UPDATE DOC – Open Policy Experiment 1: School Direct and Initial Teacher Training

This link is to a PDF of an update on the Open Policy experiment on teacher training and School Direct that I began with a blog on 22 July.

Please leave all comments / corrections etc in the comments on THIS blog, not the original (unless you are specifically replying to a comment on the original).

I do not mind any degree of disagreement with me provided it is explained. I will maintain the same strict policy on comments. Please think about your comment – how could someone use this to improve the document, or avoid a mistake that I can explain etc?

Thanks to all for making the effort to help and apologies for new errors I have introduced – please fix them.

I will watch comments and, if there is sufficient interest, I will update this document with additions, corrections of my mistakes etc.

Hopefully your collective efforts will yield some progress…

‘Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow’.



I make a few references to ‘Cargo Cult science’. This refers to a famous speech by Nobel-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, about education research and scientific methodology. It explains the difference between a) the methods and ‘extreme honesty’ that, at its best, characterises the scientific method when applied to physics and b) ‘cargo cult science’, social science research that has the form of the scientific method without its substance, that characterises so much education research (and politicians’ use of research). It should be on the reading list for all trainee teachers. A PDF is here.

27 thoughts on “UPDATE DOC – Open Policy Experiment 1: School Direct and Initial Teacher Training

  1. A lot of this sounds like an apology for why the DfE can’t be expected to do what it should do. The lift anecdote on page 2 is very telling. What schools need is strong, purposeful and ethical leadership from the DfE, not political micro managing, and certainly not the kind of interference that results in 41% of schools with 10% or more variation in GCSE outcomes compared with previous year. If Ofsted went into the DfE the outcome would surely be Requires Improvement.


    • It’s not an apology, it’s an attempted explanation. A huge amount of discussion of education policy (and other areas) assumes a functioning Whitehall. One of the things I’ve been trying to convey is that the dysfunction of Whitehall imposes severe constraints on policy. E.g. we did not try to set up a central admin process for SD not because we thought it was in principle a bad idea but because we knew there was no way the DfE could have done it at the time.

      Further, do you realise how little Secretaries of State control departments? They are in no way like CEOs of companies. In the DfE, Gove could fire 3 people out of thousands – his 3 spads. He could control the pay of nobody. (SoS do not even formally employ even spads – they are all formally appointed by the PM.) SoS have no formal control of any vital positions in departments. They are allowed some say over private office appointments but formally NONE over other senior officials. (Informally, the situation is very ‘fluid’, as they say in Whitehall.) So none of the normal tools of CEOs are available to a SoS.

      In the real world, issues of implementation therefore cannot be divorced from policy.

      This is exacerbated by: a) because of the nature of the people who now become MPs and are promoted, very few have had experience managing large complex organisations, therefore they do not have a feel for management issues; b) they therefore also do not have a feel for how the civil service should be changed – they don’t know what they don’t know; c) the civil service interacts with EU rules / ECHR (real and imagined) / judicial review / FOI / abysmal HR systems, all of which add to the bureaucracy and complexity involved in important decisions and management.

      The more you want the DfE to do, the more you have to face the limits all this puts on its ability to do anything. This is why I tried to limit Whitehall’s power and force MPs to focus.



