In England, there is a government drive to increase the role of schools in teacher training, hence, from September 2013 School Direct, a new training programme is available in primary and secondary schools across England and programmes generally last for one year. The government recognises the important role that HEIs and accredited providers contribute to teacher training and each School Direct project must have a school and a HEI / accredited provider working together. It is up to the partnership to decide on the level of input from the schools and HEIs. Among the aims of School Direct, it is suggested that this system will give schools the ability to influence the way in which ITT is delivered and improve the system, and also that it will enable schools and their chosen provider to work together in partnership.

On 23 April 2013 colleagues from providers and schools came together to explore the challenges and opportunities that School Direct offers to benefit student teachers, teachers, and, most importantly, children and young people. The meeting was deliberately entitled The Partnership of School Direct as it was intended that we should seek ways to foster this new form of partnership, looking at the challenges posed, but particularly finding ways forward and positive solutions.

To give the keynote for the day, we welcomed Paul Cohen from the National College for Teaching and Leadership. The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is a new government agency created to enable and support the development of a self-improving, school-led system. The agency was formed from the merger, on 1 April 2013, of the National College for School Leadership and the Teaching Agency. Paul Cohen is a Deputy Director in the National College for Teaching and Leadership with responsibility for recruitment to ITT. It is his job to ensure that the places allocated by the DfE each year are filled with the best quality trainees possible. This year, Paul has been focusing in particular on how the College can support School Direct schools to attract good quality applicants. Paul is also responsible for the skills tests which aspirant trainees need to pass and for the establishment of a new UCAS system to cover all postgraduate applications from this autumn. Prior to his appointment, Paul has held senior positions in the DfE, BiS and the Cabinet Office in the areas of education, skills and health. Paul addressed delegates on the theme of: A self improving school led system: The future of Initial Teacher Training. He explained the remit of the new NCTL and discussed the fundamental shift of control to schools. The aims of the NCTL are on the DfE website (accessed April, 2013).

In the afternoon we were pleased to welcome three colleagues to give different perspectives on the issues of School Direct. James Burch, Secondary PGCE programme leader from the University of Cumbria spoke of the need for a principled pedagogical path to take us forward. Jane Henderson, from the South Lakes federation spoke of her opinion of the opportunities that School Direct offers schools and how she envisages the partnership between schools and HEIs in the new climate. Sue Field from Canterbury Christ Church University spoke about her research into ‘the trials of transition’ between being a schoolteacher to becoming a teacher educator either in an HEI or within a school.

Group sessions

Delegates discussed what School Direct meant to them personally, considered the challenges posed by School Direct and looked for solutions to those challenges.

Summary of the points made during the discussions

There was some evidence of apprehension and even one indication of ‘panic’! A general fear of the unknown was expressed and a feeling that the NCTL had not all the answers. Some school colleagues felt that schools are putting neck out and could be a potential target as they will be accountable and responsible. There is a pressure on schools to deliver and keep their ‘outstanding’ status. Attention is being diverted from what’s happening in the classroom. The best people go out of the classroom and it takes time to grow replacements. Motivation for School Direct could be to train outstanding teachers through additional school input, encouraging quality teachers into the profession.

One of the main concerns was Quality Assurance. Another was Ofsted. Another concern was time. Teachers are busy involved in teaching and learning as a priority in schools. Many senior leaders who have responsibility for School Direct usually have multiple other roles in school. However it does offer opportunities for good practitioners to widen their role. Could some of their income be used for training and development for those involved with students and to free up time for them to engage with more with the students? It would be necessary to grow the workforce to meet future needs.

Some felt that they were not sure if School Direct ‘fits everybody’. The issue of geography, particularly of rural schools was seen to be a problem. Similarly it is difficult for small primary schools with low staff turnover. Creating School Direct families of school could be a way forward; do not map on to Teaching School alliances necessarily. School alliances are currently shaping Teaching School Alliances.

