Still Too Much Confusion: Some potential challenges for ITT providers over the next 5 years

This blog uses some text I prepared for a recent meeting with a number of headteachers and other senior leaders on the potential challenges facing initial teacher training (ITT) providers over the next 5 years. Other than the immediate issues of figuring out what Ofsted wants from providers (points 1 and 2), I make the case that there are still too many routes into teaching and too many providers (points 3 and 4); add to this the issues surrounding funding, the early career framework and current political instability, I think that – despite the various changes being implemented over the next few years – training to teach still needs to be streamlined and made simpler for applicants.

1. Adapting to the new Ofsted inspection framework

The immediate challenge for ITT providers is understanding how the new Ofsted education inspection framework (EIF) relates to teacher training and mentoring. In particular, this includes how the EIF relates to the Teacher Standards (T.S.), especially T.S. 3, as there is a significant focus on subject knowledge and curriculum planning.[i] This is especially concerning for smaller ITT providers, including many SCITTs, who need to have the staff that can guide trainees through the breadth and depth of subject knowledge that is required. These providers will need to ensure they have a.) adequate training provision for subject and curriculum knowledge, b.) staff experienced enough in those areas to offer mentoring and c.) quality assurance procedures to ensure that training and mentoring is sufficient.

2. Preparing for the new ITT inspection handbook

Another immediate concern is preparing for the revised ITT inspection handbook, which may appear in April and will come into force in September 2020. It is likely that the new handbook will be informed by key documents published since the last handbook was released in 2015. These could include elements of the framework of core content for ITT as well as reports from various working groups, including the ITT behaviour working group.[ii] ITT providers should also be aware that Ofsted may implicitly (or even explicitly) cover the national standards for school based ITT mentors as well as reference the outcomes of recent and current ITT pilot studies, especially in relation to improving the supply of trainees and NQTs to schools with the greatest need.[iii] Therefore, not only should ITT providers be compliant with the current ITT criteria and supporting advice, but they should be ready to act on the recommendations of the various reports and studies that have been published since the Carter Review in 2014.[iv] Providers also need to check DfE performance profiles in order to ascertain ITT dropout rates and subject specific trends; these may become lines of enquiry for inspectors.

3. Competition between ITT providers

ITT providers are in a highly competitive market. For example, within a 40-mile radius of my school there are SCITTs in St. Albans, Bedford, Luton, Harlow, Hillingdon and Enfield amongst others as well as higher education ITT providers, including the universities of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Middlesex and those easily accessed in London. Moreover, the March 2016 White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere indicates that the government wants to accredit new school-led ITT providers[v]. This means that a.) providers need to find unique selling points to attract trainees, b.) ensure they have adequate coverage of subjects to train in, especially shortage subjects, and c.) ensure that they can demonstrate excellent outcomes and employment opportunities for their trainees; in order to remain competitive. This poses sustainability issues for ITT providers that are not proactive in making sure they are competitive and attractive to potential trainees and partner schools. Additionally, the quality of trainees needs to be considered here as a rush to offer placements to trainees may lead to a slip in the rigorous selection of high quality candidates. This is even more pertinent as the DfE has removed various requirements for participation on ITT courses, including the scrapping of the skills tests next year, and various caps on allocations.[vi] Although many welcome these changes, they must not be at the expense of recruiting and selecting the best trainees to secure the life chances of the children we teach.

4. Too many routes

In a similar vein to the above point, the Education Select Committee and DfE have recognised that the ITT market is far too complex, which means potential trainees are often confused by the routes into teaching, the various ways of funding their training and the types of ITT provider.[vii] People interested in teaching need to understand whether the university-led PGCE, School Direct Salaried/PGCE, Teach First, Researchers in Schools or assessment only routes are best suited to their experience and skills. The resulting confusion from this could partially explain why high interest in ITT is not converted into applications for ITT places. For example, a recent survey suggested that 90% of students and graduates saw teaching as offering a fulfilling career, which is not mirrored by applications to train to teach, and only 45,000 of the 150,000 people registered on the Get Into Teaching website in 2017/18 applied for placements.[viii] This has led to calls for providers to make clear their routes to QTS as well as simplifying the application process, which the DfE aims to do as part of its teacher recruitment and retention strategy. However, there are still questions as to whether new initiatives and additional advisory services will aid or further confuse the application process(es).