      • The comparison between Whitehall, the public sector, and the private sector and CEO’s has some important parts missing.
        The reason for excellence, efficiency, and continual optimisation in the private sector is not primarily
        • A better quality of CEO
        • Better quality of staff or culture in their central admin function
        • Better levers to pull, being able to hire and fire more easily etc.
        • Better processes
        • Better practioner training
        Trust me I have seen poor examples of all of these in the private sector too. Rather it is the power in the end customers hands. When the end customer can see the service they are getting is sub optimal, when they feel let down, they don’t have to complain, they don’t have to write to their MP, they don’t have to move address, they don’t have to claim a religion falsely, none of that they can simply and easily take their business elsewhere. Not all of them do it when they get sub optimal service, but enough do it to force the providers to change continually. Local business managers who can see optimisations can go their own way and setup in competition. Local business units who fail to keep customers happy risk financial problems, and can and do get shut ruthlessly when they are failing, but new and innovative competition opens up and refreshes the system. Provision is not dominated by top down planning, rather it’s responding very quickly to changing customer buying patterns, and there is no reason this could not be enabled in education.
        The fact the end consumers can move easily at any point also in the private sector empowers the local business units (equivalent to schools), because they succeed or fail not on box ticking, seeking favour from on high, what the latest person in the CEO office thinks, learning the politically correct language (although all of this still goes on), in a much more real and dramatic way if they can keep their end consumers happy then they have power in the relationship with the higher ups in their organisation.
        The problems in the UK education sector are never going to be fixed by improving the teacher training routes, methods, and syllabus, or by improving the levers of power the secretary of state has to pull. No the only way it’s really going to be fixed and optimised over time is empowering the parents as proper consumers with buying power in their hands, who can make their own compromises about distance of school from their address, from their workplace, about the ethos of the school, results of school, attitude of staff, and so very much more. The problems with the UK state education system are mainly about the parents having no say whatsoever, other than moving address to force another school choice.
        In fact it’s worse than that because the only choice (other than moving address) the parents can make is claiming a religious affiliation, which has become so corrupted in the UK with large numbers of parents who don’t believe or believe another set of values corruptly claiming religion as their only small lever to manipulate the system. It’s also used as a corrupt way of selecting school intake, when the main entry requirement is a priests signature and there are wide amounts of discretion in that priests hands than naturally it becomes a way that entrance is kept to those “in the know” and looking like the right social circle. And it’s also leading to a very segregated society when really we should be integrating our children. Indeed lots of people defend this entry approach simply because it’s their only way of keeping their schools for “people like us”, which exposes a whole set of problems with immigration, integration, and so on, which this school entry approach is only damming up for a later catastrophe when the dams start to break.
        Excellence and innovation is not unique to the private sector either, there are pockets of excellence in the public sector too – little of it to do with the top down control it has to be said. There are ways other parts of the public sector encourage excellence too that could be copied in education. Whether it’s the military holding inter unit competitions in shooting, and a lot more, a healthy competitive spirit can be generated, with regular interactions and real kudos for those that score highly. There is no reason this could not be done in teaching. There are ways the best police forces deal with their most troubled neighbourhoods (which has some parallels with the most troubled schools) which could and should be copied by the teaching profession, such as cycling staff in and out so that they do not burn out or become jaded.
        I love what you are doing with this blog. It’s a good way to gain feedback. But I don’t think you are going to come up with a real solution to the biggest problems in education, indeed I don’t think anyone can. I think the real solution can only come from a system which allows empowered end consumers, parents, to hold the real buying power in the relationship with schools. And that I am afraid is how it’s done, under various different guises, in most of our most successful competitor nations where you should be looking for answers rather than trying to reinvent the wheel in little old UK or England. The teacher unions won’t like it, and indeed it will be frightening for most teachers, but in the long run and overall it’s the only way.
        Good luck.


        • Re your first point on private sector – I didn’t say that the reasons for its success are the things you list. I explicitly said in this doc that it too gets performance management wrong but ‘they go bust’. In my essay, I explore these issues in more detail including the point about – why markets work is not better people/training etc. There’s a lot of work that suggests that markets work NOT because individual firms adapt successfully (very few become big and adapt successfully and survive for >50 yrs) but because firms are weeded out in an evolutionary process driven by decentralised decisions.

          I agree about a) a fundamental problem being the lack of parent power and b) the corrupt(ing) processes of catchement areas and religious schools. It is interesting that many on the Left find the existing system in which richer people exercise choice/power by moving house, rather than more directly, morally/psychologically more attractive. I do not share their view as I explained in my essay.