From the school perspective, some delegates felt that schools need to be aware of what they don’t know and what they can’t provide – e.g. theoretical models. The solution here was seen to be the IT provider. Schools were clear that they will treat School Direct trainees as part of their team from the word go and will be able to foster successful outcomes. They felt that they would be able to recruit potential trainees that seem better matched to their specific school. They would build on their link with the university and make it better. They would be there at the start to shape the process. It was a great opportunity to engage in relevant training, to take part in the interviewing, to have some autonomy in the selection of recruits. Selection of students was felt to be empowering. Schools know it will be hard work and have their eyes open; however the academic side is challenging. There is some inconsistency of approach from providers in how they deliver and develop programmes but also some positive developments in new programme development.

From the HEI perspective, there was an acceptance that we have to engage in this, but it is challenging when the aim is to remove jobs from HEIs. From the HEI viewpoint, numbers are important. Are there questions about intellectual property? Different kinds of teacher knowledge and learning are valued by school-based and university based colleagues. There is a need for balance between HEI and school experience of teaching.

Sustainability of the system was seen to be an issue, particularly in terms of employment. It was felt that some schools had no intention to employ whereas some fully hope to employ. Some thought there was a good chance of trainees getting jobs.

Economics and scale could cause problems. When recruiting en masse School Direct schools may need to take more risks on recruitment. Very vigorous recruitment will be necessary as it could be a massive drain on resources. There is a risk of potential under-recruitment. It seems to be local recruitment only what about the national picture, what about equal opportunities? Possibly use PGCE to backfill where School Direct does not necessarily recruit. Some schools reported very low quality from some applicants. There is dependence on the reserve list as first choices are taken on elsewhere. Some candidates hold more than one place as they have accepted multiple offers. There are tensions around salaried routes. It is a big investment. There is a potential drying up of salaried applicants once all TAs have been trained. What about the finances of salaried applicants – especially the London weighting. It was pointed out that School Direct is just one route into teaching and that good ones [teachers] will rise to the top whatever route. There is no evidence that School Direct will improve things; especially in times of austerity there will be shortages.

Delegates went on to discuss the implications of School Direct for partnership between schools and HEIs. What opportunities does it open up and how can partnership work to best effect?

There was some fear of schools being isolated if they were not in an alliance; school alliances are currently shaping provision. The funding model would need to be right. If there is more equality between schools and HEIs, money is an influence on that equality and what HEIs offer. Of course there would be an impact on teacher workload for staff leading School Direct in the school; subject mentors will need to be fully trained. It might possibly lead to a reduction in the number of HEIs with which a school works; market forces will dictate which HEIs schools are in partnership with. How will all this be moderated? HEI/school partnerships are very different in terms of programme schedules. There are challenges in primary; how can you support these schools? Key personnel will be needed to support School Direct and there will be a need to need to audit skills and understand how to deploy them well.

However it was felt that there was potential to develop stronger partnerships between schools and HEIs. The partnership relationship has been changing over years and this is an extension of that; partnerships have the ability to strengthen and enhance what was already a strong position. This is a relationship which is multi-faceted. Moderation of practice will be undertaken jointly. There will be shared responsibility based on strong relationships. The skills and strengths of both partners will be used to best effect. There would be a need for negotiation between the partners; a need to develop new ways of planning in partnership. Schools and HEIs will co-design programme materials, course documents, conference days. Partnership school staff can gain from the experience of working alongside university tutors and vice versa. There will be a need for trust and effective communication. Collaboration between schools increases the network of expertise and trust between them. They will cultivate the ability to help each other, share some weaknesses, seek and provide support. The balance of practical opportunities with academic rigour will be very important; this highlights the benefit of the university input for research and academic input.

How can schools work with HEIs to impact on school improvement? Alliances are using School Direct as a vehicle for collaboration; this leads to school improvement opportunities. To ensure that the system is sustainable, schools and universities must be mutually self-improving. There is concern about schools ‘requiring improvement’ who are not engaging with School Direct; they may lose School Direct opportunities.

What about Masters level? There are concerns about the theory/practice divide and the separation of QTS and PGCE. Some thought that M level is emerging slowly in programme developmental collaboration as school/HEI partnerships evolve, but others that there is a question of the desirability in terms of Masters, particularly from schools. Probably a longer term approach is needed to allow the teacher to develop more evidence to complete the full Masters programme. Two positive comments were that it would be possible to use funding for HEI to train school staff to be able to provide M level in the future and that Masters programmes should increase QA levels.

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