Lessons for England from Finland

In a week that produced figures showing that 40% of trainees have quit teaching after one year there is clearly much wrong with the way we attract and train teachers. This figure represents a huge wastage cost to the nation’s hard pressed finances not to mention the disruption to schools. The shortage of teachers is a very serious problem currently being kept under the carpet, but sooner of later will surely manifest itself. No doubt the inevitable impact on school performance will be used as an excuse for further state control of both schools and the curriculum. This will likely make the problem worse.
Finland has often been held up as a model (one often rejected in the UK on the grounds that the UK has to find far more teachers than a high qualification entry bar will allow). However, what is often missed about the Finnish system is apparently a more subtle and sensible approach. Their starting premise seems to be that the best qualified academically do not always make the best teachers. The skills required are far wider than just a good first degree.Enlightened countries like Finland encourage the best suited to the profession and support them, if need be, in gaining good qualifications. They are selective but do not permanently eliminate a large percentage of potentially brilliant teachers on the grounds of academic qualifications alone. This adds to the prestige of becoming a teacher, as it recognises the supreme and precious skills relating to the establishment of a good working relationship with young people.
Important election issue anyone? It surely should be or have we lost our way completely?

Once a classroom teacher (QTS) by Rob Knee QTS

As the pressures, negativity, dictats and demoralisation increase so does the turnover of staff in schools. Recruitment becomes a crisis (a crisis which is currently with us although it will not be reported). And so this particular educational cycle wearily follows the well trodden path. What could change? What can be done to redress the resulting damage to the futures of children and young people?

Probably not the government’s appallingly cynical meddling for perceived political gain.
Here’s a an idea/suggestion. We encourage anyone who has taught to make a point of using, whenever they can, their QTS initials and to look for opportunities to continue to fulfil part of the role of a teacher at home, at work or in the community. Teachers are trained to be ambassadors for the safety, wellbeing, encouragement and development of young people. If we produce around 40,000 teachers each year and the number currently employed is around 400,000 then the number qualified and not currently teaching must be in the millions (many in high profile jobs and roles). We should celebrate the time these teachers gave and understand that many move, quite naturally, into and out of the profession. We should also continue to encourage and value the contribution that the ‘have moved on from working in school cohort’ can make. We should raise the profile, and society’s awareness, appreciation and use of, the millions of skilled ambassadors for education in their midst.

The Perfect Storm – running out of teachers

First the supply side. The number of training places is being cut sharply and there is also a simultaneous attempt to transfer capacity to a new school based model. The schools may be keen and able to train teachers but at the current time of shrinking budgets and with major threats to the system headteachers have their minds on other things.

The Teaching School solution seems to be running out of steam with around 120 interested in this round (compared to the 1000 or so from round 1), many of these no doubt unsuccessful from the earlier application round. It is not clear how many of the Teaching Schools have either the capacity, experience or inclination to train teachers for schools other than their own. Wth some University Departments and EBITTs (GTP providers) falling below optimum numbers we could also see a domino effect of closures.

Add to this mix the inevitable regional variations – typically the more challenging parts of the country where it is much harder to attract and to train teachers. These areas will be the hardest hit. It is frustrating that there is no co-ordinated or longer term thinking by either local, regional or national bodies – if schools don’t have a full compliment of staff, standards are bound to fall and with them the economic and social prospects of the whole area.

It looks as if we are going to need a new model for staffing schools.

An ITT Quality Mark

This is an interesting time for Initial Teacher Training as we await the response to the Green paper, which proposed a greater,central role for schools. Now is the time to look at how you manage your school’s ITT and check the quality of your work. The likelihood is that ITT will become concentrated in fewer partnerships of schools and providers and that any body wishing to be involved must be able to provide evidence of high quality work and outcomes as trainers.

I have worked with colleagues at ICLICITT to develop a countrywide service to support ITT. A copyright quality mark, based on the standards of practice of over 200 leading ITT schools, together with OFSTED and TDA requirements is now available to provide an important target for schools. Please visit:  

