Are we pushing more early career teachers to burnout?

Proposed ITT reforms undermine our professional learning and could lead to teacher shortages, says Dame Alison Peacock

Alison Peacock

Why the rush to reform initial teacher training?

Teaching, as a profession, is ethical and complex, and not easily articulated or encapsulated in either curriculum or policy documentation. What is seen in one context benefits from evaluation and elaboration in others. 

Ours is a profession that cannot fully be appreciated through the observation of performed actions alone. Beginning teachers and their mentors deserve the best support that we, as a profession, can offer. 

Pedagogy is a key feature of our profession. Making, refining and justifying decisions is a core element of what it is to be a public professional, entrusted with the education of the young people whom we are privileged to support.

Discussions, insights and research are all brought together under teacher-education partnerships, which includes the essential work of both school- and university-based colleagues. 

Teacher training: The need to adapt and develop continually

This teacher training ecosystem worked well. It was not perfect – nothing ever is – but it helped to develop teachers who were skilled at adapting to their particular context.

And then along came the ITT market review. Much whispered about, and dropped on the profession in the twilight of the school year. 

Although some aspects of this review are to be welcomed, the proposal as a whole is severely lacking.

We agree with the market review's prioritising of investment in teacher expertise. This will help partnerships to continue improving the quality of teaching, in turn empowering teachers to reduce the barriers of social disadvantage

To sustain the transformational impact of education, teachers make practical judgments and take action pulling from cognition, intellect and ethics. They engage in debates across the profession in order to transcend their context. It helps the profession to adapt and continually develop. 

In this sense, teaching is a collective endeavour: one based on connections and relationships between schools, society, politicians and higher education.

Practising teaching is important, but time must be given to developing knowledge, curriculum design and assessment. Our university provision has much to offer in this regard, through school partnerships. Universities must remain involved in initial teacher training. 

By the exchange of knowledge, experiences can be lifted from their contexts and evaluated in relation to wider understandings. That way, our children benefit from teachers who are disciplined in their professional learning. 

Pushing more teachers to burnout

There is a huge irony that the teacher training market review calls for the education of our teachers to be “evidence-based”, while neglecting to include evidence of the efficacy of this reform. Real learning in ITT needs careful sequencing, but it also needs to engage with trainees’ values, beliefs and preconceptions, combining the personal domain with the practical. 

The current market structure in England supports the training of up to 30,000 teachers annually. Yes, the current process of applying for teacher education programmes can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Yes, over time it may be desirable to make this simpler, for example by amalgamating some providers regionally. 

However, there is no evidence that significant financial economies of scale would be achieved by reducing the number of ITT providers. 

The market review calls for a new set of “quality requirements” that all ITT providers can evidence, following a “robust accreditation process”. The existing accreditation resulted in all ITT providers receiving a judgement from Ofsted of "good" or better under the previous inspection framework. Presumably, this new process will be even more robust than the Ofsted six-day inspection of the previous framework? 

The review also introduces the notion of mass intensive practice, taking place over four weeks, and would require teachers to experience lessons, observing in large groups. Has anyone considered the reality of intense scrutiny of children and young people? The goodwill of schools is endlessly tested. Does the government seriously think such reforms can be provided without funding incentives

What about rural and coastal districts, where it may be more difficult to achieve a range of lead providers? This disruption could push more early career teachers to burnout, and cause teacher shortages. 

Some universities may decide that the process of reaccreditation by an unnamed body is something they prefer to avoid. We are not told how long this reaccreditation is for or what the review process will be. 

The timing and rationale for this review are premature. In this rush to reform and start again, we overlook the fact that the core content framework is very new, and that the Early Career Framework was introduced during a pandemic, when pressures on schools and placements have been intense. 

These frameworks need to be fully embedded. Where gaps emerge, then time to reflect will be helpful. A review of the number of ITT providers could be conducted, to ensure local partnerships, thus simplifying the application process. 

However, mass reaccreditation will be costly and could result in the loss of some high-quality providers from the system. A rushed consultation process does not benefit the system

This is not about being alarmist or histrionic. The plan is unwise and unhelpful and risks significant disruption to a sector that is currently meeting the requirements of trainees, school partnerships and national priorities admirably.

Dame Alison Peacock is chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching

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