This is very good policy making by Labour. Tristram Hunt is right to identify that whichever party forms the next government faces, in his words, a ‘big, bloody challenge’ in terms of teacher recruitment. Hunt is correct, also, in criticising the NCTL’s approach to ITT as ‘random’ and ‘haphazard’.
A cursory glance at the very different recruitment figures for school direct and for HEI based initial teacher training shows the scale of the problem. At a time of growing teacher shortages School Direct recruited only 61 per cent of its allocation last year. In contrast, conventional university-led teacher education met 89 per cent of its targets.
But School Direct has not only contributed to an ITT supply problem – there are major issues, also, with the quality of the training it provides. The Geographical Association (GA) has produced a recent report which concludes that trainees on school based routes have inadequate access to subject knowledge specialists - because schools are not able to divert staff resources to provide subject specialist training to one or two trainees. There is also a problem with what the GA calls ‘extreme fragmentation’ – a single trainee in a school limits opportunities for trainees to work with one another and to learn from each other.
And whilst the NCTL fiddle with School Direct, HEIs burn. Unable to plan for even the medium term because of single year allocations, PGCE courses are closing and the capacity of universities to play their part in teacher training is diminishing (closed HEI courses cannot be easily, or quickly, resurrected – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…).
Nor has the School Direct route been subject to proper scrutiny. The NCTL has not commissioned Ofsted to report on the quality of the provision provided by School Direct. This is fairly extraordinary when you think about it. Surely the NCTL wants to have evidence of the quality of training provided by School Direct?
The wheel turns a full circle. I remember a conversation I had with Charlie Taylor, Chief Executive of the NCTL in October 2012, shortly after the announcement of the policy drive to promote school based initial teacher training through the School Direct route had been made. In the course of an hour’s discussion I warned him about the consequences of an over reliance on schools to provide the next generation of newly qualified teachers; I cautioned that schools may not have the capacity to provide sufficient ITT places (the first duty of schools, remember, is to educate pupils). I argued that HEI/school based partnerships were developing and growing in confidence and that this was not the time to de-stabilise HEI initial teacher training provision when 90% of HEI based courses were rated ‘good’ by Ofsted. I predicted that over hasty moves to school based training would result in a decline in applications and accepted places because individual schools did not have the capacity to advertise and interview numerous applicants. I informed Mr Taylor that HEIs did a very good job in promoting interest in, and applications to, teacher training in their local areas.
It gives me no pleasure that my fears, expressed to Charlie Taylor, in 2012 have been realised in 2015.
To finish on a personal note. I worked in teacher education for 14 years, latterly as the Head of the School of Education at Kingston University. I know the sector and I knew the risks that were being taken with teacher supply. School Direct has been driven by ideology (an irrational hatred of university based teacher training on the part of right wing education ministers; an ignorance of the complex issues involved on the part of Lib Dem partners in the coalition, and a reckless disregard of the risks involved by the NCTL.)
This is a catastrophe which could, and should, have been avoided.