What should we do about ITT?

I’m not sure about the word training. I trained my toddlers to use a potty. And we’re about to get a puppy and I’ll have to train that to do things as well. Not to eat my kids’ homework and so on. But why do we use the word training for teachers? It connotes compliance and technical competency in simple actions. But surely we want a profession that questions, thrives, grows and lives with complexity? Is training really the right word?

In the light of the Carter review there are many people considering what the best course of action for teacher training is now. Some have argued that teachers should just learn on the job. Like they do in MacDonalds. Others that the focus for the PGCE should be 90% subject specific (ignoring primary and special education almost entirely). Dominic Cummings has collated an excellent blog with many wise and thoughtful contributions from across the profession and this is well worth a read. But I think we’re missing a trick in simply asking what we should do with the current model. I think we need to go right back to basics. We need to ask what would need to be done in order to ensure that we have a profession that is:-

1. Knowledgeable

2. Respected

3. Autonomous

4. Trusted

Mere ‘training’ will not meet these goals on its own. Like Alison Peacock, I think that we need to rethink the notion of qualified so that once we are given QTS status, this simply marks the beginning of our professional journey and that this is something that continues for life. I think, like Tristram Hunt, that being ‘qualified’ should be a bare minimum requirement for all teachers and that this qualification should mark a level of competency that runs way beyond a subject specialism to knowledge about children, psychology, behaviour, assessment, pedagogy and curriculum design. I believe that teaching is every bit as complex and important as medicine. And a darned sight more important than law. And it should therefore carry the same status. And so, I would argue that three things need to be done:-

1. More time allocated to the qualifying period.

Rather than arguing about the benefits of this or that route, I think all should be subsumed into one university based, two year Masters course. It is nigh on impossible to cover all that needs to be covered in a one year PGCE, hence arguments about where emphasis should be placed. Some of the most successful courses are those that take the UG route for primary teachers – the B.Ed. It used to be the case that most of these courses were 4 years long, but tuition fees put many students off applying so they reduced to 3. What if the fourth year led to a Master’s qualification? Certainly, many of my former fourth year students at MMU were writing at Masters level for their undergraduate dissertation.

For Post Grad routes, I’d argue the case that we need a two year qualifying course with a third year in situ as an NQT. Why? Because anything less leads to less secure knowledge of subject specific content; of understanding of pedagogy and of a range of contrasting settings which allow the profession to see the range of provision available. Such a two year course might look like this:-


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But of course, this would be expensive, right? Well, yes. But the NHS fund university education for their future employees in a lot of areas. It’s considered an investment. What might the wider cost benefits be? Well, we know that the impact of a highly effective teacher on not only the educational outcomes of a child are significant, but, as Dylan Wiliam frequently points out, there is also an impact on the future health and wealth of the child (Levin et al 2007, Hanushek and Wossmann, 2010) – i.e. a future saving of public funds. In addition, what are the costs to the public purse of the high turnover of teaching staff that we have at present? Our current “get ’em young, burn ’em out and replace” policy cannot be sustained. Because sooner or later those burned out teachers will start to talk to others thinking of entering the profession and what we need more than anything right now is positive discourse.

2. Universities need to have credibility if they are to take responsibility for a Master’s level profession.

As in any workplace, some workers are better informed than others about their practice. Universities are no different. It seems to me that there has been an element of confusion over the years about what makes a good ITT tutor. I would argue that there are three components necessary to good practice:-

1. Relevant and recent teaching experience (perhaps all ITT tutors should be partnered with schools and work in one for a day each week?)

2. Knowledge of recent research and a minimum of a Master’s qualification. Some tutors I know still talk of VAK learners – because this was all the rage when they were last in the classroom and they have not considered the importance of keeping up to date. There needs to be closer alignment of university educational research departments and ITT provision, ideally with the ITT tutors engaging directly with research.

3. Close working relationships and partnerships with schools. This is something that many universities do well, but the input into professional training should extend beyond students into CPD. Too many universities are slow to pick up on this strand or they completely price themselves out of the market. This should be a professional partnership that opens up, for example, Athens access to partner schools and their teachers.

3. Schools (like hospitals) should have a professional duty to contribute to the training of the next generation of teachers.

