Future teachers are destined for a "cul-de-sac of cognition" under the "superficial" new teacher training framework, experts are warning.
Eight specialists in teacher education have come together to voice their concerns about the initial teacher training (ITT) framework in a blog for the British Educational Research Association (BERA).
They argue that the framework sets "worryingly low expectations for a graduate profession based on superficial appropriations of what is already a limited selection of research" – especially in relation to section two of the guidance, dedicated to "how pupils learn".
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The experts claim the theories of learning outlined in the framework are built on "over-simplifications of Conservative education policy’s most obvious preoccupations: memory and, in particular, cognitive load theory (CLT)" – a subject that sparked controversy at the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers conference in November.
Cognitive load theory
CLT is based around the idea that our working, or "short-term", memory is finite, and an overload of information can have a negative impact on learning. In the context of the classroom, this means teaching should be broken down into small chunks to avoid children becoming overwhelmed.
Although it does not explicitly refer to CLT, the new ITT framework lays out its main principles, stating: "Working memory is where information that is being actively processed is held, but its capacity is limited and can be overloaded."
The group added that "an overly simplistic understanding of contemporary cognitive theories" could leave teacher trainees "unable to understand how different teaching strategies correspond to different memory-based learning outcomes".
"The framework entirely neglects the personal, sensory-perceptual and emotional-affective dimensions of recalling information – a practical as well as theoretical blindspot with serious consequences for the teaching profession," they said.
It replaces the government's existing framework of core content for ITT, published in 2016, and is set to be implemented from September 2020.
The group concluded: "The 2019 [initial teacher education] content framework demands the detailed scrutiny of the wider educational research community as well as the teaching profession.
"There is an urgent risk that future generations of teachers will become stuck in one cul-de-sac of cognition. Prospective teachers must be taught that learning isn’t just 'total recall'."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This framework will play a fundamental role in ensuring the training new teachers receive is consistent, evidence-based and of the highest quality across each and every training provider.
“It will underpin training for all new teachers leading into the early career framework, the biggest teaching reform in a generation, which will be backed by £130 million a year in extra funding when fully rolled out.
“This comes on top of our pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 in the biggest reform to pay in a generation, alongside an above inflation pay rise of 2.75 per cent for all teachers and school leaders this academic year.”
The blog was co-written by Keith Turvey, from the University of Brighton; Viv Ellis, from King's College London; Anne Watson, from the University of Oxford; Matthew Slocombe, from Birkbeck, University of London; Peter Kutnick, from King's College London; Sue Cowley, an author and teacher trainer; Chris Harrison, from King's College London; and Kenny Frederick, an independent researcher and former headteacher.