School-led partnerships setting the benchmark for high quality teacher training. Seriously?

Ofsted’s latest press release about initial teacher training is ‘misleading, inaccurate and inappropriately political’. Not my words, but the words of James Noble-Rogers, head of UCET, in a letter yesterday to Sir Michael Wilshaw. Apart from the numerous inaccuracies in the press release, Noble-Roger’s main charge is that:

The OFSTED inspection regime is now open to the charge that, far from reporting candidly and with impunity on the state of provision, it is concerned to seek to justify government policy on ITT. There must now remain a suspicion that OFSTED ratings are a reflection of bias against university involvement in ITT. 

This is a very sorry state of affair which, unfortunately, was entirely predictable. Whilst the HEI sector has worked tirelessly with schools to create partnerships where high quality teacher education can flourish, those very same schools and other organisations such as Teach First have benefited from ideological and political reforms which, in my view, are clearly unsustainable in the longer term.

Whilst anyone with a dose of common sense knows that Wilshaw is just Gove’s puppet, there is a significant risk of irreversible damage being done to the mainstay of our initial teacher education provision in the UK, i.e. our higher education institutions. Whilst I’m well aware that I am open to criticism of individual bias (being employed by one of these institutions), I can honestly say that this is not a concern driven by personal considerations.

Over the last 12 years I have worked with HEI (my own and others as an external examiner), GTP and SCITT groups. I have also had very close friends and colleagues work alongside Teach First (never a pleasant experience apparently and one best avoided, but that’s another story). Clearly, there are dedicated professionals working for the best of their students in every ITT context. However, the political bias in favour of SCITTs and Teach First is beyond a joke. Anyone with a genuine concern for the future of our teacher education programmes in the UK should stand up and speak up against Ofsted and this Government’s misleading and ill-informed propaganda about what works, and doesn’t work, in terms of quality initial teacher education.

The headteachers of schools who pander to Gove and support these politically driven reforms should take a serious look at themselves. Short term political favour and financial advantage will get them so far; but the longer term potential damage to them and their schools as these reforms are seen for what they are (unviable in terms of scale, unsustainable in terms of financial resource, and will result in poorer quality teachers) will come back to haunt them, and their schools, for years to come.

The leaders of our HEI ITT programmes should also get a grip on reality. Dancing to Ofsted’s tune is a dangerous strategy. A more robust response is needed by the sector as a whole. Gove and his SPAD attack buddies, Wilshaw, Wigdortz and others who are seeking to capitalise on the creation of ‘free’ market for ITT (or, in the case of Teach First, a ‘free’ market subsidised by millions of Government development funds), will not go away. By 2015 the damage will have been done and I’m doubtful that any future Government will reverse the damaging policies that are being inflicted on the sector right now.

These are sad times for those working within initial teacher education in the UK. Quality programmes are closing across the country, organisations that have worked in partnership for years are being turned against each other, individual academics are frightened to speak out about the truth because they are worried about their own and their colleagues’ jobs, and what counts as ‘quality’ has been turned on its head. The ‘nasty party’ has returned and is spreading its nastiness across the sector in bucket-loads.

By way of a footnote, a FOI request has been made to Ofsted and the DfE regarding the communications around this press release between these organisations. A copy of UCET’s letter to Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary at the DfE is available here. I hope a response is forthcoming but I wouldn’t hold your breath. Gove’s DfE doesn’t have a great record in this respect.

This blog was previously posted on Jonathan’s blog.

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