          The attempt to figure out improvements to the teacher training system is not because I think it is a magic bullet. Again, I have said this explicitly. It is because the government spends half a billion quid on it, whoever wins the election will keep spending about the same on it, therefore it is worth thinking about how this could be better spent given the overall constraints. As I have said repeatedly, I think the entire school system should work very differently, including giving parents real choice. But this is not going to happen within the next 6 years. Given that, it is worth thinking about how those 6 years could be spent better than the current trajectory suggests they will be…

          You say I should be looking at other countries. Again, if you look at my essay you will see that I have done. There is no magic bullet there either. Also, the countries that do best on international tests do not use market systems. That is not a reason for not empowering parents, but it is an important fact.

          Finally, I would stress the issue of tests. Assessment drives everything in education, from bad primaries to the best universities. No amount of training OR empowerment of parents will do much good if the entire system is aimed at flawed assessment. This is why I have stressed the value of looking at things like the Force Concepts Test and equivalents in maths. Rigorous experiments have shown that their use can dramatically improve standards. Such experiments are desperately needed in schools.

          Thanks for your comment.


          • I don’t think you are being ambitious enough. These things are doable. These things would win lots of votes if explained the way I would explain them.
            I have lived abroad, and have family sending kids to schools in other countries. So I have first-hand experience. I can tell you for free in countries like Australia, Italy, Belgium the parents have a lot more choice of which school to send their children to than they do here, and can pull them out and move them at will.
            Re “best on international tests” surely those tests have the same inadequacies as “flawed assessment” you mention elsewhere?
            Yes the evolutionary process is needed, and it’s not just the customers being able to choose another culture and approach, it’s also the staff being able to move to another culture and approach that continually optimises things.
            I don’t care how flawed the assessments are I think parent power would do a big lot of good! Parents can see how well their children are being taught Maths and English etc, they can see how classroom disruption is handled, a little parental power would change things for the better much more quickly. Schools in my view are there to turn out pupils the parents are happy with, of which assessment marking is but a small part.
            Once again many thanks and good luck.


  2. The real problem is complexity. The more complex the system the more difficult it is to isolate variables and isolation of variables is fundamental to pure science. As soon as there is uncertainty enough to make it difficult to achieve a scientific proof, personal interests will creep in and take over. We might, for example, prove method X is better than method Y to achieve result Z. So why would anyone continue with method Y? Firstly because they have perhaps invested a lot of their life in it and they have not seen the direct evidence (or understand it). Secondly because they don’t take result Z seriously and think result A is more important and that too is affected by both method X and Y and there is no conclusive evidence on the relative effects in that instance. Education is riddled with this.

    The DfE implements political policy that is historically not related to scientific evidence. The CASE (Cognitive Acceleration through Science Education) research of the 1980s is a good example. The evidence gathered scientifically showed a method that improved GCSE results across all subjects. One would have thought this would then have been embedded in the new curriculum reform, a national curriculum, but no what actually emerged was pretty much what had been always done in most schools anyway and claimed as a great political reform. Now of course the premise of the CASE research, based on forcing children to think and not worry too much about the specific knowledge is under question from the interpretations of cognitive psychologists. How much scope here to portray an essentially political bias as “scientific”?.

    So should we give up? No, but we need to understand that brute common sense is not going to convince enough people to be significant if it does not align with their entrenched prejudices :-). We need to first stop re-arranging deckchairs and claiming it as significant reform. Probably not easily achievable as it is about the only thing most politicians understand. We need to focus not only on how the brain works in terms of cognition but how we can motivate people to do the things that optimise that process at different ages. We need to prioritise research on this and stop giving out PhDs to people that are not mathematically literate enough to understand basic statistics and/or basic science – after all we would not approve a thesis riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. We need to focus on learning and motivating learning, not buildings, technology, selection, governance or finance. Look at the first order factors first not the indirect factors hoping they will somehow translate into first order factors. They haven’t in the last 50 years so why should that suddenly change?


