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?


A new deal for Initial Teacher Training

we need some radical new thinking on the subject……..

The reason for this need is clear. For schools to take a more central role in ITT, more resources will be required. If this doesn’t happen (and the current School Direct proposal to channel all the funds initiially through ITT Providers and the modest funding of Teaching Schools, are not encouraging portents in this respect), we are in danger of seeing the dismantling of the HEI led ITT system without securing a proper replacement.

In addition to addressing the funding/resources issues, we also need to make it easier for departments to support trainees (particularly in Maths and Science). But first a few thoughts about the funding question.

The economics of ITT have always been shrouded in a little mystery. We are not sure of the true cost to schools of training and we are not sure about the real impact and advantage of an activity that most of us regard as of universal benefit. The contribution of ITT to standards, recruitment and retention elude accurate quantification.Without such a clear cost benefit, Head teachers  may continue to steer clear of ITT developments.

Some schools are experimenting with ideas as to how trainees might make a greater contribution. Perhaps the future model needs to run something like this: trainees are appointed in March and during April, May and June they could be expected to spend some time supporting, in school, after school and electronically, groups of pupils in Years 6, 11 or 13. Between March and September completion of on line Subject Knowledge Enhancement would be required. Training then runs from  September until July with a substantial teaching/covering commitment in the Summer Term. High quality trainees can make a substantial contribution to the performance of a school. A group of schools would need to collaborate to achieve economies of scale with placements, mentoring and tutoring. PGCE could be accredited at a reasonable cost and at the choice and expense of the trainee. The bulk of ITT funding has then to follow the trainee into the school. We need to be able to demonstrate that having trainees is a clear advantage to schools.

Any innovations would need to be properly externally evaluated for impact, but this type of arrangement might just attract the attention of Headeatchers.  The current situation provides a unique opportunity for leading ITT schools to shift the paradigm.


Initial Teacher Training (ITT)

During the current state of change and controversy it is probably a good time to look at some basics.

ITT will always be a key activity for schools and their partners. High standards have been achieved by many partnerships but OFSTED judgements tend to be narrowly focussed and overlook some of the bigger, related issues. The current system is typically cumbersome, inconsistent, often wasteful and over centralised. It does not deliver a truly personalised experience and it does not consistently deliver high quality, qualified staff to where they are needed most. The role of mentoring has yet to be universally established as a pinnacle of professional practice.

 What is needed is a system that allows an interested candidate to access locally, a proper ‘taste of teaching’. Candidates then need to be guided towards and selected for the right training programme by specialist schools, who can also arrange for cluster based  training. Local supervision is needed to ensure the best fit for each trainee by selecting from a range of tutor, mentor, on line resources and classroom experiences in contrasting schools. Employment opportunities would be linked to training and the needs of the cluster. The NQT year, with continued support, should be available within the cluster. Schools should not be excluded from engagement with ITT and where additional support is required it should be linked to support for whole school improvement. Clusters should commission on the basis of capacity and need.

Schools should be the main drivers in all of this. It can be done in partnership (and is being done) without diluting the professional and academic  foundations or the dynamic and creative tension that springs from the twin concepts of teaching as both an art and a skill.