The Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review recommends consistency across partnerships and between providers in the content and quality of the training curriculum, rigorous sequencing of the training curriculum, and alignment between the taught curriculum and training environments, in particular teaching placement schools. It also recommends sufficient opportunities for trainees to benefit from highly focused practice of, and feedback on, essential components of the curriculum, and the supply of enough high-quality placements with the capacity to fully support delivery of the trainee curriculum.
The he final point on placements represents one of the most fragile aspects of the initial teacher education landscape, a fact which was made explicit during the Covid-19 pandemic when some of our largest institutions were unable to secure placement opportunities for their trainees. The current minimum entitlement to time in school is 24 weeks, although many programmes offer in excess of this. The additional four weeks proposed in the market review account for the intensive placement arrangements.
In almost all cases, schools currently receive a payment from their provider for hosting a trainee teacher. The amount they receive varies by provider and is linked to the level of involvement and the capacity they give to the ITT partnership as part of the partnership agreement. It seems unlikely that providers, or schools, would want to, or be willing to, negotiate reduced payments for future placement opportunities and, therefore, the full cost of the additional four-week intensive placements must be found from elsewhere. As this feature is not currently built into programmes of ITT, additional funding would be needed to meet the cost of these arrangements.
Across these recommendations under curriculum, we can see benefits to this approach in principle, although a change of this scale should, we feel, be piloted carefully so unintended consequences can be avoided and any key lessons learned before it rolls out across the system as a whole. Key questions must be addressed around how intensive placements might work including thinking about very practical issues such as limitations of space in most classrooms. Additional clarity will be needed around suggested group sizes and guidance around which aspects of practice should be prioritised.
We understand that the very limited research that exists into the effectiveness of intensive teaching placements of the kind described in the market review report is highly contested and, therefore, the wholesale adoption of such a fundamental change to the structure of ITT programmes must be carefully scoped and tested before it is implemented. It may be that there are barriers which are not immediately evident, but we do see some immediate logistical barriers to the implementation of such an approach:
- Intensive placements will require significant expertise and commitment from the schools in which they will take place. We would urge the government to scope the availability of schools who are willing and have the capacity and level of expertise that is envisioned. Capacity for school placements has already been identified by the report authors as an area of challenge and the availability of intensive placement opportunities does not appear to have been thoroughly researched. Without significant reassurances that such placements are available, providers may be unable to meet the quality requirements through no fault of their own.
- Further research must be done into the geographical availability of such school placement opportunities. The Department for Education’s own research has identified that ‘distance from home’ is a key driver in an applicant’s choice of provider. Should intensive placement opportunities not be suitably geographically spread, the requirement to travel to an intensive placement school for a minimum of four weeks could become a barrier to entry from applicants who are unable or unwilling to travel significant distances for their training and could adversely affect teacher supply.
- There is, quite rightly, a focus on subject specificity in this report and in the expectations of providers under the new inspection framework. The availability of intensive placement opportunities with suitable geographical spread will become even more logistically challenging for providers if there is a focus on expertise which is available at a subject level. If, on the other hand, the intensive placements are envisaged as being ‘context free’ placements which, for example, focus on behaviour management strategies outside of the subject context, this is at odds with the drive towards programmes being ‘designed around subject and phase’ and takes a significant proportion of time away from subject-specific training opportunities.
- Very few schools are designed in a way which would readily accommodate large numbers of additional adults as observers in a live classroom environment. Intensive placement opportunities which gather large cohorts together in a single environment will challenge school spaces and bring additional logistical considerations to the availability and capacity of sufficient numbers of intensive school placements.
- It is likely that schools who do act as intensive placement environments will need suitable recompense which is not currently accounted for in provider budgets. The true cost of the intensive placement model needs to be carefully modelled, and the impact on available spending elsewhere in programmes considered before this approach can be considered for wide roll-out. Without a carefully tested pilot, the cost-to-benefit ratio cannot be predicted and this could lead to programmes which are, on balance, less effective than they are currently.
In terms of the ways in which the above barriers could be overcome, we recommend:
- A robust and carefully controlled pilot phase in which the cost, logistical implications and outcomes of such an approach are rigorously tested and analysed.
- Consideration could be given to alternative approaches to intensive placements, such as ‘live stream’ remote opportunities. However, this approach to ITT and its potential impact is largely untested and would, therefore, need to be built into the pilot phase.
- Careful consideration should be given to intensive placements not centred around subject and phase. Whilst ‘context free’ placements may ease some of the logistical challenges we have identified, the cost of lost time and opportunities to learn within a rich, subject-specific environment should be measured as part of the pilot phase.
- A rigorous model for the true cost of this approach must be conducted before it is rolled out as a requirement for all. Without a clear understanding of the costs, it is impossible to predict whether the approach would need more funding. Schools must be included in this costing model so the government can understand the level of recompense they would expect to receive for acting as an intensive placement school and this can be balanced against the impact on outcomes for trainees.
Whilst the market review report focuses on the advantages of operating ‘at scale’, it has failed to recognise that it is in smaller, closely aligned partnerships where this aspect of ITT provision is at its strongest. Partnerships built on trust and mutual respect find that leveraging additional placements in a time of crisis is a much more achievable process, with all parties working towards a common goal. The larger a partnership becomes, inevitably, the more distant individual schools feel from its ethos, aims and aspirations and the harder it becomes to leverage additional capacity and support from partner schools who feel neither invested in, nor responsible for, the central organisation’s needs.
One of the central dangers of a move towards larger, centralised ITT provision is the loss of autonomy and investment partner schools have in ITT; and this would represent a catastrophic reversal of 10 years of exceptional work, collaboration and the formation of strong partnerships which make our approach to ITT so successful and so well respected around the world.
Emma Hollis is Executive Director of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)