Yesterday (19/01/15) was a busy day for us education policy wonks. We had the new headteacher standards, the long-awaited result of the Carter Review on Initial Teacher Training. Both documents are good pieces of work and in general I welcome what they are saying and the direction in which they they are taking our education system. However, both reports include missed opportunities.
Take the new headteacher standards. They are clear and well written and feel grounded in the reading of leading and running a school. Also welcome is the inclusion of a ‘domain’ of standards on the role of headteachers in creating and supporting a self-improving school system. But, and here comes my first comment or reservation. the standards seem to be complied on the assumption that a headteacher is running an individual stand alone school. In a self-improving school system we are increasingly seeing different models: executive heads overseeing two or three schools or a head of school working to an executive head. We have schools coming together to support teacher other, either for a specific purpose or period – and sometimes permanently. We have head and schools who see their school improvement model in the context of being part of an overarching teaching school alliance or academy trust strategy for improvement. And we have groups of school that define their mission by improving educational outcomes for all school and pupils in their locality. The standards don’t capture the dynamics of what is now developing in many parts of the school system.
Does this omission or oversight matter? Yes, I think it does because we have a long way to go to communicate to and convince governors and parents that different leadership (and governance) models are to be expected and welcomed in a self-improving system.
My second comment relates to the standard that expects headteachers to:
“Challenge educational orthodoxies in the best interests of achieving excellence, harnessing the findings of well evidenced research to frame self-regulating and self- improving schools”
I hope that this statement will encourage heads to look more critically at the evidence on setting of pupils – as highlighted by the OECD in its report (also published on 19th January) on the progress of educational reform in England**
The Carter review on ITT*** also has lots to welcome. I support the concept of having a core curriculum. I like the emphasis on the development of subject knowledge and the understanding of child development. Basic skills relating to classroom behaviour are covered as are the need to develop consistency and excellence in assessment practice. It was also welcome to see the recognition that universities and schools need to work in partnership to deliver a high quality ITT offer.
One key issue was, however, ducked. The amount of content that Carter is expecting to cram into the ITT year is not realistic. In part he recognises this by saying that ITT is ‘Initial’ training and that the first year should be a prelude to further development. For example, the review calls for “funded in-service subject knowledge enhancement courses to be made available for primary teachers”. But would it not have been better to have more explicit about seeing the ITT, the NQT and NQT+1 years as a continuum? Although teachers could be licensed to practise after their initial year would it not invest QTS with greater meaning if it were actually not awarded until new entrants were proficient in all the elements of the curriculum that Carter has identified – i.e. at the end of the third rather than the first year? Such an approach to QTS could also amass credits towards a Masters. Without this change I am not sure we will see a step change in the proficiency and professionalism of our new teachers.
However, the reality is that even had Carter had made such a recommendation it is unlikely that it would have been accepted because the government, in its response to the review****, could not even agree with giving greater prominence to QTS rather than PGCE. The most astounding, although honest, sentence in the government’s response was this:
“The two coalition parties have different positions on this recommendation. Therefore the Government cannot take this recommendation forward”
Clearly the coalition government has given up any attempt to resolve outstanding policy differences – so it is just as well there is an election coming!
My final reservation also relates to the government response to Carter. A pity that the government’s plans to support the development of teachers’ subject knowledge are, at this point, confined to “maths, physics, chemistry, modern languages, computing and primary maths”. The humanities and arts again overlooked – the government’s list reinforces a narrow and utilitarian view of education.
** See http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jan/19/education-school-reforms-children-oecd