Concerns over future of teacher training

17 October 2014

The Royal Historical Society and Historical Association raise concerns over the move away from subject-centred teacher training

teacher_training_imageThe Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership present a profound threat to the quality of future history teaching.

The Facts

  • Increasing numbers of trainee teachers are entering the profession without any training.
  • Opportunities for graduates to increase subject knowledge alongside subject-based teaching practice in university centred school partnerships have been cut.
  • Our research shows that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training.

At a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms already taking place at Key Stage 3 and extensive reforms about to be implemented at both GCSE and A level, it is vital that those joining the profession have access to rich sources of historical knowledge and research-based approaches to teaching and models of pupil progression within the subject. As schools develop new schemes of work and develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how the school subject has developed over the past few decades.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they are cutting the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the department working on the Carter Review of ITT are seeking the advice of university tutors and working with them in identifying the key features of strong history provision.

The Historical Association’s survey of history teachers, conducted in July 2014, shows that there is very little appetite within history departments for an expansion of school-based provision that reduces mentors’ and trainees’ links to a strong and well-rooted subject community. Nearly 80% of respondents thought that partnerships between schools and universities were the most effective way of training teachers, while over 70% feared that the subject-specific dimension of teachers’ training would suffer if the universities’ role was reduced. So highly was the universities’ role valued that 90% of respondents agreed that all trainees should receive a guaranteed minimum entitlement to university-based elements in their training, incorporated within a partnership programme. Respondents claimed that that it was not only the trainees but also the mentors and other experienced teachers working with them who benefitted through the partnership arrangements from this access to subject-specific research-based knowledge.

The Detail

The Initial Teacher Training allocations for 2015-16 recently announced by the National College for Teaching and Leadership threaten the quality of future history teaching, and risk sabotaging the achievement of the government’s own aims in strengthening the breadth and depth of all young people’s historical knowledge.

We welcome the increase in the number of training places allocated for history to meet the demands of a rising school population and the higher proportion of students continuing with the subject to GCSE. We are alarmed, however, by the distribution of these places. The policy of reducing the number of places allocated to partnerships centred on university providers not only weakens subject links between higher education and schools which the government has sought to strengthen in recent years, but also destroys the stable and well-established communities of history mentors on which high quality subject-specific, school-based, professional training depends.

Our central concern in seeking to ensure that new history teachers have access to the best research and practice-based understandings of history teaching is that their training should have a strong subject dimension. However successful school-only providers may be in delivering some aspects of training, what they can provide is inevitably focused on generic principles and teaching practices. They do not have the numbers of trainees in each subject to be able to provide rigorous, securely-grounded and well-validated subject-specific knowledge and expertise.

It is vital at a time of profound curriculum change, with significant reforms at Key Stage 3,GCSE and A level, that those joining the profession have ready access both to rich sources of historical knowledge and to research-based approaches to teaching and pupil progression within history. As academies and free schools exploit their curricular freedoms, and as all schools develop or adopt new assessment structures, it is essential that those mentoring beginners have a secure knowledge of how history as a school subject has developed over in recent decades – both so that they do not re-invent wheels and so that they avoid repeating past mistakes. Much is to be learned from analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of previous curriculum and assessment models within this country, from the cumulative knowledge of published practices of England’s history teachers and from curricula and practice beyond the UK. Individual subject mentors, working with isolated history trainees in predominantly generic programmes cannot possibly develop, sustain and renew this knowledge in the highly-developed ways that have been achieved by secure partnerships who have built outstanding expertise in teams of subject mentors over time. In stable communities of history mentors, in which those new to the role can be inducted by the experienced, new history mentors are able to learn as much from one another as the from university-based tutors whose own research and wide-ranging roles in supporting practitioner research continually serve to renew their knowledge of effective history teaching. These stable, knowledgeable communities of history mentors are models of schools-led teacher training practice at the subject level. To weaken them is to weaken school-community ownership of high standards in strong subject courses.

That the Department for Education recognises the strengths of such partnerships is evident in the fact that even as they cut the number of trainees allocated to them, members of the DfE working on the Carter Review of ITT specifically seek the advice OF university history education tutors in identifying the key features of strong history provision. In these circumstances, the decision to cut the number of places allocated to university-based providers to the point where many courses cease to be viable amounts to an own goal.

We call on the government to reconsider its actions and to find ways of securing rather than undermining the very links between the school and university subject communities that they have sought so hard to build in other ways.

* The 2014 Survey into History in English Secondary Schools will be published on Monday 3 November