What next for Initial Teacher Training?

01 Dec 2021

Concessions from the government in key areas are welcome, writes MillionPlus Head of Advocacy and Stakeholder Engagement Adam Haxell, but the question of accreditation continues to loom large...

Today marks the next stage in the long-running saga that has been the independent ITT Market Review with the government finally confirming which reforms to initial teacher training (ITT) courses will be taken forward.

What began two years ago as an inquiry examining routes into teaching has changed dramatically into a call for significant, and potentially dramatic, reform – so dramatic in fact that in the past year several well establish, high-quality providers have questioned their place in the ITT system should the plans go ahead.

It is no secret that for MillionPlus, and indeed for many in the sector, wholescale reform on this scale was both unexpected and low on a list of priorities for teacher education. The sector is robustly quality assured, and importantly prior to this sudden need to justify such a change in approach, all university providers were judged to be either good or outstanding. It did not feel like the problem area of provision that it has recently been made out to be. In fact, the government went to great lengths to praise England’s ITT delivery in its ambitions to promote a new international qualification based on these very models and principles.

That said, the drive for continuous improvement is central to what universities do, so in concert with Vice-Chancellors and our Deans of Education Network, MillionPlus has engaged extensively and positively with the process, offering feedback and where needed, constructive criticism. MillionPlus has offered productive advice as to how best to focus a review, with the practical needs of trainees, schools and therefore pupils firmly in mind.

The government response today is an indication that this important work was worthwhile, with the government listening to our advice regarding some of the major concerns with the initial report. In particular the demonstrable lack of evidence which justified many of the initial conclusions, to more practical issues with the recommendations and their failure to appreciate the reality of the pressures schools are under.

While it is important to build a system fit for the future, throughout much of this process it has felt as if the gargantuan challenges of the pandemic never happened or were a thing of the past. We must remember that this pandemic was and still is unprecedented. It was a massive learning curve for all providers and schools alike when the fall-out from Covid hit in early 2020. The additional work that all providers had to do to ensure the effective delivery of ITT under the most enormous challenges imaginable has been little short of heroic. This made some of the assertions, and later recommendations somewhat difficult to reconcile to lived experiences on the ground, and, therefore, to swallow.

It is welcome that some of these challenges and pressures are now being recognised, and that some of the recommendations have been broadened to recognise and incorporate successful work already ongoing. The timetable has been pushed back a year, another broad positive but it still leaves the sector with almost no margin to work with. From the start MillionPlus has argued that reform needs to be done well, not just done quickly. Schools remain embattled and priority should lie with growing provision of ITT rather than piling on greater workload pressure that may lead some to question their involvement and potential exit from the system.

In a report MillionPlus published last month we documented the reasons why school leaders might not engage or increase their involvement and take trainees on placements, with both workload pressures and financial issues widely cited. Even with the amended recommendations, and with a very welcome addition of extra funding, we must keep these issues in our minds. It was a deep source of regret that many more schools were unable to take part in the consultation before this report due to the remarkable decision to hold it over the school holiday period.

The major sticking point that remains for MillionPlus universities and has not been addressed in the reforms confirmed today, is perhaps the biggest of them all: accreditation.

MillionPlus has been clear from the outset that accreditation in and of itself is not the problem, as many types of university provision are regulated in this way. We have also pointed out the very many existing quality assurance mechanisms that are already in operation. While there are fears that a new system will merely duplicate work, any mechanism to keep standards high is worth exploring.

However, it has been very clear from the outset that some in the review team are keen to push for change for change’s sake, and ultimately for some providers to exit the market irrespective of their quality. This is utterly unacceptable, and it will fall to the government to ensure that when they are designing / building this newly proposed accreditation system it truly has the trust and faith of the entire sector. The system must ensure assessment criteria is transparent and focused on delivering high-quality ITT. It must ensure that there is no bias built into the system and any provider of high quality provision, regardless of size or geographical location will have the ability to demonstrate its excellence and continue their provision.

As the secretariat to the MillionPlus Deans of Education network, I would personally like to thank DfE officials for their willingness to listen, engage and their openness to review the recommendations as set out by the Market Review team. The amendments offer a more nuanced, flexible and measured approach that the sector can get on board with. On behalf of MillionPlus, I hope this spirit of partnership and collaboration continues as we progress into the next stage of this process so that providers can focus on delivering for their trainees and schools, and that more schools will see the benefit of engaging in ITE.

This area of provision requires a period of stability and calm, and to be allowed to get on with the job of delivering world-class teacher education for our next generation of teachers. We will work with sector colleagues and DfE to keep our collective focus on that, and if we can do that then this process will have been a success.