Disastrous consequences: Teacher training proposals are flawed

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Concerned: Dr Patrick Roach is worried that government proposals could result in some teacher training providers "falling short or simply deciding to walk away from teacher training"

The DfE’s proposed overhaul of initial teacher education could have been an opportunity to grow the profession – but instead it could have disastrous consequences as teacher training providers threaten to walk away. Dr Patrick Roach explains


Tens of thousands of hopeful, optimistic, and ambitious individuals are embarking on their entry to one of the most important and rewarding careers as they start the process of becoming a member of the teaching profession.

They will join hundreds of thousands of teachers who, every day, nurture and inspire children and young people in their classrooms and laboratories, halls, gyms and playing fields the length and breadth of the country.

However, the professional status of teachers and teaching has been thrown into question by the government’s hurried consultation over its initial teacher training (ITT) market review (DfE, 2021), which proposes an overhaul of the way in which new teachers are trained.

It is, of course, right to address the long-standing concern that, regrettably, as many as 40 per cent of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years because of a lack of effective practical support in schools or because of a lack of certainty about their future career opportunities and prospects.

As they stand, the government’s proposals would require all teacher training providers to undertake a process of reaccreditation which could result in some providers falling short or simply deciding to walk away from teacher training. Cambridge University has already threatened to pull out of ITT if the plans go ahead (Virgo & Robertson, 2021). Even the DfE admits the changes will lead to “significant market configuration” and that “new capacity will be necessary”. If the changes result in world-leading universities such as Cambridge withdrawing from teacher education, we should be worried about the wider and longer-term implications for the status of the profession.

Of course, there must be a framework of standards which teacher education providers are required to meet and there should be no harm in keeping these under review. If our teacher education system is to have status and currency both domestically and internationally, then the quality of initial teacher education must be assured from the outset and not left to chance.

But, while it may be worth debating raising the bar in terms of ITT provision, a bigger challenge for government is how to guarantee that practice in all schools is appropriate, developmental, and that new teachers are properly supported and treated fairly.

And, teachers are concerned, too, that being part of a profession remains important. There are question marks over the portability of qualifications and the consistency of training that will be offered across institutions if these reforms go ahead. No teacher should be held back in their career because of the lack of ambition by their employer or by schools motivated to protect their own interests and league table position.

So, while it is important for individual schools, local authorities, and academy trusts to demonstrate their commitment to develop teacher talent, capacity, and resilience, this should be a shared endeavour that benefits the whole profession in the longer term.

While we have witnessed a recruitment “bounce” during the pandemic, analysists are also clear that the up-tick in ITT recruitment is unlikely to be sustained.

Prior to the pandemic, the government had failed to meet the overwhelming majority of its ITT recruitment targets. This is not the fault of providers, but an indictment of a system that has, over the last decade, become increasingly unattractive to UK graduates. With difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers of new entrants to the profession, the government must avoid making the situation worse. Ministers need to listen and take stock.

In our response to the government’s consultation (NASUWT, 2021), we do not suggest that there is no merit in looking at strengthening the quality of teacher education. This must be done in a considered and informed way, building on the support of schools, the profession and ITT providers. Most of all, however, the voices of new teachers need to be at the centre of any efforts to shape and reshape the future of initial teacher education.

Overhauling initial teacher education could yet be an opportunity to address teachers’ concerns and to grow the profession, but it could have disastrous consequences for the professional status of teachers and for the future of the profession if it fails to create the conditions whereby teachers are supported to become the highly skilled and regarded professionals our children and young people deserve.

  • Dr Patrick Roach is general secretary of the NASUWT. Read his previous articles for Headteacher Update via https://bit.ly/htu-roach

Further information & resources

  • DfE: Initial teacher training (ITT) market review: recommendations, consultation, July 2021 (now closed): https://bit.ly/3jfUo4G
  • NASUWT: Consultation Response: Initial Teacher Training Market Review Report, August 2021: https://bit.ly/2WsLUyd
  • Virgo & Robertson: Statement on the UK Government Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review report, Cambridge University, July 2021: https://bit.ly/3ykMqeS


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