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Government must act to protect quality of teacher training

Ministers should lead on plans to ensure Covid-19 does not damage ITT, says report

A government-coordinated response is needed to ensure the Covid-19 pandemic does not have a detrimental impact on the quality of teacher training in England, a report has claimed.

According to the MillionPlus group of universities and the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, the pandemic creates “short-, medium- and long-term issues” for initial teacher education, and they want the Department for Education to lead efforts to produce what they term a “national ITE response plan”.

“The recovery from the Covid-19 crisis is likely to be lengthy and will require both innovation and collaboration,” according to the report, The future of Initial Teacher Education: Living in the Age of Covid-19 and Beyond. “Given that this crisis is likely to change the way we think and work, the final destination may look different from the picture at the outset.”

Potential issues include looking at how teacher training bursaries are allocated, ensuring that vulnerable people are still able to enter the teaching profession, and making sure that school placements can continue as the Covid-19 crisis continues.

“Ensuring sufficient numbers of quality placements for trainee teachers is the single biggest issue facing the 2020-21 academic year and beyond,” the report claims.

The government currently offers bursaries of up to £26,000 for trainee teachers in what it calls “priority subjects”—those subjects which are the hardest to recruit into.

MillionPlus and the NASBTT are calling on the DfE to convene a “cross-sector advisory group” to formulate a response to the pandemic, focusing on three areas of initial teacher training: safety, high-quality placements, and recruitment and retention.

As well as encouraging more schools to offer ITE placements, the DfE should also ensure mechanisms are in place to support trainees and newly qualified teachers, with “further bespoke support in place to aid the retention of teachers”, the report says.

Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus, said the Covid-19 crisis had shown that “we rely on our key public service workers more than we could have ever previously appreciated”.

“As well as doing invaluable work in their own right, by keeping schools open for the children of key workers, teachers have indirectly kept doctors and nurses in hospitals, ensured that supermarket shelves were stocked, and enabled other vital staff to stay in post,” he said.

“At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, now is the time to come together and put in place a framework to guarantee a sustainable future of first-class ITE.” 

Emma Hollis, executive director of NASBTT, added: “The ITE sector has successfully responded to the challenges brought about by Covid-19 by placing even greater emphasis on collaboration—and this must continue as we now move forward into the 2020-21 academic year and beyond.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government was “already working closely with the sector to help us understand the training needs for trainee and newly qualified teachers”.

“Our engagement with the sector has increased since Covid-19, so we understand the challenges they may face,” he added. “We will explore the recommendations made in the report with the sector in due course.”

Last year the government launched a recruitment and retention strategy that included a commitment to reduce workload and improve continuing professional development for teachers, and offer them greater opportunities for flexible working.