John Howson

The DfE is once again showing signs of wanting to progress its review of the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market, first announced nearly two years ago as a part of a Recruitment and Retention Strategy, if an article in SchoolsWeek is to be believed.

Does it make sense to slim down the teacher preparation market sector to a smaller number of providers? Well, certainly, those providers that shut up shop at the end of June and leave the heavy lifting of recruitment over the summer to others might be considered as not fully participating in ensuring that all places on teacher preparation courses are filled.

With the DfE aiming to take over the application process, it may also make sense to have to interact with fewer larger providers in order to more easily manage the market.

On the other hand, as NASBITT has pointed out, the ITT sector is performing exceptionally well. Ofsted inspections have 99% of providers rated good or better. On this basis, it seems odd that any DfE officials should think too much provision is of poor quality, especially without providing the evidence for that judgement.

As NASBTT makes clear, smaller SCITT providers very often serve a very specific need in recruitment cold-spots and rural/coastal communities. Often, in the past, larger central providers did not manage to service the needs of schools in these areas, which is often why the smaller providers emerged in the first place in order to to fill the gap.

Smaller local providers can also meet the needs of career switchers that are unwilling to move long distances to undertake their course to become a teacher. This was, after all, the thinking behind the School Direct Salaried Scheme and its predecessor Employment-based routes of the past thirty years.

Large providers in the wrong place don’t meet the needs of the market and the DfE has always wrestled with the need for both quality provision and the recruitment of around 35,000 trainees each year that are willing to train to meet the needs of all schools.

Perhaps, any review might focus on those schools that find recruiting NQTs a challenge and explore how within a market system of recruitment, schools can recruit their fair share of NQTs?

A compromise might be for the DfE to engage with a few larger providers – perhaps NASBTT could even be one of them and UCET another – and these wholesalers of places would then handle the smaller units actually undertaking the training. There are some examples of national providers in the past, of which The Open University was perhaps the most well-known. Indeed, might this be an opportune moment for that University to reconsider returning to providing initial teacher preparation courses across England?

What the DfE must not do is undermine recruitment to the profession at this extremely sensitive moment in time. The ITT core content framework has only just been rolled out, as have the expectations under the new ITE inspection framework. As NASBTT point out, providers need time to embed and consolidate this before any further changes are thrust upon them. If it isn’t broke, be careful about how you fix it.

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