Train more teachers than we need?

I just read this in The Telegraph outlining ideas for solving the teacher recruitment crisis by training more teachers than we actually need. “Almost everybody who completes their training who wants a teaching job gets one. And a significant proportion should not. That’s a very blunt statement,” says Mr. Bevan, Headteacher at a selective grammar school who clearly didn’t leave university with £50,000 worth of debt.

The subtext of his statement, which frankly is not just blunt, but stupid, is that we are training teachers who are not up to the job. If this were true, the solution would surely lie in better teacher training – not in creating lots of unemployed people already up to their eyeballs in debt. I’ll come to that thorny issue later.

There is, however, a case to be made for a slight oversupply. Not based on the assumption that trained teachers are not fit to teach, but based on the reality that having done their training, some choose not to teach. Government policy has not helped this one little bit. Take bursaries for example, which came under fire last week in a report into the very poor quality of tracking and monitoring of their effectiveness. At the moment, there is no expectation that having taken your tens of thousands of pounds to train, that you will actually teach. No contract stating that you’ll give even just two years to the classroom. One of my Science trainees in a SCITT – a brilliant young woman who passed with flying colours in every aspect of the course, paid off her student debt with her bursary and flew off to New Zealand to take up a job there. And a young trainee in another SCITT who took part in Northern Rocks this year, wrote in her postcard to the Secretary of State that of the 20 in her group, 5 had chosen not to teach at the end of it. This is the reason we may need some extra places. Not so that we can assign people to a scrap heap.

The article points to Canada as an example of where this works. This is why many of our schools are full of Canadians. I’m not sure how it benefits a country to go to the expense of training young people who then go and pay their taxes abroad. And I’m not sure how ethical it is to tempt people into paying for a vocational course when you have deliberately made it harder for them to work. Add to that the fact that tuition fees for teacher training in Canada are around £3,000 and not £9,000, not to mention lower housing costs and you see this is simply not a fair comparison.

Instead of these simplistic, ill thought out quick fixes, we need a systematic cultural shift in the way we view teacher training and retention. Money needs to be spent on keeping teachers and that means tackling workload seriously. The bottom line is we need to finally create a system in which marking, planning and administration time are properly resourced and accounted for. It’s not cheap, I know. But then neither is turning schools into academies or throwing tens of thousands of pounds at graduates who don’t even teach.

We need to stop expecting recently trained teachers to be perfect, fully formed classroom practitioners and invest heavily in their ongoing training and professional development. And if we really think about what we try to pack into their teaching, we’d move to a two year training model – something like this.B7uICQMIAAAmEug

Whatever we do, making it harder for young graduates to find work, settle down and start paying their taxes is a gross abdication of responsibility and a foolish way to build a future education system that has hope and aspiration at its heart.

5 thoughts on “Train more teachers than we need?

  1. Agreed but having just done my DET I feel there is a real lack of coverage of subject specific pedagogy. Not subject content or skills, I gained them in my masters but how to teach History knowledge and skills and the research behind this.

    1. Yes, I’m sure that’s the case. Largely because it’s almost impossible to cover everything in one year. But that’s not a good reason to create a surplus of supply – I really don’t see how one would help the other.

  2. It is hard to explain to those outside of the system the incredible mess that this current legislation have made of teacher recruitment, training and retention. When challenged they act like a two year old in a tantrum out their hands over the their ears and repeat – we’ve recruited lots more teachers, and more of them have firsts then ever before. However report and report and organisation after organisation tells us how broken the system currently is and you point to some of the reasons above.

    There are a number of problems at the moment and I think that the PGCE course is one of them. The idea that you can learn all you need to learn in order to be teacher in a year of post-granulate work – which really struggles to operate at Masters level because of everything that need to be crammed in – is crazy. We need a real re-think of the system which asks seriously a number of questions:

    1. What levels of subject specific knowledge does the teacher require? This would include the domain specific knowledge and would be very different for a teacher of A level maths as opposed to a teacher of reception. This might mean that we would have to be more specific about what level we were training for and that if you wanted to move to a different group it would involve re-training (which is what is expected in other professions a lawyer does not just move from family law to torts etc…)

    2. What level of educational knowledge does the teacher require? This would cover the educational psychology, philosophy and theory of learning and might be more similar for most trainees but would still have some difference in areas as we might want our early years teachers to have a greater understanding of child development and our KS4 teachers issues around development through puberty etc and the nature of examinations.

    3. What level of practical experience do we want teachers to have to make themselves ready to start? How many weeks working with classes before they are ready to be “let loose”?

    I have written about a possible model here – but there are a number and I think that the key components for a good teacher option would be the following:

    Part I – 2 years of undergraduate level study in subject related disciplines but linked in school curricular with the option at the end of this to move to a BA / BSc for those who decided they did not want to teach. This would include some time in the classroom to help them with these decisions.

    Part II – those who decide they do want to teach can move to the education stream for 2 more years focussed on the pedagogy, psychology and philosophy of education with different courses on options for different subject / phases and a growing increasing amount of time in school classrooms.

    At the end of Part II they would graduate with a MA / MSc in Education (Subject) or Education (Primary)

    Part III – over the next 3 years they have to take at least 50 hours per year of PD that would be focussed on reflective practice and development. If they successfully complete this they would gain the title of Master Teacher.

    In terms of organisation of this you can see from the linked post but I would suggest this was organised by clusters of HEIs and schools working together using supply needs data which can be calculate from population statistics. A slight over-supply is useful as mentioned above. Rather than bursaries I would look to have a “pay off” option which reduces the student loan over the first three years of teaching.

    1. You’ve outlined a good model for teachers’ professional education. Unfortunately, we have a government that thinks specific training for teaching is irrelevant – teaching is a ‘craft’, they say, which can be picked up on the job by any graduate with a 2:1 or higher. Universities, which would be heavily involved (rightly) in your model, are being sidelined: ministers have made it clear they prefer a school-based (chuck ’em in at the deep end) model.

      At the same time the Education Bill specifically says future teacher training will not contain any theories not backed up by evidence (ie any theory which a minister doesn’t like). But clodhopping ministers fail to realise that theories are for discussion, analysis, evaluation, synthesis (or not). No-one can ‘prove’ any particular theory of teaching ‘works’ for all at all times – but it helps to know and understand them so a particular theory could be used or discarded depending on teacher personality and type of child being taught. It should not be down to a minister, present or future, to decide which theories should be presented to teachers and which they should not be allowed to learn about.

  3. Janet, Yes as a member of the “blob” I know what these bods think of education – I have written recently in a journal of the “homage to positivism” that has swept over the government’s agenda for educational research without any real understanding. There are also a disturbing number of people who seem to have influence at the DfE who have little understanding or, or research qualifications. I’m not saying having higher degrees in education research makes you better but for a minister who keeps on about subject expertise you would think it would help! Still we know that when Gove/Gibb/Morgan say expert they mean “agrees with me”.

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