  3. Good paper, Dom. And useful.

    Thoughts after reading:

    1. Can see that the idea is that brilliant private school teachers would move to state sector if you remove QTS. But why would they if the highest amount they can receive in a school is on the non-qts salary scale? Surely they would just *get* QTS?

    2. II can see that the idea is that you let people become teachers, and then you ‘sign them off’ as acceptable once they reach the standard. But, if the government does that, it *needs* to be time-limited. I.e. a teacher enters the sector and immediately is registered and then heads towards ‘sign-off’. The problem of leaving it open means that you could theoretically have someone who is not good enough, and not heading towards progress, pinging around the system endlessly. This is pointless. It is in no one’s interest to have a teacher not meeting the required system stood in classrooms for a never-ending period of time. Hence, if you’re going down that route – please, please, put a time limit on it. Three, ideally. (The experience of OTT will tell you five is too long). You could pro rata part-time, I personally wouldn’t. Maternity and long-term sickness gets a buy for a defined period.

    3. Some aspects of being a ‘teacher’ are not visible in ‘teaching’. Sounds perverse, but things like: having knowledge of how to take students on trips; exam administration; child psychology, are not necessarily things you will see on an average day in the classroom, but are important for the profession. Arguably, you could wait until people are in positions where they need these skills to train them, but it doesn’t work well to do so. One of the reasons why teachers (as with many other professions) get a rounded training in the first place is so that they can be flexible in which paths they follow. This is a good thing. Hence, these need to be built into the path. If you do that, then you’re basically already at the ‘portfolio route’ for qualified status but with rejigged standards. I don’t think anyone would argue with this.

    4. On SD – central recruitment is definitely better. It does though make government a direct TF competitor which has implications to watch out for. As in: unless the offer is equal to or better than TF the government could essentially become a ‘second chance’ saloon for people who didn’t get into TF, which won’t do the govt or the people on the programme any favours. Otoh, if the offer is that the schools get to pick candidates the government could push the “you will get a school more matched to yours and their needs” angle. This, however, could mess up TF if they lose good people to SchoolsDirect. As ever, a view would need to be taken on which is the best approach.

    5. On point 6 you argue that Lemov/TF/Ark’s approach is cutting edge & many of you thought that if ITT was integrated into schools in that manner then All The Good Things would come. But beware. Those programmes (at least in part) work because they recruit extremely judiciously. It’s a nice idea that there are enough people in the country with the desire, personality and skills to be great teachers by being thrown into schools and made to swim while being coached by mentors. It’s even nicer to believe that there are enough amazing schools out there replete with mentors, patience, time, and the sorts of kids who will give a good training ground. Fact is, though: there aren’t enough – of either group. In reality, most people need (or even plain WANT) time to bed in their teaching skills through a more deliberative training route and many schools don’t have the ability to handhold complete newbies teaching a full timetable. So you can integrate. But if you can’t find enough people who will flourish on this sort of route, it’s snookered. Hence, if the government continues to push on a ‘school led’ system it needs to think HARD about how it is going to make this sort of training desirable to a mass market. No-one wants to think about marketing the job when the worthy stuff is in making training good – but you have to! (I’d love to give you some solutions for how you can make it desirable, I’m just not convinced you can).

    6. On the ‘integrating research’ parts (i.e. Debra’s bit) – it is worth thinking about ways that teachers can become part-time teachers and study. Currently, to get funding to study for a PhD or Masters you pretty much have to be full-time. This forces teachers out of the classroom if they want to study more, which is madness. More part-time funding in education would help resolve this. I don’t know if that would have to be done in negotiation with universities, the ERSC, etc, but it would help enormously by making research more aligned with schools and stem a small flow of teachers from the profession.

    7. On transparency of ITT, research, journals, failures, etc – I completely agree. Obvs.


    • 1. Not at Academies – they could be paid whatever the governors think worthwhile. (Also when we made the QTS change we thought we would also be able to change the pay issue you describe for maintained schools. Our failure to do this (complex issues to do with STRB/politics) partially limits the opportunities but only partially.)

