Failure to innovate leaves sector playing teacher training catch-up

Universities were too slow to take lead, leaving them vulnerable to policy change, scholar argues

March 19, 2015

Universities have been criticised for failing to innovate in teacher education when they had the chance, leaving them vulnerable to policy change that has pushed such provision into turmoil and left the sector out of pocket.

Viv Ellis, professor of education and head of the department of education at Brunel University, made the comments after the publication of his book Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring the Academic Work, co-authored with Jane McNicholl, associate professor of science education at the University of Oxford.

Professor Ellis said that “when the times were good”, universities did not develop teacher education to safeguard against policy changes.

The government’s School Direct programme – under which student teachers can be recruited straight into schools – has reduced the money awarded to universities to train teachers, leading some institutions to ditch courses such as the PGCE.

But Professor Ellis told Times Higher Education that in the past 30 years, “English universities have been pretty slow to have their own ideas about what teacher education should be”.

He said: “What we’ve ended up with in the current situation is a responsive mode from universities to what policy wants – whatever party it is. We can’t just carry on blaming policy. Universities have to come forward and say, ‘Right, there has to be a different way of doing this.’”

Professor Ellis said that while the income stream from student teachers was flowing and politicians such as the former education secretary Michael Gove kept out of teacher training, the status quo served universities well. However, the coalition’s policy shift caught the sector cold, he added, leading to education department closures, with the threat of more to come.

In the final chapter of his book, Professor Ellis writes of three “very urgent” things institutions should do. “Working with the profession” may seem an obvious and already established practice, but Professor Ellis said that universities should go beyond “individual schools” and work with “professional teaching in the way that medical and nursing departments work with professional nursing and medicine”.

“It’s about real engagement with the profession,” he said, “although we do think [universities] have to take the lead. That’s going to be good for the profession and good for education departments.”

This engagement would help counter the “misalignment” of certain training routes, where trainees are taught one thing by universities and another by schools.

“Some people call it ‘practice shock’,” he said. “They do their PGCE sessions in the university, they get taught research-based things about how to teach writing in a primary school and then they go to a primary school and are told, ‘That’s not how you do it at all!’”

He added that “mediating relationships between student teachers and the schools in which they are placed for long periods of time” was essential.

Finally, universities can “educate teachers in schools in partnership; at the same time you are building the research-led cultures…playing to the strengths of the university, benefiting the schools and the profession”, Professor Ellis said. “That’s where we end up in the book.”

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Reader/Professor of Race and Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY
Professor of Teacher Education LEEDS BECKETT UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest