Bishop of Winchester on teacher training, education and social mobility

“I question whether the Government’s policies for improving the quality of teaching have been fully effective and will enable social mobility. I am particularly concerned about the School Direct programme. In fact, I suggest there is an urgent case for rethinking arrangements around initial teacher training before a crisis develops.” – Bishop of Winchester

The Bishop of Winchester gave a speech in a House of Lords debate on 13th March 2014, tabled by the Education Minister Lord Nash.

The debate title was: ‘that this House takes note of the role of primary and secondary education in improving social mobility.’

The Lord Bishop of Winchester:13.05 Bishop of Winchester

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Nash, for the opportunity of this debate. I shall focus on the impact made by initial teacher training on social mobility. I begin by quoting from the Government’s 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching:

“All the evidence from different education systems around the world shows that the most important factor in determining how well children do is the quality of teachers and teaching”.

I have a particular interest in teacher training as I am the spokesperson for the Bishops on higher and further education, and in my diocese 12% of the University of Winchester’s intake is trainee teachers wanting to play their part in transforming lives and enabling social mobility. I also declare a personal interest as my daughter has recently trained as teacher on a mixed-mode teacher training programme and is now a teacher working in a school just north of Southampton.

We are debating the impact of schooling on social mobility, and noble Lords will know the Church of England’s long commitment to education, particularly for the disadvantaged. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle has well illustrated this. My main point is that teachers can make the greatest difference to pupils from the most disadvantaged communities. Thus without a strong cohort of excellent teachers, we cannot hope to inspire disadvantaged young people with the confidence to contribute to society and equip them with the tools to seize opportunities. Academic success is vital, but so too is capacity, resilience and spiritual maturity.

It is from this perspective that I question whether the Government’s policies for improving the quality of teaching have been fully effective and will enable social mobility. I am particularly concerned about the School Direct programme. In fact, I suggest there is an urgent case for rethinking arrangements around initial teacher training before a crisis develops. School Direct gives individual schools responsibility for running teacher education. The school adapts the programme for the local needs and distributes funding as it sees fit, buying in training, sometimes from universities, either as part of a PGCE or as a bespoke qualified teacher status package.

In a number of examples, the policy has worked very well. Canterbury Christ Church University for example, which has an Anglican foundation, is working with a great many schools over a wide area to support their recruitment and training of teachers in the classroom. Indeed, I visited that university yesterday and I commend to noble Lords the work of the Kent and Medway Progression Federation, energetically promoted by Canterbury Christ Church. It is a partnership between universities, local authorities and more than 40 schools and colleges in Kent and Medway, working together to raise the attainment and aspirations of disadvantaged young people who may not otherwise consider higher education. Results have been extremely positive, with 26% of the tracked participants from deprived areas progressing to higher education. However, I fear that these successes cannot be taken as the rule, and there are three major concerns about aspects of School Direct I should like to share with your Lordships.

My first concern is that the take-up of the School Direct programme has been rather disappointing, and raises the danger of a damaging teacher shortage very soon. The move to School Direct has been rapid. This year, the allocation for School Direct will jump from 25% to 37% of all ITT places. However, last year it was widely reported that only two-thirds of School Direct places had been filled. This might not be particularly troubling had the core allocations for existing universities not also been reduced. For every School Direct place unfilled there is one less teacher available in the classroom. Your Lordships will be aware that primary schools are in many areas experiencing a high pressure on places, and this pressure will soon flow through into secondary schools. This is not the time to pressurise schools to take on training responsibilities when many are desperate for new teachers. The Government must surely recognise that this policy is simply not attractive to schools in the numbers they first imagined. If the aim is to get good-quality teachers teaching in the classroom, then now is the time to free up those surplus places to universities, many of which have 200 years of experience in training some of the best teachers in the world.

My second concern is that by placing planning decisions in the hands of individual schools, the Government are jeopardising the financial viability of our teacher training institutions. It is my privilege to be working with the 11 Anglican universities which account for 24% of primary initial teacher training and 12% of secondary. They are enormously valuable institutions for our whole education sector, and they see initial teacher training as core business. The School Direct policy is undermining these institutions and runs the risk of putting them out of business.

