Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Right to an Outstanding Teacher

published 27 August 2021 updated 6 September 2021
written by:

You couldn’t make it up. Claim you are concerned about a high-quality teacher training offer for the sector and impose on the sector a one-size-fits-all, highly prescribed, and tightly regulated model. Say you are in consultation mode but do it over the summer when no-one is around, and for good measure cut the mandated minimum consultation window in half just in case we spent too much time thinking about the recommendations of this ill-conceived Review.

Tell the sector that research evidence matters but refuse to reveal the ‘evidence’ that was so compelling that led to this proposed radical overhaul in Initial Teacher Training in England. And then suggest that the Review draws on evidence but use the World Bank’s trick of mainly citing supporting evidence from research they have funded.

I’m talking, of course, about the Market Review of Initial Teacher Training Report by the Department for Education in England which was released early July. The ideological hue of the report is clear – and it comes in two colours. The first is that this is about letting more providers, including for-profits, into the Initial Teacher Training sector to make it a market, much as they have in higher education in England. The second is about a government clearly hell-bent on developing monopoly control over the training of teachers.

Whilst more market is clearly on the nose when it comes in the form of predatory firms looking to extract profits from education, so too is greater central control by government ministers who think they know better than the professionals in the sector how to train outstanding teachers. Ian Mearns, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Teaching Profession, in a recent statement asked: Does government want a market or a monopoly? It is clear to me that the government wants both! The discipline of the market and the disciplining of the state. In my view this is Bonapartism writ large, and we know where that one leads.

It also seems the Review authors can’t tell the difference between standards and standardisation. As the Department for Education who commissioned the Review has made clear, every child deserves to be taught by a teacher whose training has been structured in such a way that they meet a very high level of professional competence. That’s a set of standards. However, every outstanding teacher will tell you that what makes them outstanding is that they learn to see every child as different, and working with this difference, enables them to truly get the best out of a learner. Standardisation works the opposite way. It gives the same treatment in the same sequence despite the different needs of learners and trainees. This is a one-size-fits-all solution. Ian Bauckham, Chair of the Initial Teacher Training market review expert advisory group insists this is not the case, describing anyone who sees it differently as ‘mythmakers’.

However right across the sector, from the APPG to UCET, the Russell Group, Oxford, Cambridge, the Million Plus and many more, there is a loud and unified view that: (i) providing all teachers with exactly the same training programme regardless of differences in style, experience, subject area and phase of pupil learning; (ii) demanding regimented placements where they practise the same narrow set of skills; (iii) monitoring this through a system of ‘lead mentors’ who reduce the independence of those charged with supporting teachers on placement; and (iv) prescribing how trainee teachers are to be assessed, adds up to precisely that: a one-size-fits-all approach to Initial Teacher Training.

In the world of education, this means we treat every child and trainee teacher the same, like a cog in a wheel. Not a bad model for producing widgets, but a bad model for training teachers and an equally bad deal for a learner who has a right to expect something better.

Some commentators have aptly used the metaphor of a ‘wrecking ball’ to describe the Review’s Recommendations. I agree. And in wrecking Initial Teacher Training, they are putting the future of learners’ rights to a high-quality education at risk.

There is a groundswell of anger in the sector that this ideologically driven, ill-conceived, poorly-evidenced and costly set of proposals to radically transform Initial Teacher Training in England must be stopped in its tracks.

What do we want? Two things. One, that the government engage with the Initial Teacher Training profession in a mature conversation about how to learn from currently existing outstanding teacher education provision, understand the quality challenges out there facing some providers, and work to create best practice across the sector. Second, that we come together as a community of concerned educators, parents, and publics to advance a campaign on a learner’s right to an outstanding teacher, and trainee teacher’s right to be the very best they can be!

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.