Consensus politics doesn’t necessarily apply to teacher supply

There was an interesting debate in the UK’s Parliament yesterday about issues around teacher supply, including the potential impact on historical shortages of teachers in subjects like physics, maths and computer science, of the new school-based teacher training approach in England called School Direct.

Here are some selected extracts ….

Nick Dakin, a Labour MP, asked somewhat provocatively: “Why on earth are the Government dismantling effective teacher education?” He then maintained that the excellent Finnish teacher education system “has universities at its heart, is pitched at master’s level and involves longer periods of study and shorter classes.” Mr Dakin offered Canada as another model of excellent teacher training, with universities playing a central role – though I’m aware that the Canadians are facing a concerning over-supply issue currently.

Pat Glass, another Labour MP, reinforced Mr Dakin’s point by raising the inquiry into ‘Great Teachers’ undertaken last year by the Commons Education  Committee, of which she is a member. They visited Finland and Singapore, “countries that are recognised as among the best in the world for ITT … They both have university-led teacher training and recognise that a knowledge base in education and child development, with a research-based dissertation through a university, are required to produce the best teaching force.” The implication was that school-based training is not achieving in England what university-based teacher training achieves elsewhere.

A study I’m involved with is asking questions about such facets of chemistry teacher training in other parts of the world.

David Laws MP, a Liberal Democrat and the Schools Minister in the Coalition Government with the Conservative Party, responded to the concerns about the impact of School Direct on shortage subjects by stating firmly: “There is currently no evidence of teacher vacancy rates rising.” He then conceded: “We recognise that we need to do more to improve recruitment in shortage subjects, and to increase the number of people taking A-levels, which is likely to increase the pool of people who can be drawn into those subjects.” He mentioned increased scholarships and bursaries for entrants to teacher training in shortage subjects announced by the Government last week, but even this measure has raised questions about adequate geographic coverage.

Mr Laws responded to a widely pre-publicised speech to be made tomorrow by Nick Clegg MP, the Deputy Prime Minister, another Liberal Democrat, about the need for all state-funded schools to employ ‘qualified’ teachers. The Schools Minister said that his party had passed a motion to this effect, which he had supported, at its Annual Conference in March. He reaffirmed this to the Education Committee again today. However he also said he was currently abiding with the Conservative-led Coalition policy, that state-funded Free Schools and Academies in England don’t need to employ teachers with ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS), a nationally recognised accreditation of teaching competence.

When the Education Committee visited Singapore as part of its inquiry last year, officials at the National Institute of Education, the country’s sole teacher training institution, noted that “political consensus around education was another key ingredient to system success”.

Tomorrow should be a good test of whether this applies in England.


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