      2. A time period seems sensible to me.

      3. I don’t follow your point very well because of my own ignorance about the system but it makes sense-ish.

      4. I hadn’t thought about this but I’m sure that, given Sam has thought a lot about a central process and is at TF, IF it seems viable to Shinner/Marshall et al to try to do this, THEN they can speak to him about how to deal with the risks you identify.

      5. I never predicated anything on the idea that the school system is full of great people. As I said in my essay, anything as big as the teaching profession has to be considered from the perspective – how do we try to get high performance from a group of people who are (by definition) on average not enormously talented (just as people have to think in the private sector all the time)? In this context, I think that the newly trendy comment about a school system ‘not performing better than the quality of its teachers’ is, interpreted in its obvious meaning at least, an error, both as a description of reality and a guide to policy.

      For example, one of the beauties of the success of Gawande’s checklists in surgery – or their original incarnation in airline safety – is that they allow a system employing vast numbers of people to reduce enormously the scale of error/failure, WITHOUT assuming any improvement in the nature of the people doing the job. It is the training to follow the checklist that does the work – not ‘raising the bar’ of people entering the profession etc.

      The thing that seems to me most important about the Lemov stuff is not so much the way that new knowledge / techniques are discovered by the most talented but, as Bill Gates has said, the potential for spreading techniques that work beyond the most talented. But I think this is connected to the issue of TESTS – things like the Algebra Concepts Test. So long as we are all working on the basis of GCSEs and A Levels, then progress will be slower than it could be. It is also connected to the issue of direct instruction / integration of curriculum and test feedback via IT. But this is a complicated subject that I have not explained well and need to elaborate separately – and perhaps everyone will say I’m completely wrong…

      Could you elaborate on what you mean by this as I don’t follow it: ‘Hence, if the government continues to push on a ‘school led’ system it needs to think HARD about how it is going to make this sort of training desirable to a mass market. No-one wants to think about marketing the job when the worthy stuff is in making training good – but you have to!’

      6. Agree with the principle but I don’t know enough about the funding systems to know how to do this – surely it can’t be very hard. In 2013, MG, me, and Paul Nurse (head of Royal Society) had an interesting discussion about how to tap into the pool of PhD scientists who end up leaving academia and get them at least part-time teaching and/or helping with subject knowledge courses etc (the broken PhD pipeline is also of great national importance but is a different subject). Again, there were plans afoot on this but I do not know what the status of them is post MG’s move…



      • Cheers Dom, fair replies.

        On 5 – I agree with you about the potential of Lemov/checklists/tech, etc, to support teaching. The issue is whether those things that support classroom management and learning can also help with *training* teachers. I think they can, but only to an extent. Lemov’s work, for example, gives you the techniques to use in classroom. For some teachers, they are happy to take their textbook and 6 weeks of practice and go and become a full-time NQT. Others want more time, placements, deliberate practise, etc. If you are going to rely purely on an in-school, ‘checklist’ approach to training I think you will end up with lots of people put off starting teacher training. Hence, if that is the route the government goes down, it needs to think about how it will make it sound attractive to a mass market and not to a confident minority.


        • Now I see your point.

          I don’t have a proper answer but – a) we tried to push the system towards an approach in which everyone involved thinks about training in a more empirical way (what really works on the ground), learning lessons and using tools successful elsewhere (eg. checklists); b) this seemed inherently to involve pushing the system towards getting trainees more ‘in school’; c) I see your point re timing / confidence and I’m sure it is a good one; d) surely the answer is different paths/speeds? I.e. overall the system ought generally to become more empirical/grounded in immediate feedback, but the manner and speed at which different people are thrown into this in schools can and should be different.

          I do not favour a single path, or the government pushing all its chips behind an ‘in school / SD’ model. I think there should be much more of the latter than there was but also we need a period of experimentation / weeding out / consolidation etc, in which ‘traditional’ PGCEs continue and, I imagine, are tweaked according to lessons learned.

