Could school-based training kill off university courses?
New figures reveal a sharp increase in the number of school-based teacher training providers, leading experts to predict the closure of university courses.
TES can reveal that there are now 164 Scitt (School-centred initial teacher training) providers in England. This figure, obtained from the National College for Teaching and Leadership, is almost double the total in 2013, when there were 86 Scitts. Some 46 have been created in the past year alone.
Professor John Howson, an expert in teacher supply, predicts that these courses will become the dominant school-based route for secondary teacher training, leading to the closure of university courses.
"One consequence may well be that it further diminishes the position of universities in teacher preparation," the honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford told TES. "In some cases it will cause them to pull out of the sector completely."
Conservative ministers have made no secret of their desire to see a reduction in the influence of the university teacher training departments. In 2013, Michael Gove, then education secretary, described critical academics from university education departments as "enemies of promise". They should value learning, he said, but seemed "more interested in valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence".
The rise of the Scitt comes amid a general increase in school-led initial teacher training. The School Direct scheme expanded from 6,580 trainees in 2013 to 9,232 in 2014 and is on course to double to 17,609 places this year.
But it is Scitts that could do the most damage to university courses. Whereas School Direct works in partnership with accredited teacher training providers at universities, Scitts provide the education themselves so are direct rivals.
Professor Howson said: "I think the growth in Scitts is because the government wants to get away from the single-school model of School Direct. Scitts are the way forward because it means dealing with fewer groups of schools and more long-term security [of teacher supply]."
Scitts began in 1994 under the Conservative government. But it is only in the past few years that their numbers have started to expand rapidly, with the encouragement of ministers. By last year, more than half of all trainees were on school-based routes.
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (Ucet), said: "There is a case for new Scitts, but it should be where there is proven demand. Vast numbers of new Scitts in areas where there is no demand could undermine good-quality training offered by both existing Scitts and higher education institutions."
Martin Thompson, executive director of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said one of the major reasons schools were keen to become involved in Scitts was to ensure that they could recruit staff.
"I don't think schools are thinking in a political sense," he said. "I heard a headteacher talking about the difficulty he had in filling vacancies and the answer was to become a Scitt.
"Recruitment problems have been one of the reasons behind the expansion of Scitts, but trainees are also looking to train more locally than they used to."