5. Working out how ITT integrates with the Early Career Framework

The ECF has been described as “the most significant reform to teaching in a generation”.[ix] The framework aims to establish “a fully-funded, 2-year package of structured support for all early career teachers” from 2021. This includes 5% funded off timetable time in the second year of teaching and the development of NQT mentor standards similar to the ITT standards. One knock on effect for ITT providers will be the need to ensure there is a growth in professional-development opportunities for those responsible for the education of teachers, which includes mentors, coordinators and those delivering training at both the ITT and NQT stages. However, this will mean providers, especially smaller SCITTs, will need to balance limited budgets with the cost of funding training, facilitating training and other resources essential to ITT. Another issue will include how providers work with partner schools and teaching school alliances in facilitating transition between ITT and the ECF; this will include the continued offering of training, mentoring and additional CDP opportunities as well as acknowledging the demands of teaching on these trainees/NQTs’ workload and wellbeing.

6. Ensuring financial incentives for ITT lead to retention after QTS

England’s teachers are now working as long hours as bankers, but without the pay.[x] Therefore, ITT needs to be financially attractive to potential trainees, particularly in STEM subjects, who might otherwise work elsewhere. Moreover, we do not know how many potential trainees have never even considered teaching because the salary is too low.[xi] Nonetheless, a DfE analysis has shown a statistical correlation between bursaries and the number of people applying to teach.[xii] However, there is also evidence that bursaries are not incentivising recruitment or retention to the levels required, which may be because they are not tied to teachers staying in the profession; this could be seen as an inefficient use of ITT funds unless moves are made to improve retention after trainees have gained QTS.[xiii] Indeed, an IFS report in 2016 found that ITT costs an average of £23,000 per trainee, but a high drop-out rate of newly trained teachers means that over £38,000 is spent on training for every teacher still in post five years after completing ITT.[xiv]

7. Political instability

There is a lot of potential for improvement of ITT over the next 5 years. All of the reports, research and pilot studies cited above suggest that. However, ministers and DfE officials must try to navigate the current political instability. The government has pledged that an extra £7.1 billion will be pumped annually into schools by 2022, but this funding and the promise of the ECF could be adversely affected by changes in government, a possible economic downturn and general Brexit uncertainty.[xv] All ITT providers need leadership that is both politically literate and aware in order to ride out any potential instability in the near future.


[i] Ofsted, Education inspection framework (EIF), 14 May 2019

[ii] DfE, A framework of core content for initial teacher training (ITT), July 2016; DfE, Developing behaviour management content for initial teacher training (ITT), July 2016, pp4-8.

[iii] DfE, National Standards for school-based initial teacher training (ITT) mentors, July 2016, pp5-6.

[iv] DfE, Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training (ITT), January 2015

[v] HM Government, Educational Excellence Everywhere, 17 March 2016.

[vi] HM Government, House of Commons Briefing paper SN06710, February 2019

[vii] Education Committee, Recruitment and retention of teachers: Government Response to the Committee’s Fifth Report, May 2017, HC 638, pp4-5.

[viii] Department for Education (2017). Census wide survey on behalf of Get into Teaching; UCAS (2018), ITT monthly statistics: applicants, ‘UCAS Teacher Training applicants at Monday 17 September 2018’.

[ix] DfE, Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, January 2019, p7; DfE, Early career framework, January 2019.

[x] Allen, R. et al. (2019). New evidence on teachers’ working hours in England. An empirical analysis of four datasets. UCL Institute of Education.

[xi] Hollis, E, ‘Hopes and fears for the ITT sector in 2019’, TES, December 2019

[xii] DfE, Destinations of trainee teachers awarded a bursary, October 2018, pp5-11.

[xiii] National Foundation for Educational Research, Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England: Nurturing, supporting and valuing teachers, October 2018, p3.

[xiv] Institute for Fiscal Studies, The longer-term costs and benefits of different initial teacher training routes, July 2016.

[xv] Allen-Kinross, P. ‘Schools budget to rise by £7.1bn, but no extra cash until next year’, Schools Weeks, September 2019

Picture credit: (used under a Creative Commons Licence)


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