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The Schools White Paper: what does it mean for university ITT providers?

Daniel Hurley

Dan Hurley

Policy Manager
Universities UK
Student tutorial

Last week was quite a big week for England’s school system, politically speaking. 

Not only did the Chancellor announce that all schools are to become academies by 2022 in the Budget, the government also published its White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, a 120+ page paper touching on everything from improving school performance and inspections to empowering pupils, parents and communities.

For universities, there is also a fairly substantial chapter setting out the future direction of travel for initial teacher training (ITT).

The ITT system in England has been going through a period of upheaval for the past five years now, as new School Direct training routes have expanded while university-recruiting routes have been curtailed. Now, in 2016, the White Paper confirms a continued government commitment to move towards an increasingly school-led ITT system.

While UUK continues to work in shaping government understanding of exactly what ‘school-led’ can mean in practice, and the higher education sector has been working constructively with partner schools to effectively manage changes in the delivery model, it seems the reforms are to remain in motion until at least the end of the current parliament.

But there were a number of changes announced in the White Paper which could address some of the key issues that have been negatively affecting universities’ ITT provision in recent years. In particular, two issues have persisted which UUK has been lobbying government to rectify:

  1. The decision to allocate ITT places on a rolling, annual basis – this arrangement has typically left universities with very little time to plan their required levels of staffing and resources. In some cases, the rapid, year-on-year removals of university allocations has also reduced institutions’ confidence in making financial investments to develop their ITT infrastructure
  2. The role of universities in government’s ITT strategy has been very unclear – this has left universities in an insecure position and, with their allocations on a downward trend, placed question marks over the future viability of their ITT courses.

It’s therefore pleasing to see that the White Paper addresses, at least in part, both of the above concerns.

Firstly, there is now a commitment to introducing longer-term “allocations over several years”, and secondly, the Paper confirms that there will indeed be an “important place” for universities in the ITT landscape in the future, and that government wants the best universities to establish “centres of excellence” in ITT, “drawing on their world-leading subject knowledge and research”.

Both positive developments for the sector, on face value, but what the White Paper does spell out is that the above guarantee for allocations will be available for the “best” providers. Similarly, the “important place” set out is for “high quality universities”, and UUK will now be working with government and those in the sector to ensure that any group of indicators used to inform what these terms mean in practice are both fair and transparent.

However, there are a few areas of concern. Not least, the government has decided to replace Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) with a “stronger, more challenging” accreditation. While awaiting further detail on what this might be, UUK is concerned about how quickly this might be implemented, given that tens of thousands of students are already enrolled on programmes leading to QTS, with many more accepted onto a course for commencement in autumn 2016.

Also, disappointingly, the Paper fails to mention universities in the context of government’s commitment to move towards a school-led system, where “the best schools and leaders control which teachers are recruited and how they are trained.”

Evidently, there is still some way to go in ensuring that universities’ position in the ITT landscape becomes more secure, and there is certainly now more work to be done in ensuring that multi-year training allocations work in all parties’ interests and are introduced sensibly in terms of their subject split.

Over the coming weeks and months, UUK will be working with policymakers to ensure that any glimmers of hope offered in last week’s White Paper work to truly serve the interests of students, providers and schools as they develop further.

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