How ITT can support teaching as a 'team sport'

Diversity among teacher training providers is good for all. But how do we ensure consistency, asks Samantha Twiselton

Teacher training: How ITT providers can support the idea that teaching is a 'team sport'

No one is born a great teacher, and every new teacher needs support. The range of providers offering initial teacher training in England is a huge strength. 

Diversity creates choice for schools and those considering entering the profession, ensuring that teacher training is an option for undergraduates, experienced career changers and everyone in between. 

It also drives innovation, as school- and university-based providers strive to learn more about the most effective ways to work with trainees and – as importantly – with their mentors.

But diversity can risk inconsistency in language and form. 

Flexibility in teacher training

Maintaining different routes into teaching ensures that the profession is open to the widest pool of potential teachers, and allows providers to determine how their courses are best structured. 

However, teaching is a team sport. And it is easier to play well if, regardless of their way into the profession, teachers share a common language.

This is the challenge that the recently published initial teacher training core-content framework attempts to solve. 

The framework has been welcomed by teachers, academics, unions and representative bodies. Taken with the early-career framework, it guarantees all new teachers at least three years of high-quality, evidence-based training. 

The framework sets out a minimum expectation of what every trainee is entitled to learn about during initial teacher training across five areas: behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours. In this way, it aims to ensure that there is a common core that runs between all paths into teaching, without losing the sector’s diversity or vibrancy.

Scrutiny and debate

The framework’s publication has also generated scrutiny and debate. This is to be welcomed.

But it is right to engage with this challenge without losing sight of the prize on offer. We have never before had the opportunity to create such a coherent and supportive start to a teacher's career.

Some challenges related to the framework stem from an important misconception.

The framework sets out a foundation of content for providers to include in their courses, but deliberately does not provide a comprehensive curriculum. This means that both school- and university-based providers can ensure that trainees are taught to understand the most effective ways to engage pupils and families in the communities they serve. 

They can also dedicate time to showcasing the expertise of their partnership, for example in child psychology, cognitive science or restorative approaches to behaviour management.

This flexibility must remain a feature of ITT provision.

The highest-quality evidence

Writing in 2017, Daniel Willingham argued that all teachers should be trained to develop a mental model of learners “that would bore researchers”. 

Whereas academics often focus on the development of new theories, Willingham suggested that the ideas we share first with trainee teachers should be those that are most useful and are supported by robust evidence, rather than most novel or academically controversial. 

The ITT core-content framework aims to identify some of these essentials, without crowding out the rest.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) played a key role as an independent reviewer of the ITT core-content framework. Following Willingham’s lead, the EEF’s role was to ensure that statements in the framework are secure and reflect the highest-quality evidence available today. 

This is a real step forward in the development of policy, and something to be celebrated. It means that the framework will never be “finished”. As new evidence is generated – not least by schools, universities and charities working with the EEF – theories that are currently emerging will be strengthened or challenged. This will be reflected as the framework is updated in the future. 

Providers will also have to make judgements about how the content within the ITT core-content framework is presented, enacted and exemplified. 

Navigating tensions

Mary Kennedy has written about the “grain size” challenge of teacher training, and the choices providers must make between offering practical, classroom-ready strategies versus supporting trainees to understand wider theories of learning.

Each provider must navigate these tensions in its own way. 

The framework also places value on the importance of trainees becoming critical consumers of a broad body of research and being able to compare, contrast and critically reflect on differing approaches and experiences. We know this is such an important feature of our profession.

The ITT core-content framework is both a foundation for providers and for the profession. For the first time, new teachers will receive a joined-up programme of high-quality training for at least three years. 

It is hard to overstate the value of this coherence. Just as students are unlikely to master complex ideas first time out, so too do teachers need time and support to become experts. 

Don't stop learning

However, it is unlikely that just trainees and early-career teachers will benefit. After reading the early-career framework shortly after its publication, one deputy headteacher at an "outstanding" school in the North West commented that he could use it “as our CPD programme for the next five years”. 

While this is not the intended purpose of either document, we hope that the frameworks will support and provoke discussions about the essentials of teaching far beyond induction.

The Department for Education also has the chance to build on the foundations set out by both frameworks through the development of new qualifications, such as specialist National Professional Qualifications. 

Teachers don’t stop learning three years in, and it would be hugely beneficial if new opportunities were created for teachers to become specialists in areas such as behaviour, assessment or curriculum development.

Together, these changes make 2020 an exciting year for teacher training and development. 

Professor Samantha Twiselton is director of the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University. She tweets @samtwiselton

This article has been written with the unanimous support of the ITT core-content advisory group 

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