          I hope the TA and Charlie T are looking at your point re potential recruits and how they perceive the profession changing. It is much easier now for DfE to shape communications from the TA, for better and worse.

          The weeding/consolidation element requires looking at a) Sam’s idea re a central process (which could improve things but could also be a classic shambles, hence my suggestion for how Shinner/Marshall et al consider it internally to see if a sensible approach is feasible pre-election) and b) the funding mechanism – how is it working viz weeding/consolidating etc and how could it be improved? I know/remember little re (b) so can’t make useful suggestions but I’m sure there is plenty of room for improvement.

          Generally, I have some hopes for Computer Science. Some very interesting people have thrown a lot of money and ingenuity at the problem of trying to develop a workforce almost from scratch. The subject inherently attracts technical innovations and a ‘debugging’ mentality. Perhaps people like Bill Mitchell and Ian Lynch will develop things that have wider application.



    • I have one other thought which I’m going to lob in, re Laura’s point #4…
      I have a great deal of admiration for TF (obvs) but I see it in some ways as a remedial programme. If there was no issue of teacher supply or quality then there wouldn’t be a need for TF to exist. And so, if DfE/NCTL is serious about making SD work, then it needs to be an offer as good as TF. I don’t necessarily think this needs to be perceived as a threat to TF – but maybe that’s easier to say from the outside. But if I was Brett or Sam, I would not only be supporting other routes into teaching (as I’m sure they do) but actively looking forward to the time when those routes are so good that TF is no longer needed. A bit like the aspiration that state schools should provide as good an education as private schools, thus making them irrelevant.
      In my own little project, we explicitly talk about ‘working to make ourselves redundant’.
      Maybe these conversations do happen privately within TF, of course. But the last time I was privy to internal strategic discussions about the future of TF they were all about climbing mountains and reaching summits. Nice analogy for inspiration, but the problem with reaching a summit is there’s only one route you can take from there.


  4. To be honest, I can’t remember all the rules you set about this discussion, but I hope this complies with them.

    Firstly, there seems to be a remarkable lack of interest in the “who” (as in people not institutions) of teacher training. I think this is perhaps where some of the problems are. It’s inevitable that there will be a lack of emphasis on useful subject knowledge where you have teacher trainers with a second class degree in a social science teaching people with first class degrees in maths how to teach maths. I wonder if it’s possible to set minimum qualifications and criteria for them that would make it harder for universities to pick people on the basis of ideology rather than experience and intellect.

    Secondly, I really don’t see how RCoT can ever work because people have such varied ideas for what it should be. The event a few months ago on a week day in term time showed how the education establishment work on a completely different basis to those who actually teach lessons.

    Thirdly, you seriously think the teaching experiments on university courses like physics tell us anything? Everything I’ve heard suggests they seem to mainly be about replacing lectures with something more like what happens in a classroom. At best it might tell us not to replace all our lessons with 55 minute lectures, but is unlikely to tell us anything else about classroom teaching. To my mind it actually makes universities look like they lack confidence in what they do best – making really clever people available to people wanting to learn from and emulate them – and would rather turn themselves into something more like a (very efficient) school for older children.


    • 1. Is it possible for WHO to ‘set minimum qualifications and criteria’? Personally, I am sympathetic to your point but the DfE could not create such rules and I’m not sure anybody could. Surely the only long-term solution is to give schools market power and watch the choices made by the best suck money away from the bad courses? Normal private sector markets work despite only a small fraction of people being very price conscious, for example – that small fraction does the work and the rest of us free ride. If the equivalents – great individual schools, great chains – have power over funding, and consistently avoid sending that funding to places that employ low grade social science people, then the latter should fade away…

      2. As I say in the PDF, I also am sceptical about RCoT. I also think that even if the unlikely happens and something worthwhile is set up, it will quickly be taken over by the usual suspects and be a force for bad.

