“[Hugh Despenser]…as a traitor…you shall be drawn and quartered, and your quarters dispersed throughout the kingdom…and because at all times you have been disloyal and a formenter of strife…you shall be disembowelled, and after that your bowels shall be burned. Confess yourself a traitor and a renegade! And so go to meet your doom. Traitor! Evildoer!! and Convicted!!! (Brigstocke Sheppard, 1889, p.413)”
The story of Hugh Despenser’s conviction and later execution was the first thing which popped into my head as I fired up Twitter last night to be greeted by the news that, due to new application rules for
“On 24 November 1326 …Despenser was roped to four horses…and dragged through the city…”
Over the last few years, the government has pursued a consistent policy to drag education departments through the dirt. When Michael Gove was Education Secretary he referred to the ‘vested interests’ of university based teacher trainers, suggesting that they were only interested in propping up their finances. Indeed he went so far as to label ITT providers as part of “The Blob,” a group he described in the Daily Mail as, “the network of educational gurus in and around our universities who praised each others’ research, sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula, drew gifted young teachers away from their vocation and instead directed them towards ideologically driven theory.” (Gove, 2013). He continued to explain how “The Blob” were: opposed to rigorous academic education; in thrall to Sixties ideologies; and promoters of the worst elements of child centred learning. Instead Gove pushed the idea that teachers should be trained in designated teaching schools by the School Direct route.
The School Direct route gets trainees to apply directly to schools to gain a placement. Schools, supported by universities, then provide the majority of teacher training in-house. Whilst this has worked brilliantly in some instances, there is huge variation in provision. Whilst Tory policy has championed traditional academic education, the use of textbooks and direct instruction, many training schools are actually opposed to such measures. A head teacher at one large training school network I visited in North Yorkshire made the comment that knowledge was no longer necessary because students could just “Google it”. In the worst cases, teacher training has been used as a means to keep academy chain funding high – the exact charge levied against universities.
One of the key findings of the Carter Review into the quality of ITT was that the best providers had a constant and challenging focus on subject knowledge. In the example of the teacher training academy chain given above, no funding or time was put in to support teachers’ subject specific development, meaning that the majority of training fell under the banner of generic classroom management. Ironically again, this kind of practice falls well short of the best university ITT providers where subject knowledge is at the very centre of training provision. This is an issue of both access to expertise in many schools, and the time and funding to do subject specific training effectively. Indeed, many schools are being forced to cut back on their training budgets and are resorting to generic cross-curricular training as a means to “fill” the CPD space which is left. Compared to the detailed exploration of subject specific pedagogy which happens in the best university ITT, a huge gap exists in the potential quality of training for new teachers. Even in the best meaning examples, much school based training revolves around activities to engage students rather than really unpicking how one might say, teach the significance of the Norman conquest effectively to 11 year olds. Partly as a result of these issues, many trainees have continued to opt for a PGCE route into teacher training. By contrast, School Direct places sometimes go unfilled as universities have been forced to turn away good trainees thanks to limited places. Yet government attacks have been enough, up until now, to bruise, if not kill university based ITT.
“Despenser was raised a full 50 feet… A man climbed along side him, plunged a knife into Despenser’s abdomen and cut out his entrails and heart…”
With the failure of School Direct to comprehensively overtake university based ITT, 2015 has seen a concerted effort to force trainees down the School Direct route. This year for example, universities have only been allocated around 30% of the potential trainees for history. Coupled with this has been a change to the admissions procedures. Instead of the recent practice of allocating each university a set number of places to fill, the government has created a national pool of university places which are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. This has had disastrous consequences. The impetus for some university providers has been to offer places and secure funding as quickly as possible. This has played directly into the hands of universities whose advertising is strongest, and whose selection and interviewing processes are potentially the fastest and least rigorous. Ultimately those willing to sacrifice the rigour of selection are those who have ended up with the most trainees. By comparison, the History PGCE at Cambridge, a world leading course, only managed to secure its future through government intervention which allowed the university a guaranteed 75% of its previous recruitment level. This was done as the national pool of places would all have been allocated before the full selection process was completed. Eight other universities had their courses saved in this last minute measure. However the same issue was true for all those institutions who took the time to carefully select candidates for interview and follow a rigorous process of selection. The market system has yet again created a race to the bottom. School Direct providers on the other hand have a ring-fenced set of places to allocate to whom they wish. This has increased significantly from previous years, forcing many to choose School Direct as their only option. If the government was looking to secure quality in ITT, this move is achieving entirely the opposite. It has effectively ripped out the beating heart of university based ITT. The fact that it is busy trying to stuff the organs back in is really neither here nor there at this point.
“The corpse was lowered to the ground and the head cut off. It was later sent to London, and Despenser’s arms, torso and legs were sent [to the four corners of the kingdom]” (Mortimer, 2003, p.162).”
The question is now is what will happen to education departments in universities. Certainly, many will continue to support the School Direct provision as they have done. However their influence will (as presumably planned) be extremely fragmented. The point of the School Direct route was to give heads more control over the way their teachers were trained, but what this risks doing is training teachers whose primary aim is to follow school systems and increase school outcomes (in the narrowly defined terms that they often are). The move risks narrowing ITT and creating institutionalised trainees who are only taught within the bounds of their school experience. It is notable for example that many training schools I have had contact with up and down the country, have either failed to respond to the issues of life after levels, or have introduced systems which recreated many of the old issues. Additionally, many I have spoken to have not even read the recent report of the Commission on Assessment Without Levels. This begs the key question: how are such schools providing trainees with the recommended focus and training in in high quality assessment. In other cases, many of the academies which now train teachers, have had the freedom not to change their KS3 curriculum at all. As a result, they continue to teach the unreformed history curriculum which Gove criticised so heavily as being Hitler and the Henries. Of course there are, and will be training schools which do an excellent job, but time pressures and the funding crisis in schools will always lead to reduced theoretical and subject specific input without extremely careful planning. Even where such support is planned for, it will be entirely dependent on the staffing and expertise within the school, and the goodwill of those people assigned training roles. Again, in the North Yorkshire example, such roles are being assigned to UPS3 teachers as a way for them to “earn” their money, rather than to those who necessarily want to train teachers. In this example, teachers were given only an hour of time to fulfil the role and no extra, subject specific input. This is clearly not a good way to build high quality teacher training. It is a far cry from the tight knit bodies of mentors which are built up over years at the best teaching universities. Two North-Eastern trainees I spoke to in the last few months noted that they had received no subject specific training in their training schools at all. One even noted that they had spent two hours learning about De Bono’s Thinking Hats and the “Flipped Classroom.” The new model of ITT seems to be entrenching many of the issues Michael Gove began battling back in 2010: the rejection of traditional methods; a suspicion of direct instruction; a slavish focus on the perceived demands of Ofsted; a lack of subject specific training; ignorance of educational research and theory and so on. This issue will only get worse as the expertise of universities is further cut up and divided between increasing numbers of school based trainers.
The impact of the reforms to ITT admissions are certainly a worry for anyone involved in teaching or teacher education. This is certainly not a blog supporting universities at the expense of schools. There are many schools who are doing an excellent job, working with universities, to provide outstanding training. Equally there are several universities whose provision might well raise some questions. What is important is that we keep flying the flag for high quality provision, and demand that the government does not continue to damage the future of British education through its ideological crusade against university based education.