The importance of universities’ role in teacher training has been stressed by a major government-commissioned review of the field.
Despite facing mounting difficulties in recent years, which have seen massive reductions to universities’ teacher training places as government policy moved towards a school-led system, the Carter review of initial teacher training suggests higher education institutions are an integral part of the landscape.
However, the review has also prompted criticism over a suggestion that the postgraduate certificate of education – one the main academic qualifications offered to students – should be “optional” to qualifying as a teacher.
In his foreword to the review, Sir Andrew Carter – the headteacher who led the review – said “partnership is the key” and that the “diversity of provision, whilst identified as a challenge by some, is probably a strength of the system”.
“Sometimes universities will take the lead, sometimes and increasingly, it will be the schools that lead the way,” he writes. “However, neither can do it alone and our review has made recommendations that emphasise the strength of working together within a system that is increasingly school led.”
The report, which was drawn together by a panel involving university and schools representatives, says “it is difficult to draw conclusions about whether one route into teaching is any more effective than another. We have found strengths across all routes.”
“Universities can benefit from school involvement in commissioning, facilitating and disseminating research and other forms of development and enquiry,” it says.
“Similarly, schools can benefit from the expertise of universities to become research-rich environments and to help them drive school improvement and impact positively on pupil outcomes and achievements.”
The report highlights specific benefits university involvement can bring – including evidence-based teaching and access to research – which was supported in its recommended changes to policymakers.
“We believe it is critical that ITT [Initial Teacher Training] should teach trainees why engaging with research is important and build an expectation and enthusiasm for teaching as an evidence-based profession,” the report says. It also states that there are “many universities that are home to world-leading research and assessment organisations”.
“Overall, we’re pleased with the report,” said James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers. “It emphasises the strengths of school-university partnerships and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of suggestion that the university role should be marginalised.
“There are a number of good things in here. It does very welcomingly say that more emphasis needs to be given to the importance of research in teacher standards. It does point in the direction of new models of partnerships, [but] that’s something that Ucet and the university sector are encouraging.”
Samantha Twiselton, director of the Institute for Education at Sheffield Hallam University and one of the review’s panel members, was also pleased that the report recognised the value of higher education institutions’ participation in ITT.
“The review team has had the privilege of experiencing some of the finest examples of university-led and school-led teacher training provision,” Professor Twiselton said.
“In a system where partnership is critical for success, I am pleased that this report underlines the essential importance of universities in delivering teacher training, conducting research, and providing school partners with academic expertise, all of which can support the very best classroom practice.”
However, Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of the Million+ group of universities, said a recommendation in the review that the postgraduate certificate in education should be regarded as “optional” to qualified teacher status “flies in the face of the evidence of high performing countries like Finland”.
“The next government must make a clear commitment to university-led teacher education provision and to a teaching profession where professional and academic qualifications and professional development become the norm.”
He also said: “The implication that high quality teacher education is not linked to whether that provision is led by schools or universities is misleading when universities deliver high quality ITT and underpin national and regional teacher supply.”