They report a number of very real dangers. For example, as I have said, a significant increase in places allocated for School Direct limits the funding for traditional PGCEs. Last year, Cumbria University lost 60% of its core PGCE provision. Secondly, where universities are involved in providing training for School Direct places, this is at significantly reduced funding per student. It also requires each contract to be renegotiated every year—not only a labour-intensive process but an arrangement that makes long-term strategic planning extremely difficult, not to say almost impossible. Lastly, as the number of classroom-based routes into teaching increases, universities are finding it harder and harder to identify school placements for their students. This means that one of the central advantages of university-based training, the opportunity to work in a number of different schools, is left vulnerable.

I am not asking your Lordships to be sympathetic to Anglican universities. Rather, I am highlighting that their vulnerability has grave implications for social mobility and our wider education system. These institutions host high-quality, long-standing ITT departments which provide specialist lecturers and resources, access to continuous professional development and leadership training. Through these universities and their ITT departments, research is conducted on the efficacy of different teaching practices. Our understanding would be deeply diminished without them.

These universities also maintain and develop a mixed ecology of teacher training routes by keeping open the opportunity of university routes for those who are keen to start their career with the benefit of the highest-quality tuition and the widest possible experience of schools. To jeopardise these institutions and all that they offer the education system is surely an act of great folly which will not serve a Government committed to improving social mobility, but will rather pull apart the very institutions dedicated to the primary engines of social mobility: excellent teachers.

My third concern is that we run the risk of demoting the academic rigour of teaching that underpins its practice. I have referred already to the importance of teachers in equipping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the tools they need to take advantage of opportunities placed before them. Excellent GCSEs alone are not a passport to success. What we ask of our teachers is not to fill empty vessels with knowledge, but to inspire young people, to nurture them, and to give them the confidence to make the most of themselves and to contribute to society.

If we are to ask this of our teachers, we must provide them with appropriate training. On-the-job training is good, but not if it focuses too heavily on planning, marking and behaviour management at the expense of developing a confident understanding of pedagogy and child development. It is from that deeper background and understanding that teachers can impart a vision for getting on in life and work.

My own experience, in a previous role, has allowed me to see, around the world, the importance of education—to see the power of quality teaching and teachers for transforming students from disadvantaged backgrounds, nurturing them to become the nation-builders of their countries. However, quality teaching and teachers need quality preparation and training and I am not sure School Direct will do it on its own unless it is set within a wider ecology of university and research.

The universities are not against classroom-based routes into teaching. Canterbury Christ Church University was the first institution to take up the Teach First programme, and has been deeply involved in its development since then. Indeed, more widely, 18% of all School Direct allocations for 2014-15 were in partnership with Anglican universities, often as part of a PGCE.

I have no doubt that many School Direct programmes are working very effectively. However, we must keep a careful eye on how the policy is implemented because it is the young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who will be disproportionately hit by the looming crisis. I urge the Government to reflect again and to promote a truly mixed ecology of teaching training that allows for proper planning and forward thinking, ongoing research in education as well as an entrepreneurial spirit for how teachers are trained.


Lord Nash: [extract]… The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester made some observations about School Direct. In 2013-14, School Direct attracted more applications per place than any other training route, with three applications for every place compared with 1.8 for provider-led provision. It is a struggle to recruit for some of the shortage subjects but this has also been the case for other types of places. All School Direct places are delivered in partnership with an accredited ITT partner and 71% of places have been allocated to schools working with a university provider. The expansion of School Direct has provided opportunities for universities to maintain, or even increase, their ITT market share.

The quality of ITT training is, however, very patchy. We believe that we need to create other training options, and that competition will improve the situation. Those institutions which do provide good-quality ITT should have nothing to fear from competition. Those that do not—and they exist—need to raise their game, but we believe in a mixed economy in teacher training and greater research into the effects of education measures, which is why, for instance, we have funded, with some £100 million, the education endowment fund…

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