The government wants the “best universities to establish ‘centres of excellence’” in initial teacher training (ITT), among other plans laid out in its latest education White Paper.
In Educational Excellence Everywhere, the government reaffirms its commitment to moving towards a school-led ITT system, but acknowledges the important role played by higher education institutions in the training of teachers, a move described by one leader of a university group as "long overdue".
"We will reform our allocation of teacher-training places so that ITT is delivered by the best higher education institutions and school-led providers where new entrants are most needed, where places are most likely to be filled, and where training is most likely to be delivered well," the paper says.
"There will continue to be an important place for high-quality universities in ITT with a strong track record in attracting well-qualified graduates. We want the best universities to establish ‘centres of excellence’ in ITT, drawing on their world-leading subject knowledge and research. We will seek to recognise both the best university and school-led ITT through guaranteed, longer-term allocation of training places, allowing providers to plan their provision into the future."
The government also announced plans to introduce new “quality criteria” for ITT providers. The criteria will focus on areas such as the quality of training programmes and the effectiveness of providers in recruiting high-quality trainees. Assessment of providers’ ability to meet these criteria will be factored into future allocation of training places.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, which includes many major ITT institutions, said: “The acknowledgment that universities are an important part of the landscape is long overdue, but the Department for Education must consult with universities about any measures to judge the quality of providers.
"Discussions about the teaching excellence framework have revealed that many metrics are proxy measures for quality and not fit for purpose," she said. "It is therefore very important that prejudices about the quality of institutions based on historic reputation do not infect the debate that needs to be had as to how universities are defined."
David Spendlove, head of initial teacher education at the University of Manchester, said universities had "repeatedly been asking for" new quality criteria to help apportion allocations, and that the call to establish university centres of excellence in ITT was recognition of the "naivety" of previous policy.
"There have been ongoing discussions with a collection of Russell Group providers with the DfE for some time and I am hoping this is finally a recognition of the naivety of previous policy which both marginalised and penalised the very best providers who are committed to excellence, high-quality research and social responsibility," he said.
"As such it will be interesting how the government defines the ‘best’ universities given the multitude of ‘best’ university tables that already exist."
Samantha Twiselton, director of the Institute for Education at Sheffield Hallam University and one of the panel members of the Carter review of initial teacher training, said she welcomed the idea of centres of excellence, but warned against any "knee-jerk" assumption about the kinds of universities that had the highest-quality ITT.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities’ Council for the Education of Teachers, said the centres were a "very interesting idea" but they "should not, however, undermine other high-quality training programmes".