Dons scramble to pour scorn on Gove's shake-up

2nd July 2010 at 01:00
Kerra Maddern reports on a growing consensus that the Education Secretary's plans to shift training from universities to schools would degrade the teaching profession

It's a move from the dreaming spires of the world's best universities to the staffroom, but critics say Michael Gove's latest plans for training will reduce the status of teachers to the that of plumbers.

The new Education Secretary must surely have expected a hostile reception from union leaders when he took over the education portfolio in May. But he is unlikely to have foreseen the most furious response to his policies to come from the often mild-mannered academics responsible for developing the next generation of teachers.

Education dons have poured scorn on Mr Gove's plans, unveiled last week, to shift responsibility and resources for training from universities to schools. They are also angry at his description of teaching as a "craft" which is "best learnt as an apprentice".

Many are worried that these words risk undoing much of the change of the past two decades, which has seen teaching transformed from what was regarded as a semi-professional job to a masters-level profession.

Academics are proud of the training infrastructure developed during this period, which they say is the envy of the world. They have warned that Mr Gove risks "dumbing down" teaching, and that his ideas could "kill off" the respected PGCE.

They also point to a contradiction in the policy. At the same time as suggesting that teachers don't need academic training, Mr Gove has expressed a wish for more to have masters and doctorate-level qualifications.

Academics can't understand why he has turned against them. Now those who train teachers are desperate to educate Mr Gove about their work. He says newcomers don't get enough practical experience. But during their nine-month course, PGCE students spend six of those in two different schools.

"Developing countries train teachers purely in the classroom. Working this way in England means our teachers would be seen as semi-professional, like plumbers or other apprentice professions," says Debra Myhill, head of the graduate school of education at Exeter University.

"It would set us out of kilter with the rest of the world. It's incredibly short sighted. At the moment we attract trainee teachers with a high intellectual calibre. Mr Gove should know their teaching career begins from the first day of their PGCE, but alongside that they work with academics at the heart of the most cutting-edge research in education."

In fact, it was the last Conservative government which laid the foundations for the current teacher training system. The importance of Circular 992, sent out to universities and schools in September 1994, is often overlooked in discussions about teacher training. It ordered schools, universities and existing teachers to work together in the training process.

Many in the system say that the success of the organisational structure can be dated to this missive. They believe it is now a genuine partnership and should not be heavily reformed.

"We have the best model in the world. To change it would be a major erosion of the teaching profession," says Professor Myhill.

A typical example of new era can be found at Edge Hill University, which has one of the largest numbers of trainees in the country. Academics work with teachers in 2,000 schools. Robert Smedley, dean of the faculty of education, insists that it would be a major mistake to undo this system.

"We benefit from each other's expertise. Mr Gove must realise that teacher training is not an exact science - it takes a lot of ingredients to make an excellent teacher," he says.

"Students benefit from being part of a big cohort. They benefit from the balance of the academic element because that underpins their work in the classroom.

"In return they pass on new skills to existing teachers. The question we should be asking is what would happen if all schools were made to become involved in teacher training. Mr Gove will find that many don't want to. We struggle to get them to take trainees."

The figures appear bear to this out, with schools training only 5,000 teachers a year compared to 33,000 in universities.

Critics also point out that while it costs only around #163;3,500 to turn a graduate into a teacher through a PGCE, figures show that putting a student through the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), where they are paid as unqualified teachers, costs four times that.

Nor did the Labour government greatly expand the GTP training route. In fact, it told schools before the general election that this funding would be cut by a third, equivalent to around a #163;1,000 per trainee. Advocates are worried this will make courses too expensive for headteachers to run.

There are, of course, those involved in in-school training who are delighted with Mr Gove's proposals. But, like their university equivalents, they insist that courses need an academic element.

Alan Tricoglus set up his scheme in Gateshead because he wanted to offer something "better" than the local universities. The course is very similar to that followed by students, but aims to give trainees more personal attention.

"Not all trainees want to go to a university and be part of a large cohort," says Mr Tricoglus, head of Lobley Hill Primary in Gateshead and former PGCE course leader at Newcastle University. "We think we provide a better experience for those people."

The trainees specialise in early years education and their on-the-job training involves watching live lessons at Lobley Hill through cameras, with the chance to quiz the teacher straight afterwards.

"You just don't get that immediate experience at universities, but at the same time we very much appreciate the strong partnership which now exists between them and schools," Mr Tricoglus says.

If Mr Gove thinks there is any kind of rivalry between schools and academics he would be wrong. Teachers look set to be the dons' unexpected allies if there is any battle to keep university training departments open.


New figures show healthy numbers of candidates applying for teacher training courses this year, with applications for science up by 40 per cent on 2009 and maths up by 33 per cent, according to the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA).

More women than men are keen to teach the subjects. Data from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry shows there were 1,047 maths applicants last year, of which 528 were women and 519 men.

This year, 1,390 candidates have applied - 714 women and 676 men. For science, 2009 saw 1,435 applicants, made up of 862 women and 573 men, compared with 2,014 candidates this year, of which 1,214 were women and 800 men.

Around 6,000 science and maths teachers are required each year. Luke Graham, head of recruitment at the TDA, said: "We continue to see a growing interest in teaching as a career - not just from graduates looking for their first job but from people switching from other careers. Over the last 18 months of recession, many people have re-evaluated what they're looking for and teaching has compared favourably."

Staff at Bourton Meadow Primary in Buckingham started training teachers ten years ago because they found it difficult to recruit people to fill job vacancies. The nearest universities are in Oxford and few were then applying for jobs in north Buckinghamshire.

The first group was small, just three students. This quickly rose to five, then ten and for the past seven years 14 people have been trained every year. About three-quarters go on to work locally.

Now Jane Harman, deputy director of the programme, gets 150 applications and says she is able to pick "the best of the bunch".

"Training in school is unique, you get one-to-one support, but at the same time we set rigorous targets and observe very closely," Mrs Harman says. "Almost all our trainees get jobs. There's no waste of skills and they stay in the local area."

The trainees are based at six partner schools. They spent one day a week training and the rest of their time in class with their designated teacher.

"The advantage is they become immersed in school life, which makes their first job easier, but they also get trained in all the skills they need," says Mrs Harman.

Many of Bourton Meadow's trainees had successful careers before moving into teaching.

Alison Bradford was a textile designer until becoming a teacher six years ago.

"I chose to train in this way because it fitted in with my lifestyle," she says.

"But this doesn't mean the expectations of us weren't very high. We always had someone watching us, and we were always watching them."

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