http://iclicitt.wordpress.com

Strategies for Schools: Ten Thoughts for Turbulent Times

  1. The need to protect your own capacity to develop and sustain high levels of achievement by each student and each member of staff.
  2. To conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,Threats analysis to assess your situation objectively and to consult with all your stakeholders about the school’s priorities.
  3. To avoid invitations to join projects of the  ‘how to fill the vacuum left by Local Education Authorities, or how to help us to sustain our QUANGO, or how to maintain another school’s position of influence, or how to run the system with less funding’ variety, unless they relate to schools, institutions or agencies with whom you share the same young people and families, or schools with a genuine and pressing need to which you can, in some part, respond.
  4. To remember to differentiate between the political whims and swings of the pendulum, from that which is unchanging and which will not be reversed or dropped at some future point.
  5. In consultation with the whole school community, to save costs and through collaboration with other schools and partners, to achieve economies of scale and commissioning power.
  6. To sustain and develop your recruitment by taking advantage of and developing your existing ITT Partnerships. Be ready for the training places opportunity offered by School Direct in 2012, identifying prospective employees in advance, ensuring that your school is a highly desirable employment and career destination.
  7. To secure Academy status under your own terms and to seek to consolidate your position and that of your partners’ by having a clear and unambiguous ethos and perhaps an affiliation to an umbrella organisation (e.g. Schools Co-operative Society, Faith Groups, Local Authority, Commissioning Mutual, Local Area, Trust etc).
  8. To develop closer links and collaboration with your Secondary, Junior and Infant link schools.
  9. To ensure quality in your classrooms and management systems through research, critical enquiry, dialogue and reflection.
  10. To strive, as appropriately and as far as possible, to achieve the goal of all your students, staff, visitors and friends finding your school to be a happy and rewarding place to be. 

Accelerating School Partnership Development – Potential Drivers

The obvious place to look are at any current arrangements for things like sharing facilities, transition arrangements, any collaborations with training for staff or parents. These areas could be developed so as to build closer links on existing foundations and established records of trust. Another place to look is at the current list of problems and challenges to see if these could be better faced together. Groups of schools can commission (or bargain) for goods and services with much more success than an individual school. The partnership can identify someone with the best negotiating skills and give them time to lok for good deals for ICT support, paper purchasing etc. This could extend to recruitment with use of shared advertising. Working with the comunity and with parents is another fetile area – these are shared and vital groups  and providing a combined study support for parents, or training opportunities for the community, are other proven partnership activities.

The bigger steps are also well sign posted. Some degree of federation – one bursar, one SENCO, one CPD co-ordinator, one Social Worker or even one Headteacher. Areas that can really create an joint identity, which begin to reap the benefits of using local resources and realising economies of scale, include ideas such as a CPD bank – credits gained from offering skills and capacity, credit which can be drawn upon for identified needs. The bank can take a levvy and use this to provide common services or urgent responses. I am working on a more detailed version of this. One single and local ITT consortium is a good move in this period of instability with ITT – a block approach to the largest or preferred local ITT Provider will appeal, if it allows for stability and planning, guarantees of quality placements, proposals for closer partnership moving towards a greater local, school focus for operations. Working together to raise standards through a project such as In School Variation is another possibility.

Schools will need identified benefits with which to  motivate themselves. Schools will also need guidance and support, with an accurate assessment of the risks of going it alone. Schools will also need reassurance that the partnership is democratic and here the Co-operative Trust can provide an excellent service and support for the eventual steps towards Academy or Trust status, the logical and probably inevitable outcomes of the current policies.

The debate over increasing school based Initial Teacher Training

The recent White Paper stated an aim to transfer more teacher training from the University towards school based operations. I do not believe that this necessarily reduces the level of University input – it just relocates it closer to the classroom. However, the key issue is probably the current waste of precious funding, caused by some unhelpful pressures. Under the present system, University departments are under pressure to fill places and to minimise the fail rate. They are also under pressure to make courses financially safe and secure by achieving good OFSTED grades. This can mean that trainees only train in relatively safe, ‘risk free’  schools and this is not always the best preparation, as many final employing schools will not fit this description. This may be one reason why the drop out rate from PGCE courses is high and for school based courses (SCITT and GTP), where the schools involved often come from a broader spectrum, much lower. The school based courses also immerse the training within the school environment, this eliminates the first term ‘culture shock factor’ that can unsettle some University trained teachers. The school based environment also demands and elicits a level of commitment that can greatly improve the chances of successful longer term retention.

Opponents of this point of view will cite the superior OFSTED grades achieved by University PGCE routes. I would challenge this – the real test of the quality of a training programme should come during the first year of teaching, in order to assess how effective a preparation the course was for this. I recently researched the impact of ITT at a school, active with several partnerships offering different routes and with an outstanding reputation for teacher training. The clear message from this school was in favour of the GTP route as the best way to prepare an individual for the classroom. 

There is another argument that schools will be unable to cope with an increase in training activity. I think that if we can locate university staff in schools, as is happening is some areas, then this could be a solution. However, an increase in school based training will surely be supported by many schools as they see it as the best way to recruit new staff and the best way to develop and retain their existing staff.