Elite universities suffer in teacher training revolution

31st October 2014 at 00:00
Fast expansion of School Direct leads to threat of course closures

Teacher training courses at elite universities are at risk of closure as budgets are redirected to school-based training, leading institutions have warned. And schools may have to contend with a teacher supply crisis, particularly in maths and science, because of the rapid switch from university-based training to School Direct, experts say.

The Russell Group of top universities has suffered bigger cuts to teacher training allocations for next year than all other universities and training routes, TES analysis reveals. Some university departments, including Leeds, have lost all their places after receiving poor Ofsted judgements; others such as Cambridge and Manchester, both rated outstanding, have lost more than 20 per cent of places on their primary PGCEs.

Dr Gabrielle Cliff Hodges, director of initial teacher training at the University of Cambridge, said places on the primary PGCE had been cut by more than a fifth, from 158 this year to 113 for courses starting in 2015. "It's not clear to us what the logic behind that decision is," she said.

The University of Manchester's head of initial teacher training, Dr David Spendlove, said there did not appear to be a "clear rationale" behind the cuts to teacher training courses. "Some of the Russell Group universities are questioning their future involvement in teacher education," he said. "I've had lots of reassurances from people at the Department for Education to say they want high-quality universities to stay in, but it doesn't feel like that when they cut your courses."

A report published yesterday by Universities UK warns that the rapid growth of School Direct - in which schools recruit trainee teachers - is contributing to a shortfall in the required number of new entrants to the profession.

Although School Direct has been successful in recruiting English and history teachers, it has struggled in science, technology, engineering and maths, the report says. "There are concerns, therefore, that, as the government pursues its ambition for a school-led system, the pace of change could create teacher supply issues in the future if university-delivered training becomes unsustainable," it adds.

As School Direct has grown, the number of places allocated directly to universities has fallen by 23 per cent between 2012-13 and 2015-16, according to Universities UK. Russell Group universities are bearing the brunt of those cuts, with a drop of almost 9.2 per cent in places between this year and next year alone, figures show. At other universities, numbers will fall by just 2.7 per cent in the same period.

Lynn Newton, divisional director of initial teacher education at Durham University, rated outstanding by Ofsted, said she was disappointed to lose places. The department's history course had been particularly badly hit, she added, with the number of places reduced from 22 to just six. "It raises questions of viability," Professor Newton said. "It is very difficult for the university to justify a full-time member of staff for six students."

A number of universities have already decided to shut their teacher training departments after the launch of School Direct, including Anglia Ruskin, Bath and the Open University.

James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said it was important that Russell Group universities continued to be involved in teacher training. "They are not more important than other universities, but they do need to be in the mix," he said. "They have particular strengths to offer and bring a lot of kudos with them."

John Howson, honorary fellow at the University of Oxford's Department of Education and a specialist in teacher recruitment, said the government had only paid lip service to involving leading universities in teacher training.

"There is no indication that the government wants to keep research-active universities involved in provision," he added. "There is an economic risk to running those courses and a strategic decision will have to be taken further up the university on whether they are going to bear that risk."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said the government had increased bursaries for top physics, chemistry, maths, computing and languages graduates to pound;25,000, in order to attract the brightest graduates to teaching.

"School Direct is an increasingly popular teacher training route, with the number of applications rising by more than a third year-on-year," he added. "Universities will continue to play an important role in teacher training, working closely with schools to shape and deliver training and continuing professional development."

The Universities UK report, The Impact of Initial Teacher Training Reforms on English Higher Education Institutions, will be available at www.universitiesuk.ac.uk


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