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The ITT Market Review could be a game changer

The ITT market review has the potential to make a dramatic difference to the future of the teaching profession and in turn the life experiences of young people. I’ve previously written about how the review could succeed by removing less effective providers from the market and replacing them with better ones.

In this post, I want to examine another mechanism: programme development. The consultation published earlier this year describes a number of activities, including more training for mentors, but I want to unpick the details of the mechanisms to help clarify thinking and focus our attention on the most important details.

Four lenses

There are a number of lenses we can use to look at programme development, including:

  1. Curriculum, pedagogyª, assessment – each of these has the potential to improve the programme.
  2. What trainees will do differently – this is a useful lens because it brings us closer to thinking about trainees, rather than just activities. Relatedly, Prof Steve Higgins invites us to think about three key ways to improve pupil learning; we can imrove learning by getting pupils to work harder, for longer, or more effectively or efficiently.
  3. Behaviour change – ultimately, the market review is trying to change the behaviour of people, including programme providers, partner schools and of course trainee teachers. Therefore, it is also useful to use the capability, opportunity, motivation model of behaviour change (COM-B).
  4. Ease of implementation – we need to recognise that ITT programmes have quite complex ‘delivery chains’ involving different partners. When considering the ease of implementation – and crucially scalability – it might help to consider where in the delivery chain changes in behaviour need to take place. Changes at the start of the delivery chain, such as to the core programme curriculum, are likely easier to make compared to those at the end such as changes within the placement schools.

(ªBe gone foul pedants, I’m not calling it andragogy.)

With these four lenses in hand, let’s consider how the market review might support the development of the programme.

The curriculum

The curriculum is as good a place as any to start, but first I’d like to emphasise that ITT programmes are complex – many different actors need to act in a coordinated manner – and this is perhaps felt most acutely when it comes to the curriculum. Instead of advocating the teaching of particular things, I’d like to highlight three specific mechanisms that could lead to change.

First, prioritising the most important learning, for instance, I am yet to find a trainee who would not benefit from more focused subject knowledge development. You can insert your own pet project or peeve here too.

Second, reducing the redundancy, or duplication, by cutting down on the overlap of input from different actors. For instance, in my experience, it is common for different actors to present models that are functionally similar, but different. There are lots of different models concerning how best to scaffold learning and different actors may introduce their personal favourite. Of course, there are sometimes sound reasons for presenting different models since the similarities and differences can help us to appreciate deeper structures, but where this variation is arbitrary it is just adding to the noise of an already challenging year for trainee teachers.

Third, sequencing is often the difference between a good and a great curriculum. Improved sequencing can help to optimise learning either by ensuring that trainees progressively develop their understanding and practice, or by ensuring that as trainees encounter new ideas, they also have the opportunity to apply them. The EEF’s professional development guidance highlights four mechanisms: building knowledge, motivating staff, developing teaching practice, and embedding practice. A challenge for ITT providers – given the logistics of school placements – is that there is often quite a gap between building trainee knowledge and providing opportunities – particularly involving pupils – for them to apply this knowledge.

Depending on the level of abstraction that we think about the programme, there are different mechanisms. At the highest level, it is instructive to think about trainees working longer, harder, more effectively or efficiently. I suspect we are at the limit of what can be achieved by getting trainees to work longer hours – short of extending the programme length. The market review consultation recommends a minimum length of 38 weeks so assuming trainees work a 40 hour week, we need to decide what is the best way for them to spend their 1,520 hours?

Teaching methods

Turning away from the curriculum, how might we improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our teaching methods? Here are some of the areas that I would explore.

