Ofsted alarm at teacher trainers 'selling' one pedagogy

Promoting one view of teaching above all others risks 'misinforming trainees', Ofsted tells ITE providers

Dan Worth

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It is "alarming" that some teacher training providers are "selling" a fixed view of pedagogy, risking “misinforming” trainees' future classroom practice, Ofsted has warned.

Helen Matthews, a senior inspector with the watchdog, was speaking at the annual conference of the National Association of School-Based Trainers (NASBTT) today.

She outlined the good and bad practices that inspectors had seen during the 26 inspections of initial teacher education (ITE) providers - covering 36 age phases - that it has been able to carry out so far in 2021.

Of those inspected, only one has achieved an "outstanding" grade, while 16 were rated as "good". A further 12 inspections resulted in a "requires improvement" rating and seven were listed as "inadequate".

Although Ms Matthews said the number of inspections carried out so far meant the findings were unrepresentative of the entire ITE market, she did flag up several factors that came up repeatedly that had led providers to be marked down.

Pedagogies sold as 'gold standard'

The most notable was the concern that some ITE providers are “selling specific pedagogies as if they are the gold standard” to the point where trainees were not given insights into other teaching methods and ideas.

“What we found sometimes, which is actually quite alarming, is where partnerships had chosen a particular pedagogy... and basically were selling this to their trainees so that everything that trainees did, everything they planned, everything they introduced, had to be around [this] pedagogy.”

In her presentation she cited the example of an ITE provider using Bloom's taxonomy in this way, noting that, while she "has nothing against Bloom's”, a lot of its theories “have actually been discredited”.

The risk of pushing it as the only idea worth knowing could have the effect of “misinforming trainees” to the extent that they could spend “the next 10 years believing that's the best way to teach”.

Instead, she said providers needed to make sure trainees understand there are lots of different pedagogical ideas to help inform their expertise for when they first enter the classroom and beyond.

“[We want to] teach trainees that there are lots of pedagogies out there, lots of ideas about how we teach and actually what we want them to do is be reflective practitioners for the rest of their teaching careers,” she said.

“So it's fine for you to let them explore different pedagogies, and different views and different research, but don't sell it as something [that's] the be-all and end-all.”

The importance of early reading teaching

Other issues that Ms Matthews said had come to light during the inspections included that some ITE providers just simply “won’t comply with the ITE criteria” while others had only “superficially implemented” the new Core Content Framework and were not delivering on its key requirements.

“[They had taken] a tick box approach where actually they didn't demonstrate a good understanding of what the core contents within that framework are,” she said.

“For instance, issues around not really understanding adaptive teaching, thinking that teaching differentiation was the same as teaching adaptive teaching, which clearly they are not."

Phonics

Another point Ms Matthews raised was that ITE providers needed to focus on was how they deliver their early reading teaching, including systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) programmes – noting that a strong delivery of this was often a hallmark of some of the best providers inspected.

“In the best partnerships we saw that the teaching of early reading, including SSP, was not only prioritised, but it was taught exceptionally well so that it wasn't reliant on trainees having to learn their trade, in terms of early reading, while on placement, but actually what they did on placement complemented what they learned in the centre,” she said.

“And that's really important because all too often we found some partnerships where the centre-based training in early reading had to have been better and actually it meant many trainees ended up learning on the job," she added.

Indeed, she said that most of the best providers inspected showed a “real cohesion between what's happening in the centre and what's happening on placement”.

Subject expertise

Ms Matthews also said that positive inspections also coincided with providers that made the best use of subject expertise in how trainees were taught.

“They were people that were experienced, that had looked at a range of up-to-date, pertinent research around their subject," she said.

"They understood some of the nuances of best subjects but equally they had a really good understanding of some of those core concepts that trainees need is a minimum requirement.”

No shifting goalposts

Ms Matthews ended her presentation by aiming to reassure providers on the inspection system by outlining that the ongoing Initial Teacher Training market review by the Department for Education would not impact any forthcoming inspections with providers.

“I know, there's a lot of uncertainty out there at the moment in the sector [but] we are going to continue to inspect from January. We’ve scheduled for spring and summer term and, whatever happens with the DfE market review, we will still be doing what we're doing,” she said.

“There won't be any sort of changing goalposts as far as our inspection regime is concerned.”

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Dan Worth

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