Carter review of teacher training needs wider scope

Teaching should keep on giving. clevercupcakes, CC BY-NC-ND

As debates rage about the best way to organise teacher training and whether teachers should be qualified at all, the findings of the ongoing Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training will be closely scrutinised.

Due to be published in December or early January, it will come more than 40 years after another landmark review on how teachers are trained in England. But unlike its predecessor, the Carter review seems much more narrowly focused on how to train the new teachers coming into the system, rather than assuring their continued professional development once they are trained. It should have greater ambition.

From James to Carter

In 1972, Margaret Thatcher, as education minister in the Heath government commissioned the James Committee of Enquiry into Teacher Education and Training. It was headed by Lord James of Rusholme, a university vice chancellor who had previously been headmaster of Manchester Grammar School. His review included one of Her Majesty’s School Inspectors, headteachers, a local education authority director and teacher trainers among its members.

In a reflection of the shifting education landscape in 2014, the Carter Review – commissioned by Michael Gove (a great admirer of Thatcher) – is led by Andrew Carter, headteacher of South Farnham School, a base for one of the newer types of School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT). Carter still has heads and teacher trainers on his review board, but they are sitting alongside members from the world of business, academies and free schools.

Limited to new teachers

One of the particular strengths of the James review was its three cycles, which put equal emphasis on a teacher’s personal education, initial training and education, in-service education and retraining. The current review appears to be limited to initial teacher training with no particular reference to continuing professional education.

This links with the current diminution of the role of universities in teaching teachers. Several universities such as Bath and Sheffield have decided to drop out from offering Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) courses altogether. This reflects an implicit decision by government, through the National Council for Teaching and Leadership, to marginalise the role of higher education in the development of England’s teachers.

Lessons from Scotland and Germany

Does this matter? Yes, according to the Scots. The 2011 review, Teaching Scotland’s Future, asserted that the “apprentice models of work-based learning” need to be questioned. It went on to stress that for new teachers:

The values and intellectual challenges which underpin academic study should extend their own scholarship and take them beyond any inclination, however understandable, to want narrow training of immediate and direct relevance to life in the classroom.

The report advocated for a close partnership between practice, theory and analytic reflection, especially in the context of the “fast pace of change in the world which our children inhabit”.

Likewise, in Germany, a ten-year review of its low ranking on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment rankings has led to a reconstruction of teacher education, both initial and continuing.

In the OECD’s analysis of these reforms it is clear that a “much-improved research establishment has fed into teacher training” so that teachers are “enabled to analyse and diagnose their students’ specific problems”. There is a tough theoretical underpinning, equivalent to the strengths of Germany’s long-standing and successful apprenticeship system, unlike in England.

Give teachers control of CPD

The Carter Review should look beyond immediate assumptions about teaching being simply a practical craft best acquired by imitation. That way lies stasis. Higher education should identify its particular contribution to improved teaching and school leadership and be answerable to the teaching profession.

Carter should insist on initial training and induction being merely the base of continuing professional growth. It is shocking that the allocated budget for masters’ courses in education at higher education appears to have fallen in the last decade. Now the Department for Education passes money directly to schools’ budgets, where it is assumed that headteachers will pay for staff to enroll on masters courses.

In my view, over half of allocated funds for university-based courses at master’s level should be held by universities, but checked and moderated by a locally based panel of teachers and academics. At secondary school level, subject associations should be involved. The other half should be earmarked at school level – half to teachers directly and half to the schools. Diversion of these funds to other activities should not be allowed.

Multiple routes into teaching examined

The recently established five routes to qualified teacher status also need to be examined by a competent auditor. The high levels of expenditure in the transactional costs of administering SCITT, Teach First, School Direct (Training), School Direct (Salaried) and PGCE require thorough analysis. As does the role of UCAS, paid to bring some stability into the application process for these courses.

If consumer choice is automatically assumed to be a route to qualitative improvement, perhaps the Carter review will simply confirm this costly multiplicity of options. But at least this assumption should be tested.

Berlin wall

Schools should not be the only keepers and commissioners of the theory and academic underpinnings needed in teacher education. There should be a genuine exchange with higher education and a recognition of distinct strengths on each side.

Some universities, of course, collude in maintaining a “Berlin Wall” between theory and practice. Their increasingly marketised world doesn’t need to consider “the public good” – as pressures mount to cover costs and accumulate financial reserves. This can lead to a sidelining of wider responsibilities, especially if Ofsted appears to recommend large-scale and expensive changes to their PGCE courses. Likewise, a low or indifferent research ranking of an education department also affects a university’s preparedness to maintain support for it.

So Carter has much important work to do. The standing and expertise of teachers is at stake and without credible and rigorous backing from universities, the quality and continued improvement of schools simply isn’t possible.