      3. I will elaborate in a separate blog but I think you have got very much the wrong end of the stick. One of the most important things they have done is bypass the normal test system and create the Force Concepts Test and in maths the Algebra Concepts Test and Calculus Concepts Test. These test fundamental understanding of core concepts – they are not normal tests of curriculum mastery. They reveal whether classes actually teach what they purport to. Much to the surprise of very eminent professors including Nobel-winners, they reveal that most people learn very little. Next, they have changed the nature of the teaching. Next, they have changed the way the teachers are taught. Then they have monitored experiments. And the results of this are over 2 standard deviation improvements – pretty much the biggest every recorded with reliable methodology.

      The process is not at all turning themselves ‘into something more like a (very efficient) school for older children’. Quite the opposite. It is about making the students able to think like professional physicists and solve HARDER PROBLEMS than they could after being taught with traditional methods.

      English schools do not have anything like the tests that are the foundation for this process. This is one of the reasons why – similarly to Harvard students doing well on normal tests but flunking the Force Concepts Test – pupils can do well on bad tests like A Levels but then be regarded as largely clueless when they arrive at university.

      Once tests like the Algebra Concepts Test become widely used and become the basis for reliable experiments with teaching, then there are good reasons to think that large improvements at scale will be possible in schools.



      • Is even regulating teacher training not beyond the DfE? I wasn’t suggesting any new qualification, just a minimum standard.

        That people who have passed courses in physics or maths (particularly statistics) don’t necessarily grasp the basic concepts is not a new discovery. Howard Gardner’s “The Unschooled Mind” (1998) was full of examples of this. The issue is whether understanding is increased by more group work, discussion etc. or whether understanding actually develops with fluency and there will always be topics where you don’t fully grasp the concepts until you’ve mastered many of the applications or even some of the more advanced versions of the concepts.


        • Sorry perhaps I’m being dense but do you mean that the DfE should say ‘HEI who do ITT must, if they want taxpayers’ cash, only employ people to train teachers who have the following XXX qualifications’?

          DfE obviously has no power to regulate universities directly re who they hire so presumably they could only do it via a funding mechanism?

          Or have I completely misunderstood your point?

          If this is what you mean, then I would not have confidence that the DfE could write the regulations that you would want to see. I also imagine that such regulations would create many nightmarish anomalies.

          Surely a general lesson is that Whitehall should focus on incentivising ENDS, not trying to micromanage MEANS which Whitehall very rarely has the expertise to understand, never mind manage.

          This is why prizes work so well – devise a robot that can navigate across the Mohave in the following circumstances XYZ, if you do, you get £xxx zillion. The MEANS are irrelevant in prizes, which is why they work. Similarly, the DfE should be limited to questions like – can a 16 year old solve this sort of problem XXX – not dictating the mechanism by which the pupil is taught.

          On the second issue, I would strongly urge you to read what Mazur or Wieman have written about their experiments and why they show such large improvements. It seems to me obvious there is great scope for similar developments in schools, they think so too, and I have seen no good argument against them. A reasonable person’s default mode ought to be to assume they are right – given the data they have published and widespread replication, unlike most education research – unless it can be shown they are wrong.

          I did not say the physics discoveries were new – Mazur’s experiments at Harvard started over a decade before the Gardner article you mention.


