Caught on the hop by 6 weeks' extra teaching time
It makes sense on paper. But when the government announced last week that trainee primary teachers would be spending more time in the classroom and much less in lecture halls, university education departments were shocked.
Those enrolling on a primary PGCE this September will be in school for six extra weeks, after ministers decided it will better prepare them for entry to the profession. However, academics are struggling to find time to accommodate the change.
The reforms mean that trainees will now spend 24 weeks - two-thirds of the duration of their course - in school. Secondary trainees already spend this amount of time in the classroom because their course only covers one subject.
Coalition policy has long stipulated that the best way to train teachers is at the chalkface, but there had been no warning that these reforms were in the pipeline. Teacher trainers say they need longer to prepare themselves for the changes - they now have just a few months to redesign their courses.
James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, called on the government to delay the introduction of the requirement by a year to give academics time to prepare. "Universities are having to redesign courses, in some cases revalidate programmes and consult with their partner primary schools. It's a big concern."
Mr Noble Rogers is also worried that trainees will not get the same length of time to learn vital aspects of their future job. "This will inevitably reduce the scope to provide centre-based training in priority areas such as systematic synthetic phonics, early maths, behaviour and special educational needs.
"Although such training could in theory be transferred into schools, a straightforward change of location would be a cosmetic exercise and fraught with practical and logistical difficulties."
The potential problems are well illustrated at the University of Cumbria, where its 250-300 trainees will have to spend the extra time at local secondaries because there is no room for them in primaries. They will be taught there by their tutors and will also help Year 7 children with literacy and numeracy.
Sam Twiselton, dean of the university's faculty of education, said that she and colleagues were having to redesign the course "in a matter of months".
"The principle is great, it's just hard to work out the logistics because of the sheer numbers involved - we will have all our students and about 1,000 partner schools," she said. "We have to be careful to make sure the students are not overworked because of this - the course is already very intensive. There's a danger in some universities that this could become a superficial exercise, with the school just becoming a different teaching location. Because of the tight timescale, some local universities might resort to that."
Academics have been told by the government body responsible for teacher training, the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), that the time in school must be used for training as well as teaching practice. Only now has the TDA launched a consultation on the changes.
Teacher training expert Professor John Howson said that universities might not find enough schools available and willing to host students. "There is a risk that there will simply not be enough high-quality placements around," he said. "The government must make it mandatory for schools to cooperate with universities on teacher training, so they can't opt out."
Teacher trainers are also facing the prospect of no-notice Ofsted inspections, along with schools and colleges.
The inspectorate had proposed reducing the notice period from eight weeks to three in a recent consultation. Now another consultation has said that there should be no-notice inspections for courses that require improvement.
Ofsted has also proposed no-notice inspections of initial teacher training partnerships - university courses and their partner schools. The consultation asked whether academics should get either no warning or a telephone call 15 minutes before Ofsted arrives.