'Unless something is done, many schools will not be fully staffed in 2017'

Changes to teacher training have confused applicants and universities. But schools will be hit the hardest, a teacher-trainer writes in an open letter to schools minister Nick Gibb

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Dear Mr Gibb,

In my role as the head of a graduate school of education, running prestigious PGCE courses, I am aware of your commitment to ensuring that children are taught by outstanding teachers. Teacher-educators want to work with you to do all we can to reach this goal.

Sadly, this is currently very difficult. Many sources, including the National Audit Office, have warned us that there will not be enough teachers in the future if the current system continues. Universities have worked with the Department for Education to try to make School Direct a success, but the growth of these courses – there are now over 300 providers for the South West alone – has created confusion for applicants and made it difficult for schools and teacher-trainers to plan ahead.

The White Paper also tells us that you want to continue to move to an increasingly school-based teacher education system. This threatens to damage the excellent progress that has been made in recruiting the highest quality graduates to teacher-training courses, and to dismantle the communities of mentors that exists to support them. To be blunt, there is every chance that the introduction of School Direct will mean that many schools will not be fully staffed in 2017, unless something is done.

But I very much welcome the fact the government has also announced a new “quality criteria” for initial teacher education providers, and have promised to allocate training places accordingly.

I also welcome the fact that those who run courses will have greater certainty, because we will be given allocations of places for several years at a time. We need to get rid of the first-past-the-post system of allocating course places. It makes it harder to recruit the highest quality applicants. Something different is needed. Allocation of quota should be based on the quality of the programme, not on how quickly it can recruit students. The data to do this exists already and Ofsted judgements about quality should be an essential factor when deciding the numbers to allocate to each provider.

There are other measures, both short- and long-term, which would have an enormous impact on teacher supply. Please review the controls introduced this year and allow us to continue to recruit student teachers for 2016-17. Last year, nearly all providers in my region, the South West, fully recruited. Almost all new teachers in the South West get jobs, and the vast majority are employed locally. Providers know that we can fill more places.

This year, headteachers have told us they are finding recruitment very difficult and the cap could mean as many as 20 per cent of posts may remain unfilled in our region.

Nancie Atwell won the Global Teacher Prize for being the “world’s best teacher” in 2015. When asked what made a great teacher, Nancy said: "It's not my personality. It's not my intuition. It's what I know about professional methods,” and she emphasised the importance of applying the lessons of research about what worked in the classroom.

The threat to teacher education and training courses of proven quality and to the university departments of education that carry out educational research of international significance will have a hugely detrimental effect on the way beginning teachers are supported as they develop the range of complex professional skills that are needed to become an outstanding classroom teacher.

Teacher educators want to help ensure that the UK retains its world-class teacher-training system. To do this a change of policy is needed – and it is needed now.

Yours sincerely,

Nigel Skinner

Dr Nigel Skinner is head of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter.

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