Niall Dosad, Strategic Lead, SCITTELS

In November 2018, the Department for Education published advice on Addressing Teacher Workload in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) for teacher training providers. This comes just over four years after Ofsted published guidance of what they expect and don’t expect to see when they inspect a school, based on the findings of the ‘Workload Challenge’ in 2014. Although, as a teacher first and foremost, I welcome the changes and spotlight in this area, it does raise the question: is ITE a bit of an afterthought?

At a time when 250,000 fully-qualified teachers are choosing not to work in the state school system and diminishing numbers are entering the profession, surely the focus of any change should start at the beginning? Trying to change the ethos of the established is always an uphill battle, but get in there in the formative years (the training year) and you can instil the values to inform the future. This is why it seems strange that it’s taken so long to be an area of focus.

I welcome the key principles for ITE providers to support workload reduction. As a relatively new Strategic Lead for SCITTELS, a twice-graded Outstanding SCITT in East London, it is difficult to know what changes to make. On the one hand, you have an established ‘winning formula’ with rigorous processes, scrupulous selection criteria and exacting expectations for your trainees. On the other, you have trainees who are being burdened by a never-ending sea of paperwork coming from three angles: the school, the university and the SCITT. All of whom are following their trustworthy policies and processes, as that is good practice after all. However, who does it hit the hardest?

When discussing workload, it is important that we address issues threefold: from the position of the trainee, school and ITE provider. At this point, I think it is pertinent to address issues from schools as they are the area of which we have least control. With high stakes testing and anxiety over Ofsted inspections and forced academy conversions, school priorities – rightly or wrongly – are not with trainee teachers. The risk of allowing a trainee to teach core year groups is simply too high; if a school underachieves and as part of the autopsy it is discovered that a particular group were being taught by a trainee, who is fundamentally responsible? The questions surely to follow will be: why did you let a trainee teach that class/year group?

Then, of course, there is funding. In Newham, where SCITTELS is based, the loss between 2015 and 2020 is estimated to be £14.5 million at an average of -£277 per pupil loss. The lead school, Colegrave Primary, graded Outstanding in 2017, has faced a loss of -£313,000 in this time with per-pupil loss of -£502. But why is this important to trainee teachers? Well, simply put, when times are tough you tighten your belt with regard to resources, time and, fundamentally, staffing. Whilst the best pool of prospective teachers is teaching assistants, particularly for the School Direct Salaried pathway, this pool is diminishing and teaching assistants seem to be a luxury of yester-year.

Trainees also take up a lot of time: they need release, frequent meetings and a flexible timetable. Considering the strain on an already overwhelmed staff, is it a surprise that hosting trainees is one of the first aspects to be cut? Particularly considering that the School Direct Salaried route is inadequately funded. When schools decide to take on a School Direct Salaried trainee, the support is another thing that is dissipating. With stretched staffing, School Direct Salaried trainees are being used as cheap cover, not out of spite from schools, but as a means of necessity. The control from the ITE provider is also a challenge here too, as the power in most cases, is held by the employer.

The second aspect concerned is the trainee. The training year is intense. There are high expectations, and rightly so, the stakes are high. But, is the right hand always talking to the left? For SCITT providers, they will have rigorous processes, a calendar packed with pedagogical theory and practical advice to best prepare teachers for tomorrow. However, the validating university will have their processes too, a packed calendar with deadlines for assignments. And then there are the school expectations. As a trainee teacher, you have to walk and talk like a teacher too, and that includes: staff meetings, marking as per the policy and emails to name a few. In any given week, a trainee will be required to plan on a different format to please the provider, teach, mark and assess as per the school guidance, attend numerous staff meetings, hold weekly progress meetings against the teaching standards showing evidence in a folder, whilst also undertaking masters level reading and writing in order to achieve their PGCE. Yes, training is intense.

Finally, you have the provider, with smaller staffing structures than universities, costs which are always on the rise, lack of funding for most subjects (particularly primary where there is none) and difficulty recruiting numbers. It is, of course, true that providers are feeling the pinch more than ever. How do we do more, with less? Since taking the role a couple of years ago I have found that striking the balance between rigour and excellence with reasonable workload to be a huge challenge. We obviously can’t solve all of the issues highlighted above, particularly in terms of funding constraints, but we can lead by example and do the best for those hit the hardest – the trainee teacher. So, what have we done?

Well, a fundamental flaw in the Addressing Teacher Workload in ITE advice is that there is one group which has been forgotten from the discussion: the staff of the ITE provider. If we are going to seriously reduce workload pressures, we must practice what we preach. And that means everybody. Who is looking after the tutors, module leaders and, dare I say it, SCITT leaders? In my next blog, to be published next Monday, I will discuss how we have reduced workload practices first and foremost for our staff.

Provider details: SCITTELS (SCITT in East London Schools)


Twitter: @ScittelsSchool


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