  1. Can we make it easier for trainees to access brilliant content? High-quality textbooks tightly aligned with the programme content would be a very useful and scalable resource. Having to comb through lots of different reports not tailored specifically for programmes is a real inefficiency.
  2. Do we want trainees to spend so much time engaging with primary research? It’s definitely a useful skill to develop, but the best way to be able to independently and critically engage with primary research is not to simply be thrown into it. It’s not that this is an inherently bad idea, just that it has a high opportunity cost.
  3. How do we make better use of trainee’s self-directed study? I suspect giving access to better resources – particularly for subject knowledge development, is an easy win. There may also be merit in helping to develop better study habits.
  4. Do we really need trainees to complete an independent research project? I think trainees should engage more with research, but as users, not producers. My starting point would be helping trainees to recognise different types of claims, and assessing the rigour and relevance of the supporting evidence. This is not too technical, and it is fundamental to building the research literacy of the profession. For the purists who cannot let go of the individual research project, I would point to the need for greater scaffolding – managing an entirely new research project just has too many moving parts for trainees become proficient in any of them. One way doing research could be scaffolded is through some micro-trials similar to the work of the EEF’s teacher-choices trials, or WhatWorked. There is a growing body of evidence from other fields that replications can be a useful teaching tool and generate useable knowledge. These do not have to be limited to trials, but could also include common data collection instruments and aggregating data. This would allow the systematic accumulation of knowledge from a large and interested workforce. The forthcoming Institute of Teaching could help to coordinate this kind of work.
  5. Can we cut down on time trainees spend on other things? Travelling between venues, waiting around, and cutting and preparing resources all seem like areas that could be optimised. The gains here might not be big, but they are probably quite easy to achieve.
  6. Can we improve the quality of mentoring? The market review consultation focuses quite a bit on mentoring. I agree that this is probably a really promising mechanism, but it is also probably really hard to do – particularly at scale.

Some of the ideas listed above are easier to do than others, and will have different impacts. When considering the ease of implementation – and crucially scalability – it might help to consider where in the delivery chain changes in behaviour need to take place. Changes at the start of the delivery chain, such as to the core programme curriculum, are likely easier to make compared to those at the end such as changes within the placement schools. Through this lens it becomes obvious that it’s considerably harder to improve the quality of mentoring provided by thousands of mentors compared to investing in providing high-quality, structured information in textbooks, for instance.

Assessment

Finally, let’s examine assessment. An assessment is a process for making an inference, so what inferences do we need to make as part of an ITT programme? I think there are four types for each prospective teacher:

1. Are they suitable to join our programme?

2. What are the best next steps in their development?

3. Are they on track to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)?

4. Have they met the Teachers’ Standards to recommend QTS?

The first and final inference are both high stakes for prospective teachers. The Teachers’ Standards are the basis for the final inference – but what is there to support the first inference? From sampling the DfE’s Apply Service, it is evident that there is quite diverse practice between providers – how might we support providers to improve the validity and fairness of these assessments? Assessment is always tricky, but it is worth stepping back to appreciate how hard the first assessment is – we are trying to make predictions about some potentially very underdeveloped capabilities. What are the best predictors of future teaching quality? How can we most effectively select them? How do we account for the fact that some candidates have more direct experience of teaching than others?

The second and third inference are about how we can optimise the development of each trainee, and also how we identify trainees who may need some additional support. This support might be linked directly to their teaching, or it may concern wider aspects needed to complete their programme such as their personal organisation. Getting these assessments right can help to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme – and in turn the rate of each trainee’s development.

Assessment is difficult so it would almost definitely be helpful to have some common instruments to support each of these inferences. For instance, what about some assessments of participants’ subject knowledge conducted at multiple points in the programme. These could provide a valuable external benchmark, and also be used diagnostically to support each trainee’s development. Done right, they could also be motivating. Longer-term, this could provide a valuable feedback loop for programme development. Common assessments at application could also help shift accountability of ITT providers onto the value that they add to their trainees, rather than just selecting high-potential trainees.

Final thoughts

I’ve used focused on the mechanisms that might lead to improvements in ITT provision. We can think of these mechanisms with different levels of abstraction and I have offered four lenses to support this: curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy; what trainees will do differently; ease of implementation; and behaviour change.

My overriding thought is that there is certainly the potential for all ITT providers to further improve their programmes using a range of these potential mechanisms and others. However, improvement will not be easy and the DfE will need to focus on capability, opportunity, and motivation. In other words, support and time are necessary to realise some of these mechanisms. Therefore, is it worth thinking again about the proposed timescale? Including what happens once providers have been reaccredited?