Current trends affecting university-based initial teacher education

One could be forgiven for thinking that the odds are stacked against universitybased teacher education, particularly in the light of its criticisms highlighted below from international commentators. These criticisms, particularly when made at a public and policy level, have an impact on funding and oversight arrangements, and skew merging “markets” of teacher education provision, privileging non-university-based providers.

The role of universities in ITE has never been uncontested. In most systems, ITE has been a fairly recent introduction to the university system, and as Labaree notes, it has never really sat comfortably within the academy (2006). Internationally, moving teacher education into universities from Teachers Colleges and Normal Schools was intended to professionalise teaching and raise its status. This promise was partly to do with aligning teacher education with educational research but has not yielded the promised results. This has been exacerbated in the US by critics who argue that university-based teacher education produces inadequate teachers; that it is disconnected from practice; and that it is overly theoretical (as outlined in the Holmes Group report, 1986). Whilst the debate cites evidence from newly qualified teachers who feel ill-prepared or concerns from parents and school principals, the criticism became public with the involvement of significant figures such as Arthur Levine (from Teachers College) and Arne Duncan (education advisor to President Obama). Their concerns, similar to those raised in the Holmes Group report which was critical of teacher education for the reasons cited above, have been staunchly defended by Zeich-ner (2017), and are widely regarded as politically motivated and subject to what he has described as the misquoting of evidence, echo chambers and knowledge ventriloquism. However, Zeichner acknowledges that there are wide variations in the quality of teacher education provision across universities, and Goldhaber (2018) acknowledges that there may be some empirical evidence to the criticisms raised. However, as Zeichner highlights, this is not an even playing field: non-university-based providers can gain access to private and public monies, such as those raised from venture philanthropy, which are not matched by public funding and which are not available to universities. Zeichner argues that the focus of the criticisms and the hostile funding environment privileges alternative providers across the US.

Although the situation is more advanced in the US, similar trends can be seen elsewhere. The 1998 Hillage Report noted similar concerns with university-based teacher education in England, which was also seen as being over-theorised, fragmented and unhelpful for teachers’ professional practice. Traditionally, in England, the defence of university-based teacher education has been formulated around its proximity to research. However, the Carter Review in 2015 highlighted that even in research-intensive universities, researchers were not fully engaged in teacher education programmes. It is also true to note, as

Pring (2017) does, that the research that has had substantial impact on teaching (he uses the examples of the impact of social disadvantage, quantitative analysis and the uses of IQ tests) has often come from other faculties outside (teacher) education. In England, hostility towards university-based teacher education has taken a particular shape and form as the former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove described such teacher educators as the Blob and the enemies of promise, contributing to what Furlong refers to (using a phrase from Ball, 1990) as the “discourse of derision” (Furlong, 2019). Successive education policies have deliberately sought to foreground school-led teacher education designed to destabilise and decentre universities from teacher education (Department for Education, 2010). However, again, internally there is a recognition that universities have been somewhat passive in their response, leaving some to call for a reinvigorated approach to teacher education (Ellis, Souto-Manning, & Turvey, 2018; Teacher Education Exchange, 2017). These concerns are echoed elsewhere. Sachs (2015), Ling (2017) and Connell (2009) have highlighted the same trends across Australia, and policy papers make reference to similar concerns in New Zealand.1 Back in 2008, Grossman warned that if teacher educators failed to take these criticisms seriously, other organisations would seek to replace the universities’ monopoly on the preparation of teachers. Such trends are symptomatic with marketisation and centralisation which Mayer has described as neoliberal education policies (2017). The language of neoliberalism ties up such approaches by using seemingly benign terms: marketisation, choice, deregulation and accountability. But these policies are not benign: they add to the hostile climate for universities who are often ill-prepared to respond.

