Teacher apprenticeships: why they won't work

Switching to a 'competency-based' approach to teacher training would devalue teacher knowledge, says Sam Jones

Sam Jones

Teacher apprenticeships: why they won't work

The Institute for Apprentices and Technical Education (IfATE) is currently looking at teacher apprenticeships for further education. One of the key areas they are considering is to remove the qualification (presently a DET or Cert Ed) from the teaching framework, instead concentrating on a competency-based approach. But as a teacher educator, I’ve got some words of caution…

It’s true that one of the massive shortcomings of teacher development is a lack of focus on vocational and technical teaching. Teaching is seen as generic and revisiting how we train gives the IfATE a golden opportunity to address this issue. Vocational teaching and learning has unique characteristics around practice development, the requirement for industry artefacts and the structure of its knowledge.

The current system does, however, have its benefits. 

News: 3.1k college staff put at risk of redundancy

More by Sam Jones: Why the death of the staffroom is bad news for pedagogy

Background: New FE teaching apprenticeship to launch 'within months’

Currently, trainee teachers build networks when increasing their knowledge. Contact with others is vitally important when developing the practice or knowledge of an individual and the profession as a whole.  

Having an academic qualification that is recognised across all teaching sectors and universities allows for career progression and development. Whether this is from colleges to schools or accessing higher education courses, everyone deserves a career that allows them to fulfil their potential and contribute to the development of the profession. Would a move away from a DET or Cert Ed lock these lecturers out of these opportunities? If so, is this a moral move to take?  

Trainees may be condemned to learn through bite-sized, on-demand resources that transmit information rather than develop knowledge. While these resources do have their place, they are not education and tend to create certainty rather than criticality.  

These issues may be less problematic if professional development and learning in the sector was strong and well-funded, but colleges spend on average 0.3 per cent of turnover on CPD. 

Even more so if we consider the research work by Gary Husband which suggests that your experiences in teacher education influence your choices and preferences for professional development.  

So, if teachers are taught in bitesize, uncritical ways, will this continue to be their preference throughout their career? What will these mean for pedagogical development in the sector and for the approaches to learning that are presented to our students and proliferate our future workforce?

The risk practitioners become a consumer

My final concern is the competence-based nature of the initiative. The academic work in this area is very clear that using competence-based frameworks can limit the knowledge taught and are notoriously hard to correctly shape and specify in order to make the knowledge workable. Research says they are also considered to be problematic for education and training and are conceptualised by some as being deskilling and deprofessionalising

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement and it’s at odds with the development of the narrative of a “world-class” FE sector educating people to drive and shape our future economic success.

What I fear a competency-based framework could facilitate is the potential marketisation of a very narrow idea of what “teacher knowledge” can be. I’m concerned that in five years’ time this limited knowledge is owned by one or two private companies and is sold to trainee teachers who access it over a period of time gaining badges and stickers instead of qualifications. 

If knowledge only develops in the way that this set of stakeholders’ feel is “right”, it becomes difficult to contest, and slow to develop. In this way, the practitioner becomes a consumer rather than a knower or developer.

Sam Jones is a lecturer at Bedford College, founder of FE Research Meet and was FE Teacher of the Year at the Tes FE Awards 2019

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