In principle, we have no objections to the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review recommendations on partnerships. Providers will already be able to articulate these aspects of their provision as partnership working is a key component of all ITT provision and many of the recommendations are already built into partnership agreements and others are required by the Department for Education (DfE) as part of accreditation arrangements, permission to recruit and form part of the Ofsted inspections cycle.
We are, however, concerned that the wording used and the structures it describes (e.g. lead partners) is suggestive of an intended structure of ITT providers which has not been explicitly articulated in the report but which is evident throughout including around reaccreditation. Whilst not explicitly stated, there appears to be a clear preference, signalled in multiple places throughout, for large providers, operating at scale, with local, contracted ‘delivery partners’ operating at a local level. This represents a significant threat to school-based provision which, by its nature, operates at a smaller, local level.
Whilst the report identified that it wishes SCITT provision to continue to have a place in the new system, we have interpreted this to signal (given the language used throughout) that this is likely to be under circumstances which are very different from the ones in which they currently operate, most likely as delivery partners to larger organisations. However, if the intention is for the majority of smaller providers to lose their individual accreditation and
instead operate as ‘lead delivery partners’ to larger, centralised organisations, this represents a significant risk on a number of fronts:
- A move to a structure which relegates SCITT providers to a contracted delivery partner role would dismantle 10 years of government policy which has worked towards placing the autonomy and ownership of ITT provision firmly in the hands of partnerships of schools. This would undermine the school-led approach to ITT which is so central (and internationally recognised) to our country’s unique and high-quality approach to ITT.
- SCITT providers have chosen to become accredited providers (and undergone an extensive accreditation process and Ofsted inspection cycle) as they passionately believe that they can offer locally designed and delivered programmes which meet the needs of their partnerships of schools. Removing their accreditation will undermine their ability to develop provision which is truly local in approach, and which genuinely involves their partner schools in its design and delivery.
- Accreditation brings with it a large degree of security in terms of length of tenure within the system. This gives providers the confidence to invest time, resource, capacity and money into the development of staff, buildings, curriculum design and quality assurance processes. It also allows them the time and space to develop deep, lasting relationships built on trust with partner schools. The removal of accreditation and an expectation to work under a contractual arrangement with a larger organisation removes this security and leaves local providers much more vulnerable. This will, in turn, lead to a reduction in the investment that can be given to the provision and an erosion of the partnerships they have developed, in many cases over many years.
- Providers who wish to continue to deliver ITT, and who do so exceptionally well, will be reliant on the availability of larger providers who are willing to enter into partnership with them. Local conflicts of interest and potential for exclusive arrangements (which we have already started to see between some MATs and ITT providers) could mean exceptionally high-quality provision is lost from the system. Similarly, local providers may choose to exit the system if unable to negotiate terms which are acceptable to them with an accredited provider. In both cases, this could mean teacher supply is adversely affected in localised areas due to the lack of provision to support them.
- School placement capacity within the system is extremely limited and, as we saw with the onset of the pandemic, is fragile and susceptible to break down in times of crisis. Smaller providers, who have extremely close networks of schools within their partnerships, are more able to manage these types of changes and are able to maintain continuity of provision. The loss of small providers who hold their own accreditation will erode these relationships and mean the system is much less agile in the face of unexpected change. Furthermore, many schools offer ITT placements as a direct result of the trusting relationships they have with local partnerships. We fear that a move towards larger, more distant (both in terms of geography and philosophy) institutions may prove to be a barrier to some schools continuing to engage, representing a further threat to placement capacity.
We do not see any proposals in the report which would directly improve, streamline or remove barriers from the recruitment and selection process. But we are concerned that a move away from local provision, which is attractive to local applicants, will bring an additional barrier to applicants who are unlikely to wish to travel further distances for central training or intensive placements. Many small providers serve a very specific need which offers the opportunity to train to be a teacher to a diverse range of applicants who would be unwilling, or unable, to attend training at a distance from their localities.
If the recommendations in this report are moving the sector towards a model which encourages economies of scale, rather that localised provision, many applicants may be unable to apply, posing a further risk both to teacher supply and to the diversity of applicants we attract to the profession. These risks can be mitigated by recognising the vital role that small accredited providers play within the larger ecosystem, and ensuring that the sum total of these recommendations do not lead to a system where local provision is relegated to operating in a junior delivery role to larger institutions who will not be able to meet local needs due to financial, efficiency-driven approaches to ITT.
However, we are extremely concerned that the language throughout the report leans towards a suggestion that the quality requirements can only be delivered effectively if they are developed at scale. We know from DfE research that applicants are most likely to make a choice about their ITT provider based on its geographical location. Put simply, they are concerned with whether they can travel to their provider and placement schools in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.
The loss of small, local providers will significantly reduce the supply of applicants from hard-to-reach, disadvantaged and rural areas who will not be able to travel longer distances, or pay for expensive means of transport, if their local provider is no longer available to them. Equally, rural schools, schools in hard-to-reach areas and schools in disadvantaged areas are unlikely to be attractive to applicants who have applied to a large provider who is geographically local to them, but at a distance to those schools.
If local providers were to lose their accreditation, they are unlikely to be able to partner with larger institutions who are located at a distance from them (even if they are their next-nearest provider) as individuals applying to those providers will be seeking placement opportunities closer to home. Those rural, hard-to-reach and/or disadvantaged schools will then lose their supply of trainees, early career teachers and, potentially, experienced staff who were attracted to working as mentors. This, in turn, will disproportionately impact the pupils in those schools.
Smaller, school-led providers must be enabled to retain their accreditation and continue to offer high-quality provision within their local communities.
Emma Hollis is Executive Director of The National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT)