Education of Teachers: The English Experience

Nov. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 37, No. 4, November 2011, 377–386.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article considers the impact of recent political decisions on the provision of teacher education and the continuing development of teachers in England.
The author tracks how successive governments have changed the requirements necessary to become a teacher as circumstances have changed in the country and considers the impact of these changes on higher education institutions.

The political and policy context 

In England, the education of teachers has remained a contentious issue under three successive governments, Conservative, Labour and Cameron’s Coalition, in which the debate is still very much alive.
The period from the early 1980s onward had witnessed a steady growth in government micromanagement of what happens in the classroom through a National Curriculum.

Together with the introduction of a centrally determined curriculum, new agencies were established for determining the initial teacher training curriculum and for establishing teachers’ conditions of service.
At the very centre of teacher education there had to be a focus on government strategies, less theory and more practice, implementation rather than reading and reflection, less challenge and more compliance.

One consequence of this is that student teachers now spend more time in schools during their initial teacher preparation programmes while higher education institutions have to pay schools up to one quarter of their gross income for their contribution.

Routes into teaching
The article also considers the range of ways in which someone might now become a teacher and the various providers that might become involved in this process.
The Labour Government 2008 White Paper 21st Century Schools proposed a new licence to teach, renewable every five years, together with legislation that would require all new teachers to undertake a Masters degree in teaching and learning.

Until now, universities, or higher education institutions (HEIs), have played a central role in the preparation of teachers in the UK, either through three- or four-year undergraduate programmes or through one- or two-year post-graduate programmes.
Universities continue to offer three- or four-year undergraduate programmes, which may be BEd, BA, MA or Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
These undergraduate programmes have built on HEI–school partnerships.
They have the job of making the links between theory and practice, between what has been taught and what has been learned, and practised, in the classroom.

Other routes are a one-year programme (mostly PGCEs) offered by school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) consortia, often in partnership with HEIs.
There are also employment-based routes/graduate training programmes under which trainees are employed and trained ‘on the job’ (often with HEI input).
In addition, there are programmes such as ‘Teach First’ and ‘Overseas Trained Teachers’ that are sometimes managed solely or jointly by HEIs.
Direct on-the-job training is also available through the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), in Wales as well as England, allowing graduates, often job changers, to gain unqualified teacher status.

Furthermore, all student teachers must demonstrate that they meet the Secretary of State’s Qualification for Teaching (QTS) standards.
These enshrine the basic professional knowledge, skills and understanding that teachers are judged to need.
All initial programmes must adhere to the Secretary of State’s requirements, which stipulate that students on postgraduate and undergraduate programmes must spend a minimum of 18–24 and 24–32 weeks, respectively, in schools or in comparable settings.

The providers
The term ‘providers’ is used by the government to denote those places validated to prepare teachers, with the word ‘training’ itself.
In England it is initial teacher training (ITT), in Scotland and Northern Ireland initial teacher education (ITE).
Prospective candidates can choose among an almost bewildering array of agencies and routes into teaching.

However, one of the enduring problems in pre-service education of teachers is to find suitable placements for all students.

The contribution of higher education

The recent coalition government’s use of the term ‘initial teacher training’ is used as means of identifying how the views of this government differ from others that use the term ‘initial teacher education’ and what this means to both teachers and universities.
The Labour government was keen to move teacher ‘training’ out of the hands of the universities into schools, in part as an economic measure, in part as a continuing legacy from Margaret Thatcher of distrusting academics and HEIs as ‘providers’.

Opening up the provider market was to be a continuing and developing theme, gathering pace under a Coalition government.

As the Universities and Colleges Council has been quick to point out, the partnership model between schools and higher education bodies is a necessary capacity-building process for a profession that has to look ahead to unanticipated changes in the development of educational theory and practice.
In addition, the Secretary of State currently requires that entrants to PGCE and other graduate programmes have a first degree or equivalent qualification, and have achieved GCSE standard in English and mathematics and (for primary) science.

Nonetheless, recruitment problems remain and retention is increasingly problematic owing to serial innovation, accountability measures and pressures, worsening student behaviour and lack of leisure and family time.

Updated: Mar. 25, 2014