the system.
The next government cannot afford to ignore this evidence or use limiting metrics to pick and choose which universities to favour with multi-year allocations and then fail to disclose until months later the decisions that it has made about teacher training places. Just as important, teachers themselves will only be persuaded to stay in the classroom if they are entitled to the kind of support, professional development and working conditions that are standard in other graduate professions. If schools and their pupils are to have and retain the qualified and talented teachers that they deserve, a new approach to teacher education which delivers stability and sustainability to all universities engaged in initial teacher training and professional development, is urgently required.