Recently, I heard a caller to a radio programme make reference to an ancient Chinese curse which goes along the lines of: “May you live in interesting times”.  Further investigation reveals that, in fact, it is an English expression and almost certainly not translated from Chinese, and yet the key point still remains.  As much as ‘interesting times’ may sound exotic from a distance, actually living through them does, at least on some days, feel like something of a curse.

Throughout these ‘interesting’ times, I have been repeatedly drawn back to the watch-words for 2020 which NASBTT first defined back in June when we brought the sector together to consider the impact of Covid-19 on ITT in 2020 and beyond.  That event launched the words which were to become the theme for our Annual Conference: ‘Compassion, Flexibility and Trust’.  So, it is with these words of hope, and a reminder of the messages that I shared with you at the Annual Conference, that I am going to bring 2020 to a close.  We may live in interesting times, but the sector has shown, without doubt, that there is cause for a hopeful future.

On the theme of ‘Compassion’, I want to start by reflecting once again on just how brilliantly our sector has responded to an unbelievably challenging time.  To have pivoted to an entirely new way of working with next to no notice, providing extraordinary opportunities and support to our trainees and partner schools, has been an astonishing triumph and, as a sector, I truly believe we should be incredibly proud.

In our October members’ survey, we discovered that, despite all fears to the contrary, our members had been incredibly successful in securing school placements for their trainees.  In incredibly challenging times, this is a marker of the relationships you have built with the partner schools and the high regard in which you are held.  To have been able to ensure continuity of your ITT programmes shows such incredible commitment to the future of our teaching workforce, one which will never be more needed than in a post-pandemic recovery phase.

I have been most struck by the seemingly unending compassion that I have seen from you all: compassion for the children in our schools who have always been at the front and centre of every decision you have made, compassion for your partner schools and the pressures they are under, compassion for one another – with incredible examples of collaboration and peer-support – and compassion for your trainees, their experiences and their struggles.

On the theme of ‘Flexibility’, we can be confident that, as a sector, we have displayed incredible feats of flexibility, responding to immediate changes, central government U-turns, policy decisions and the collective trauma of a global pandemic with the elasticity of a circus acrobat.

Your ability to respond to school closures back in March was astonishingly agile.  We had been a sector which carried out relatively little training online, with 79% of you telling us that this method of delivery did not feature at all prior to the pandemic.  And yet after the national lockdown was announced in March, 94% of you were able to switch to offering at least some online provision for your trainees.  If ever there was a moment in time which proved the adaptability of the ITT sector, I think this was it.  Interestingly, many of you plan to hold on to some of the benefits that online learning seems to have brought with 59% of you telling us that you will continue to offer at least some of your provision this way in a post-pandemic world.

As an organisation, NASBTT also endeavours to be flexible, developing our membership offer to best support you, sharing the most up-to-date thinking and research in accessible ways, exploring new partnerships which benefit our members and securing strong relationships with key stakeholders so that you can be best represented where it matters most.  We are here to support you and, each year, we are developing our offer to include more services, events and accessibility.  Please do keep letting us know what you need from us and we will keep working to adapt and grow so we can meet those needs.

On the final theme of ‘Trust’, I am reminded of just how often I use this word in my discussion with the DfE and other stakeholders.  ‘Please trust us to do the right thing’ is a central message of many of the discussions I have.  Whether we are talking about recruitment decisions, development of quality programmes of ITT, responses to policy or choices about placement schools, I firmly believe that, as a sector, we see ourselves first and foremost as champions of great education and gatekeepers to a profession that is absolutely vital to the emotional, social and academic development of the children and young people in our care.  Given that belief, I also firmly believe that we will make the very best decisions that we can to ensure the best people teach and support our children in the most effective ways armed with the most relevant research and evidence to support them.

But trust goes further than being something you can simply ask for.  As a sector, you are showing every day that you can be trusted.  We were proud to be able to share with the DfE the evidence we had gathered which showed you could be trusted to recruit responsibly.  We are equally proud to share the stories of your ‘Hero Trainees’ who have been trusted to support their placement schools during this difficult time.  Early exploration into the implementation of the ITT Core Content Framework has shown that, as a sector, you could be trusted to respond to what was asked of you and plan for adaptations to your programmes, even in the midst of responding to the immediate emergency of the pandemic.

This trust, and our sector’s willingness to work towards our common goals positively, does reap benefits.  It was a result of this trust, that we were able to work with the DfE on a number of key policy adaptations during the last academic year and into this.  This included the agreement that QTS could be awarded based on a trainee’s trajectory, the trust given to providers to ascertain who needed retrieval placements and, therefore, in receipt of the additional funding that we helped secure to support those placements; it also included the relaxations to the ITT criteria, something we worked extremely hard on with the Department, as well as the assurances we were able to secure that trainee teachers could be classed as critical workers, allowing them to work in schools and providing reassurance to placement school headteachers.  There are also a number of changes that were suggested that never came into being because colleagues trusted us when we told them what wouldn’t work and why.

At NASBTT, our approach has always been one which focuses on solutions and seeks to build trust with our stakeholders, and we will take forward this same approach with the review of the ITT market.  We have been in conversation with the DfE to re-iterate our desired involvement in the review and our offer to provide as much insight as we can as part of the process.  By every objective measure, the ITT sector is performing exceptionally well with 99% of providers rated good or better by Ofsted.  We also saw the recent announcement that the number of people starting ITT in England rose by 23% this year, and the government has met its secondary teacher recruitment target for the first time in eight years.  Make no mistake, we will be championing the impact of our members in the review.

We are delighted that a whole range of stakeholders trust us to work with them fairly and honestly, representing the voice of our sector and fighting for our corner in a positive and respectful way. More than this, though, we are most proud of the trust that you show in us.  From answering your day-to-day questions to representing you at government level, we are so grateful for the trust you place in us and, in return, we promise to continue to work hard on your behalf as we move forward in these ‘interesting times’.  So, it remains only for me to wish you a peaceful break, filled with compassion and the chance to rest and rejuvenate.  My wish for us all for 2021 is that we may live in uneventful times.

Emma Hollis, Executive Director
National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)

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