When I worked at MMU, we had to beg schools to take our students. Some did not get placed until the day they were due to start their placement causing stress all round. And we had to rely heavily on stalwart schools to take on extras. In my opinion, no school should be allowed a Good or Outstanding grade from Ofsted if they shirk their responsibility to train the next generation of teachers – a pool that they are reliant on for their future success. It is a common misconception that “University based routes” do not provide on the job training – they do. But the problems they face in placing students undermines the quality of that on the job experience.

I realise that these are just thoughts, but they are what I believe is necessary to ensure the outcomes I outline at the beginning of this post. We cannot have an ITT system, as we do at present where there are deemed to be First, Second and Steerage class routes into the profession. The public need to have confidence in the quality and integrity of the profession. To do that, there needs to be the same demanding high level of challenge in all routes.

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, qualification is just the beginning. In her essay on a Royal College of Teaching, Alison Peacock outlines a membership progression of this professional body that would begin with Asssociates (on qualification) and end with Fellows for those teachers who have demonstrated a contribution to the profession in terms of practice and research that is both nationally and internationally recognised. Such high aspirations for the profession are to be welcomed and I really believe that when we have this level of quality in the system, we will no longer speak of training – we will talk about teacher development.

15 thoughts on “What should we do about ITT?

  1. I think my teacher education was ideal. Two year certificate gave me basics, with lots of TP. Then, much later, OU degree with bags of theory, then MEd putting lots into perspective. In other words, it needs to be spread out over time, and tailored to individual need. And University involvement is crucial

    1. Also 2 year trained then a supplementary year and a supplementary term for Rural Studies and Maths respectively and then OU. My original 2 year “training” actually encouraged us to think for ourselves and try different things and assess the success or otherwise of our efforts. We all had to do a teaching practice in a deprived area and if we survived this we knew we could cope with almost anything that might come our way. Then Plowden, Bullock and Cockroft gave us more guidance to add to our experience to that date. Unfortunately the follow up work on those reports fizzled out and there was a lot of so called courses that had very little to do with them and many of the recommendations were just forgotten or ignored. Having fought for a graduate profession the BA was a disappointment with the emphasis on the subjects, but not at the same level as an ordinary degree and not enough practical professional input and the recommendations from the reports largely forgotten. What happened to every teacher is a teacher of English?

  2. I shall write a blog post on primary now, but, just to clarify, I think the point about 90% subject-specifity (and not reducing the subject dimension to ‘subject knowledge’ as your model does here) applies equally in primary and special education. Primary teachers, as much as secondary, do not need to learn ‘ways of assessing’ but ‘ways of assessing maths’, ‘ways of assessing biology’. Primary teachers do not need to learn ‘planning lessons’ but ‘planning geography lessons’ and ‘planning literacy lessons’. I perhaps did not make this clear enough in my post (I’ll try harder next time) but my argument is not that more time should be spent learning more subject knowledge (though we do need more of that) but rather that 90% of ITE should be done through the lens of the subject – hence the call for ‘subject-specificity’ instead of the much narrower ‘subject knowledge’.

  3. Looking back I’m so very glad I did a 4 year BEd course. At the time I probably didn’t fully appreciate the breadth of experience it gave me and the chance to work in a whole variety of schools has proved invaluable to me in moving from one context to another. I do worry that ITT is being stripped back so that it is shorter and shorter, with no real chance for trainees to breathe and think and develop their own styles. My feeling is that teaching is a subject in its own right, and as such is more than deserving of extended study. Doing this study *alongside* a subject degree as per a BEd is probably as close as you can get to ‘ideal’ in my view. And yes, the last year probably could be master’s level study – that’s a great idea.

  4. Some great ideas prompting a good deal of reflection.

    I have a real concern about the comparison between hospitals and schools. We have graduate nurses pursuing masters level qualifications, knowing more high level theory while patients die in hospital beds due to neglect and failure to provide basic simple care.

    I am not convinced that a masters level education/training is necessary for many teachers and I am equally convinced that the state cannot afford to pay for such a workforce, an issue that will become more of a problem as the UK declines in global importance.

    1. hmm, yes, the comparison I was making between health and education was not about the comparable levels of qualification, but the duty that hospitals have to offer placements to health professionals and the funding that is available for HE routes for doctors and physiotherapists for example. As for masters level, I think it is important that teachers develop the level of criticality and reflection that masters level requires – I just don’t think that PGCE courses have that level of rigour. Even our supposed M level assessment tasks were not really assessed at that level on the PGCE because the course was too compressed and it was not felt that they’d been given a fair amount of time to write to that level.

