Gove's lesson plan to train teachers raises concerns

Don't forget that universities have a critical role, warns IoE's new head. Sarah Cunnane reports

December 2, 2010

Reforms outlined in last week's education White Paper herald an "evolution rather than revolution" in teacher training, according to the Institute of Education's new head.

Chris Husbands, director-designate of the IoE, said he was "incredibly enthusiastic" about aspects of the plans set out by education secretary Michael Gove, but he also expressed a number of concerns about how the proposals would be implemented.

The White Paper includes plans for greater involvement from leading schools, with the creation of a network of "teaching schools" along similar lines to teaching hospitals.

"If you involve the best schools and the best universities, then you are likely to be providing a really outstanding basis for professional learning," Professor Husbands said.

But he added that higher education would still have an important part to play even if the system was reconfigured with a greater focus on training in the classroom.

"The current medical school model, in which you have some hospitals as teaching hospitals, takes the lead role in educating the next generation of medical practitioners.

"But that doesn't mean that there isn't an absolutely critical role for the work done back in the medical school at the university," he said.

This note of caution was echoed by Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of post-1992 universities, who warned that the changes could result in the same "geographic and urban concentration associated with teaching hospitals", and that "the current partnership arrangements between schools and universities could be undermined".

The White Paper says the new system could emulate the model of "lab schools" in countries such as Finland and Switzerland.

Professor Husbands said one concern was that lab schools "will not give any university the volume of placements that it needs". "It would have to be a very big school, or the classes are going to be packed with student teachers," he observed.

He also expressed unease about funding, and said he did not believe it was possible for schools to recruit the 35,000 students a year needed to maintain the supply of teachers. "The Training and Development Agency for Schools currently channels funding through approximately 100 universities," he said.

"It's coherent, it's manageable, it's doable. If you then change that so funding is going through 22,000 schools instead, funding will become rather chaotic."

Professor Husbands said he was "a bit concerned" that the White Paper had not said enough on "the richness of professional learning necessary to produce the best teachers".

An examination of the best teacher training in countries including Finland, the US, Australia and Singapore demonstrates that it is "very strongly led by universities working on equal terms with their partners in schools", he said.

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