Get Carter

Is Andrew Carter set to be cast as the Lord Widgery of early 21st Century whitewashes? Just as the original 1972 Bloody Sunday tribunal was dismissed as an establishment-serving cover-up, so the fear is that the Carter Review into ITT will merely tell the DfE what it already knows. Whereas the analogy may seem fanciful, the two do share at least one design flaw: they are both bound by narrow terms of reference, likely to produce a result pleasing to their masters but useless to the rest of us.

Carter’s Review into ITT is being questioned exactly because it appears to be sticking merely to the initial year in a teacher’s life, eschewing the wider view. Entry qualifications, induction, Masters level study, continuing professional development and progression throughout one’s career: any discussion of fitness to teach or oaths to professionalism ought to embrace the full panoply of PD.

But rather than admonishing Carter for what it is not, let us critique it on its own (narrow)terms. Its remit is to scan the range of ITT courses to:
* define effective ITT practice
* assess the extent to which the current system delivers effective ITT
* recommend where and how improvements could be made
* recommend ways to improve choice in the system by improving the transparency of course content and methods.

This tribunal will both define what effective ITT is, and decide for itself whether the system meets that definition. And if there were any doubt as to the remedies required (for surely the system is ailing) we are told in the final term that it will involve yet more choice and transparency. Whatever else will be prescribed, it will not be a dose of market-narrowing. At my last count there were at least 5 routes into teaching, but even if Carter concludes that this market expansion has muddied the view of course content when seen from the outside, the decree is that there should be more, not less of the obscuring stuff.

Full Disclosure: Mine is a lead school for School Direct. With colleagues at London Metropolitan University, I helped to establish a London-wide alliance of 26 schools to bid for training places, with LMU providing its expertise in recruitment and course tuition. Our first trainees are in schools right now, enjoying the same standard of ITT as that university’s PGCE students. The additional numbers that these SD trainees represent has boosted LMU’s core allocation, thereby helping to keep alive some of the best teacher-training courses in London. It has been hard work, and worth the effort. But none of it was necessary.

It might have been necessary had the universities been churning out sub-standard teachers, and doing so in insufficient numbers. But that has never been established (and will not be by Widgery – sorry, Carter.) Since the government decided to expand choice, I know from my experience of ITT in London that the offer has in fact shrunk. Geography, Art, Technology and PE have all been stripped from Middlesex; London Met has lost English; news is that SWELTEC is gone. I would dearly love to train a Geographer through School Direct, but the IOE is the only provider. Is that choice? I have 15 trainees placed in my school this term, but not one of them in a Technology or expressive Arts subject, because they are all being trained in the south and west of the city. School Direct is not the answer to this, if the ‘provider’ universities are too far away. ‘Choice’ has not expanded choice.

Carter himself might conclude this. I fear he may jump to another conclusion, one of the order: if this is not the solution then we need to change the problem. School Direct, with all of the additional burdens on schools that have not expanded their capacity to cope with it, is a poor vehicle for delivering fully-qualified teachers. So – since School Direct has to be the answer – we will have to redefine what is meant by ‘qualified’. For a generation and more, this has meant acquiring a PGCE. PGCE is an academic qualification which can only be certified by a university. (Others, such as SCITTs, may also but their portability will always be questioned.) But, if by fully-qualified we mean QTS-only, then schools may well be reasonably placed to deliver this, as we do already sign off the Teachers’ Standards at the end of school placements.

Carter, operating within narrow parameters, could define ‘effective ITT practice’ as an apprentice model, where rookie trainees learn the craft by mimicking masters. He could improve choice by stripping away the expectation of a PGCE and allowing schools alone to grant QTS. Universities can go the way of Bristol and Warwick and abandon ITT altogether. If he proceeds down this route, then I wish him luck with transparency, for there will be a different interpretation of fitness to teach for every school making the decision.

It took the establishment 38 years to erase the whitewash of Widgery, years which added to the blight of a generation. Carter cannot be allowed to do the same.