  5. Thoroughly agree (too late for the retired like me), but is there a place for the recommendation in Bullock that every teacher should be a teacher of English?

  6. I think your three main points are all valid. I blogged on the same topic a short while ago http://wp.me/p44DHA-2E (probably more in the vein of how we might build on what we’ve got rather than re-design from the ground up – I very much admire your approach though) and those issues of time, quality of tutors’ knowledge, and placements all featured. Interestingly, to quite a large extent the two approaches seem to have ended with some vaguely similar ideas. I would be interested to know whether you think my suggestion of building on the SKE model, and spreading the M-Level work over three or four years, would represent a move in the right direction (if we can’t go all the way to 2-year ITE) or, whether reducing M-Level work in the PGCE would be a backwards step. My justification is in my blog but maybe I’m asking whether you think the theory and research has to come early, or whether (as I think) trainees benefit from getting the hang of basic classroom practice first.
    Your points about the cost are perceptive. I think this argument needs to be made quite strongly about payback at the moment because if we do have a serious recruitment crisis – and we are possibly on the brink – then that might just be the incentive the DfE/NCTL require to find some more money.
    Also, are you aware of the model that Imperial / Canterbury CC have trialled with QTS embedded in an undergrad physics degree. I don’t think it will be to your liking as it stands – the QTS is very squished – but it does show that the NCTL have the door open to undergrad teacher training, at least a little bit.
    Best wishes

  7. I think there are lots of interesting points here which I can relate to and have a strong opinion! I want to focus on placements. As someone who led an outstanding GTP, I could see the quality of teaching was built on developing relationships and thorough knowledge of pupils and students. Moving to leading UG and PG primary programmes I saw how we put our students in front of classes (often in a desperate situation to find placement ) and in 6/8/10 weeks expected students to demonstrate quality outcomes without the time to build relationships etc. In response to this, we developed a placement model for our UG with Y1 spending a day a week (every week) in school. The university taught days draw upon and use this practical knowledge to examine and test theory. Theory into practice and practice into theory.
    Schools LIKE this model. Why? They see the students develop over the year.
    Students have demonstrated very good teaching skills. We have secured 250 placements with relative ease.
    My point here is that we need creative and alternative models to professional learning on our ITE programmes.

  8. Although I am sure much has changed, I think that the PGCE focused far too heavily on theory that had little initial use when we were thrown into the classroom after 6 weeks. Rather than learning about Vygotsky I would have liked to have watched some lessons (live or on a movie) and learnt about practical strategies. I also had one of my worst teaching experience on the PGCE, although I laugh about it now:


  9. Debra, thanks for this – I too have been musing on this question (http://paulltnt2013.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/brick-walls-research-universities-and.html?view=magazine) and think that we need to think about the more holistic nature of IT(E) as a process over more than 1 year (PG route). I would like to see some more mobility between the school and the HEI in the first 2-3 years in school (I am getting less fond of the term NQT which sounds too “finished” and prefer the term beginning teacher).

    On Monday I will try to get across the message to a group of secondary PGs just starting this year of the important of the areas above – but the time I will get to explore the “research” and “psychology” quadrats will be tiny – all I can really hope to do is to open some minds to the possibilities and hope that they will stay open over the pressure of the first years of teaching in school.

    We are also developing a M level programme to build on the PGCE (or the BEd) which we are calling a Masters in Pedagogy and Praxis – this will be driven by an interest determined by the teaching in the school and we (the HEI) will provide the research and the models / theories to allow them to develop this idea in their institutions.

    However I do not see much move from politicians or policy makers to support this. Would love to chat more.

  10. There is nothing at all with which I disagree here, particularly the strength of the UG Primary Education programme which gives (in my opinion) by far the broadest and most considered experience for students. I teach across three routes (UG, PG and School Direct). This route is hardly ever mentioned in current discourse; I hope that this is because its future is safe, although of course I may be wrong. Attrition within SD and PG appears much higher in contrast and UG entrants seem better prepared, more resilient and more optimistic in terms of their own efficacy, even if their ability in front of the children is similar initially.

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