Universities ramp up pressure on government teacher training plans

Oxbridge reiterates threat to pull out of teacher training, as UCL slams proposals as ‘extensive and damaging disruption’

August 20, 2021
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UK universities are ramping up the pressure on the government to halt its controversial reforms to teacher training provision.

The universities of Cambridge and Oxford have reiterated their warning that they will be forced to pull out of teacher training courses if the government pushes ahead with its “fundamentally flawed” proposals.

The proposals would introduce a new accreditation system and impose stricter controls on universities’ freedom to shape their own course content. They would also replace existing relationships between the training courses and schools with larger group training activities.

Universities, school leaders and sector groups have slammed the proposals for prescribing what goes into the teacher training curriculum, which they say will reduce the quality of provision.

“This does not accord with a commitment to academic freedom in universities, which has facilitated our own innovative and ambitious teacher education curriculum,” the Cambridge response states. “The proposals appear to confuse quality with uniformity and conformity. We cannot, in all conscience, envisage our continuing involvement with initial teacher training should the proposals be implemented in their current format.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Clare Brooks, pro-director of education at UCL’s Institute of Education, added that the requirements would “fundamentally change the relationships that we have with our local partners to become much more corporate and bureaucratic”.

She said this was a particular concern for training in rural or coastal communities, where providers are working with schools that are dispersed geographically. “If you start saying to them: ‘You must have this kind of placement in this kind of environment’, that really limits their scope of who they can work with and what kind of experiences they can offer,” she said.

Professor Brooks added that the government’s proposals claim that reform is needed to improve quality in provision and that its reforms are based on best evidence but that neither could be corroborated. “Where is the evidence of these problems? Who exactly are the providers that are not giving high quality?” she said.

This was echoed in Oxford’s response to the consultation, which said that the university “would contest any assumption that the list [of proposals] reflects what the evidence tells us about high-quality, evidence-based, professional learning for teaching”.

“An over-centralised model of teacher training based on limited evidence threatens the professional status of teaching and the nation’s contributions to the international research and evidence base in the field,” the response continues.

The MillionPlus group of universities has also said that an “adequate case for such a dramatic overhaul of the well-established ITT [initial teacher training] education model, with the increased bureaucratic burden it will inevitably unleash on providers, has yet to be made”.

King’s College London said it did “not believe the education system would be well-served by a uniform and centralised approach to teacher development”, and the University of Brighton said the plans “pose huge risks nationally”.

Many of the responses also said that the timescale for implementation, by September 2022, was unrealistic. Oxford said that a costly and time-consuming process of reaccreditation, particularly given the wider challenges of the pandemic, made the plans “unworkable”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Supporting our teachers with the highest-quality training and development is the best way we can improve pupil outcomes, and we want all teachers to have a world-class start to their career.

“We continue to engage with the sector on proposed changes to initial teacher training and we will respond to the review’s recommendations later this year.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

'The MillionPlus group of universities has also said ...' More reference to these HEIs would be interesting.
This is a really interesting piece - I'm interested to know what you think the impact of launching the Institute of Teaching might be on an organisation like Teach First that offers a different route into teaching?

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