The trends are international too, part of what Sahiberg referred to as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) (Sahiberg, 2010) and which results in a limited repertoire of policy interventions which have been widely adopted (Mayer, 2017). The policy interventions include the introduction and dominance of Teacher Standards, accreditation procedures for teacher education providers, and the provision of inspection regimes to monitor their compliance. These make up what Ball (2008) describes as technologies of performativity that lead to patterns of governance rather than government. For example, the deregulation of teacher education combined with a centralisation of accreditation opens up teacher education to new and alternative providers as long as the criteria for accreditation is met (as has been seen in several international contexts). Subsequently, globally there has been a growth of alternative providers such as those aligned with the Teach for All network and the new Graduate Schools Education (Cochran-Smith et al., 2020). These trends are in line with the “turn to practice” (Furlong, 2013) which has dramatically changed the landscape for teacher education. For example, despite the well-documented move to a school-led teacher education system in England (since the 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching), the government inspection agency Ofsted reports that four-fifths of “trainees” (the UK government’s preferred term for new teachers) in 2018/2019 were trained through partnerships with a higher education institution (2018).

And yet, the power and influence of universities in driving teacher education has diminished substantially (McIntyre, Youens, & Stevenson, 2017). For example, some Russell Group universities have moved their teacher education provision away from the more research-intensive Faculty or Department of Education and changed the staffing structure to preclude academics in ITE from the responsibility to undertake research. Other university providers have teamed up with other local providers such as the Yorkshire First initiative led by Sheffield Hallam University: as a way of trying to even out regional pockets of over- and under-supply of teachers. Other providers have had to dramatically change or restructure their provision in the light of increased competition. The impact is that whilst universities are still involved in teacher education, the ways in which that involvement is situated have changed dramatically, and more importantly, the ability of universities to influence teacher education has reduced even more so.

At the same time, the influence and number of stakeholders who now have a vested interest in teacher education provision have increased, a situation that Ling, in relation to Australia, has described as one of supercomplexity (2017). Schools have been long-standing partners with universities in teacher education. Teacher education is now often overseen by various regulatory bodies, sometimes government departments for education at a state or national level. Teacher standards and accreditation processes may be “owned” by these bodies or certification councils, bodies or professional associations. These organisations have wide-ranging powers influencing the content, approach, assessment and formation of a teacher education programme. In addition, there is increasing complexity in accrediting who becomes a provider of teacher education, who condones and awards the qualification for individual teacher candidates, and who inspects and regulates the provision.

These complex webs of stakeholders make up policy technologies, to use Ball’s term, which have made teacher education the “subject for reform”, and so have destabilised the financial, intellectual and authoritative base of the university involved in teacher education. This is a particular issue for universities as they also have their own internal processes of programme validation, accreditation and governance. University-based providers have to ensure that their programmes meet the internal benchmarks of quality and quality assurance within the university governance structure, but also adhere to (often external) requirements. In Australia, there are national standards and state-based interpretations which operate alongside the university system of award assessment. In England, there is the Department for Education mandated content for teacher education (the Core Content Framework), statutory requirements around recruitment and programme parameters. The Teacher Standards, which have to be met in order for the award of Qualified Teacher Status, sit alongside a rigid and prescriptive inspection regime (through Ofsted). However, for university programmes, the award (such as the Post Graduate Certification of Education) belongs to the university. In practical terms, questions about who judges or assesses the teacher’s progress in practical teaching can lead to questions of the ability of universities to control and oversee their academic awards as well as to take ownership of the consistency and rigour of assessment. This can put the university structures in tension with other accountability frameworks which, in the case of England, privilege partnership working and the shared ownership of judgements between schools and universities. As Moon comments, teacher education is unrivalled in political interference, arguing that “Ideas about academic freedom and university autonomy seem to stop at the door of the education faculty” (2016, p. 253).

All of these infrastructural and governance concerns are tied up with ideological and political pressures which promote particular views of teacher education and which permeate not just the public discourse about teacher education, but also the ways in which teacher education has been subjected to reform. Accountability regimes have now become a ubiquitous part of the teacher education landscape which underplay important values around democracy, equity and social justice, and focus on narrow outcome measures described as “attainment”. In the light of these reforms, the role that universities play in teacher education is changing, and in order to understand teacher education, these influences, along with their resultant effects, need to be re-evaluated and reassessed. The focus of this book is this changing landscape, how it affects ITE, and how universities respond.

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