I watched from a ringside seat an interesting session of the House of Commons Education Committee today in Parliament.
As mentioned in earlier posts, the Committee is re-examining the issue of ‘Great Teachers’, but this time with a focus on 2 specific delivery vehicles in England: the first is School Direct, a new school-based teacher training model; and the second is a proposed Royal College of Teaching, which would govern professional standards for teachers.
School Direct has attracted considerable attention for both positive and negative reasons, with many agreeing on the principle but finding fault with aspects of the implementation. A basic question the Committee wanted an answer to was: “why is School Direct required if we are already doing school-centred teacher training well in England?”
The official answer seems to be:
a) Because it gives schools a free choice of partner they wish to work with on training issues, just as they have this choice with continuing professional development (CPD). There is a clear logic to this, though it starts to come unstuck when you realise that it’s also about ensuring there is a strategic approach to coverage of potential gaps in teacher supply, particularly in key subjects or certain parts of the country.
b) Unleashing these new market forces has a greater impact on system efficiency in education, which is a good thing during a period of tight public spending. This side was played down today.
For the same reason, the Government in England and in other countries supports national CPD centres in mathematics, the sciences and languages, as well as endorsing national initiatives to encourage take up of these subjects by school and university students (some of whom will go on to become future teachers, thus creating a virtuous cycle – there is a danger of the opposite happening in some subjects).
On a teacher-led Royal College of Teaching, the Minister questioned seemed supportive of the concept and even the possibility of providing seed-corn funding and some non-critical functions hived off from the National College for Teaching and Leadership, the main agency for teachers. This was all very encouraging.
A lot of the comments at the session were centred around the strength of evidence about the number of teachers required and how they are being trained, and the fact that the Government and its agency had not been as transparent as they might have been in a situation which requires contributions from all quarters.
If the Government really plans to open up the debate then this needs to happen in time for the next round of target and allocation setting for teacher training places, which is approaching rapidly and could be critical for some shortage subjects.