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Plans to overhaul the current model of initial teacher education could be an opportunity to grow the profession, or could have disastrous consequences for the for the status of teachers and the future of the profession, NASUWT's General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach argues.

In just a few weeks, tens of thousands of hopeful, optimistic and ambitious individuals will embark on their entry to one of the most important and rewarding careers as they start the process of becoming a member of the teaching profession.

They will join hundreds of thousands of teachers who every day nurture and inspire children and young people in their classrooms and laboratories, halls, gyms and playing fields the length and breadth of the country.

Throughout the pandemic, we have all witnessed the commitment, conviction and determination of teachers to ensure that every child has access to teaching and learning even when schools were closed by the Government. And, public support for our teachers has never been greater than it is today. According to pollsters IpsosMori, who know a thing or two about public opinion, it was the case that at the height of the pandemic, 85% of the public put their trust in teachers, whilst a mere 15% said they trusted politicians to tell the truth. Teachers, who alongside the amazing NHS workers kept the country going, were at the top of the UK’s veracity league table.

So, let’s be in no doubt that teaching is a fantastic and valued profession. And, we want to keep it that way, which is why the NASUWT is calling for greater investment in teachers – from better support for initial teacher education, induction and early professional development, through to ensuring that every teacher has a guaranteed entitlement to continuous professional development throughout their careers. And, why not a right to a sabbatical to enable teachers during their careers to take time out to deepen their professional knowledge and practice, or to develop and shape new thinking and approaches to pedagogy, and simply to refresh and renew their professionalism. That wouldn’t go amiss and is already the case for knowledge workers in other sectors and industries; so why not for teachers, too?

After the last 18 months the country has endured, it is perhaps no wonder that Government Ministers are taking every opportunity to speak of their support for teachers and to express their appreciation for the efforts made by the profession. But, with the last-minute announcement to freeze the pay of teachers in England from this September, many teachers are questioning the Government’s commitment to the future of the profession.

The latest hurried consultation on the Government’s Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Market Review may well add grist to the mill for those who seriously question the Government’s commitment to the profession.

It is, of course, right to address the longstanding concern that, regrettably, as many as 40% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years because of a lack of effective practical support in schools or because of a lack of certainty about their future career opportunities and prospects.

The latest proposals from a government-appointed advisory group to overhaul the current model of initial teacher education could yet be an opportunity to address teachers’ concerns and to grow the profession, or it could have disastrous consequences for the for the status of teachers and for the future of the profession. The NASUWT has responded in full to the Government's consultation on the plans.

As they stand, the Government’s proposals would require all teacher training providers to undertake a process of reaccreditation which could result in some providers falling short or simply deciding to walk away from teacher training. Even the Department for Education admits the changes will lead to “significant market configuration” and that “new capacity will be necessary”.

Of course, there must be a framework of standards which teacher education providers are required to meet and there should be no harm in keeping these under review. If our teacher education system is to have status and currency both domestically and internationally, then the quality of initial teacher education must be assured from the outset and not left to chance. But, whilst it may be worth debating raising the bar in terms of ITT provision, a bigger challenge for Government is how to guarantee that practice in all schools is appropriate, developmental, and that new teachers are properly supported and treated fairly.

And, teachers are concerned, too, that being part of a profession remains important. No teacher should be held back in their career because of the lack of ambition by their employer or by schools motivated to protect their own interests and league table position. So, whilst it is important for individual schools, local authorities and academy trusts to demonstrate their commitment to develop teacher talent, capacity and resilience, this should be a shared endeavour that benefits the whole profession in the longer term.

Whilst we have witnessed a recruitment ‘bounce’ during the pandemic, analysists are also clear that the uptick in ITT recruitment is unlikely to be sustained. The latest report of the independent School Teachers’ Review Body also warned of “a severe negative impact” on teacher recruitment and retention unless there is determined action by the Government.

Prior to the pandemic, the Government failed to meet the overwhelming majority of its ITT recruitment targets. This is not the fault of providers, but an indictment of a system that has, over the last decade, become increasingly unattractive to UK graduates. With difficulties in recruiting sufficient numbers of new entrants to the profession, the Government must avoid making the situation worse.  Ministers need to listen and take stock.

The NASUWT does not suggest there is no merit in looking at strengthening the quality of how teacher education. This must be done in a considered and informed way, building on the support of schools, the profession and ITT providers. Most of all, however, the voices of new teachers need to be at the centre of any efforts to shape and reshape the future of initial teacher education.

Whilst ambition will no doubt be part of the Government’s policy aims, let’s hope that the outcomes of this review will match the hope and optimism of teachers too.

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