Hey, teacher, leave those trainers alone

September 26, 2013

I agree with Anthony Seldon (“Right to reply”, Opinion, 19 September): university students should receive high-quality teaching and effective student feedback should inform staff appraisals. However, I must take issue with some of his supporting arguments.

As a teacher educator, I question the rationale for taking “teacher training out of universities”. In reality, it has always been predominantly delivered in schools by schools: take the traditional PGCE, for example, where it has been the norm for trainee teachers to spend 60 days in academic-led training and 120 days based in schools. The quality of the teacher-trainee experience no longer resembles that which Seldon may have experienced 30 or so years ago. Quality assurance procedures are rigorously adhered to, close partnerships with schools promote continuing dialogue, and personal tutoring and mentoring from university and school staff offer support and constructive feedback. Module evaluation data are regularly sought and acted upon to improve the student experience. This partnership model is “the right way to go”.

The quality of teaching and learning in university teacher education is high, as is confirmed by National Student Survey results and Ofsted inspections. Those of us committed to and experienced in teacher education, with many years of proven experience in schools, insist on recruiting only the best tutors and lecturers with a record of teaching excellence (often including former headteachers), and always seek student feedback on potential lecturers’ teaching skills. Indeed, I would suggest that all university departments adopt this model.

Such recruitment practice is superior to Seldon’s dubious use of “gut instinct” to predict teachers’ potential effectiveness at interview. Since his daughter and her friends identified members of his own staff who “did not care”, one would hope that he has now revised his recruitment practices and dealt with the perceived absence of student feedback he now deems so crucial. I find it surprising that as a headteacher of six years in that school, he did not know the strengths and weaknesses of his staff and had to be alerted to them anecdotally during a trip to the airport.

Seldon’s vague suggestions about “encouraging a reflective approach”, providing “peer-to-peer mentoring” and imposing “penalties” for inadequate teaching will not in themselves produce high-quality university teachers. We need a framework to develop teaching skills, evidence-based research to enhance students’ learning and effective assessment strategies with good-quality feedback. Perhaps Seldon’s exclusive experience of the independent sector, which can bypass the regulatory requirements for formal teaching qualifications the rest of us face, has clouded his judgement.

Patrick Smith
Kendal, Cumbria


I was offended by the comments made by Samantha Twiselton, director of the Sheffield Institute of Education, in your article “Don’t be precious, sector’s teacher educators told” (News, 12 September). She implies that teacher educators in universities and colleges do not value schools and the vital role they play in educating students in this most admirable of professions.

It is demoralising enough that the coalition seeks (at almost every opportunity and with little or no evidence) to undermine the many highly successful higher education-school partnerships built upon mutual respect for the skills, expertise, experience and personal attributes of all who care about the schooling of future generations. I would welcome a few figures from Twiselton to support her assertion that higher education teacher educators are arrogant enough to think “we can do it all the best”.

I then read Anthony Seldon’s opinion piece, which continued the teacher education bashing. I have no difficulty with his analysis of the common characteristics of great teachers, nor his argument that their qualities can be encouraged and developed. What I take issue with is his narrow-minded view that the education required to develop these characteristics is achievable only in schools (hence his support for the Conservative-led “teaching school” initiative introduced in 2011).

His view that teacher educators do not take school-based training seriously is mistaken. When did Seldon last visit a teacher education unit in a university or college? NSS survey data, internal student evaluations and, yes, “peer-to-peer” observations and mentoring keep us all on our toes. Unlike Seldon overhearing his daughter and her friends talking about which of his staff made the grade, information about lecturers teaching today is continuously sought and acted upon.

There is always room for improvement and we should aim to raise standards. But I cannot accept that teacher training should be the sole preserve of schools, or that higher education-based teacher educators don’t care. We do care and do value the role schools play in producing teachers. This is a process of true “partnership”, not in the sense the coalition is misusing the term, promoting its ideology by redefining it in this context to mean “schools in the lead”.

Clive Opie
Dean of the McMillan School of Teaching, Health and Care
Bradford College

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