      • Be interesting to do some of those concepts tests in digital technologies. It’s actually not expensive to do such a thing on a national scale. We are doing free baseline computing tests for KS3 pupils and over 400 secondary schools have signed up so far as a result of a single reply to a social network post in May. We are encouraging primary teachers to do it. Why? Because if we are aiming to get KS3 kids to this knowledge level that is what the primary teachers are preparing them to do. Let’s not get hung up on teaching to a test, this is for diagnostics and the only people that get their data is the schools, no high stakes pressures, it’s just we can contextualise results of individuals or local groups in everyone else’s data. So we could say you know more than 75% taking this test, or teacher knowledge has shifted from an average of 60% on this test to an average of 70% but you went from 40% to 80% so you are making a lot better than average progress. We can see which questions are systematically the most difficult and target CPD on those areas using shared Creative Commons content – we are already part way through building a complete set of lesson plans linked to the POS. If they can be improved no problem, its CC licensed so just do it. I’d say sharing this development – rather like Teachmeets – at grass roots is likely to be the only way CPD is going to be sustained in digital tech. If it works there it should work anywhere else. The key is finding a focus to get the energy channelled in a direction. In this case it was providing a simple solution to post levels progress monitoring. KISS. Do stuff that reduces the teachers non-teaching workload a) because you are more likely to get buy in and b) because it means they have more time to teach which is the object of the exercise. Directly relate CPD to the stuff being taught and assessed as the highest priority. Make it part of ITT so it is second nature to start with this focus – What do they know? – What are you teaching? What have they learnt? How do you know? Simple and elegant is almost always better.


  5. I didn’t take it that you were suggesting Concepts Tests as becoming high stakes, just that in the current climate there is a degree of paranoia about anything to do with assessment. Any hint of performance accountability will kill our project which is why schools own their own data and we won’t give any of it to anyone except them. I’m planning additional free on-line computing tests to complement the baseline testing. When we know from the data which knowledge/concepts are badly understood we will target these intensively – we can guess to an extent now but data is better. Then we can design new baseline tests that become progressively more difficult too. The current average mark from 5200 pupils is 41.4%. If we can get that average up to say 60 or 70% we can then make more difficult tests and target more new more difficult concepts. We are effectively trying to “shift a normal distribution to the right” over time. We need to be fully aware that breadth ie the amount to learn makes a difference as well as conceptual difficulty and there are some complex trade offs between focusing on weaknesses and spreading the learning too thinly and falling between too many stools. That is further complicated by having to cater for a wide current attainment range – some kids are scoring highly without any formal teaching and some are getting zero or close to it. (Not to mention the teachers 🙂 ). It’s a long way from perfect, but we needed to get started so we could get our own learning up in order to make improvements.


  6. Re “The DfE, its agencies, schools, and HEIs must use ‘open systems’ for data wherever possible in accordance with DfE and Cabinet Office policy, and the DfE must stop collecting data in the form of Word and PDF documents.”
    You misunderstand what “open” means in IT terms, and the history of “open”. The history of what has been described as “open” and why, what the political and sales intent of all that hype was, what impact it actually made on which buying decisions, and which organisations had the best most efficient IT through all of it. The different spectrum of “open”, the mismatch between the hype and the reality, and innovation and its drivers that drives change and improvement.
    You also misunderstand how to get good quality IT and business change implemented in the public sector, having “standards” imposed top down from the centre is certainly not one of them. Documents produced by the cabinet office, their contradictory nature, the way they have been generated by people who have never ever designed and implemented large scale successful IT and business change, and the way their fashions blow in the wind of the conference circuit sales hype. End users in education user land (and Dom) trying to make these decisions is as ridiculous as me trying to be a head teacher, although in many cases they are as qualified as those in the cabinet office and the government CTO, that does not make it correct.
    As much as you cry out for proper science to underpin education training, you need to understand some of the proper science behind the IT business, its marketing and hype, what’s successful and what isn’t, centralised versus decentralised decision making, and so much more. It’s a shame the IT business is not better organised to make some of this obvious stuff more widely available, but the BCS like the proposed Royal College of Teachers has let its profession down time and time again, and been populated by the wrong kinds of people and generally become a laughing stock in the industry. Look at what the BCS was putting out about the NHS IT change programme was being attempted by Blair and you will see how wrong they and the cabinet office were, as an easy example, and many many more.

    So no what you mean by imposing such standards is a mistake.


    • You misunderstand what I mean and I didn’t explain it well.

      My point about data is a simple one. The DfE should publish data in machine-readable form – not in Word docs etc. E.g. when they publish the league tables, they should make the actual data files available for download and use, not just put their own graphics on the web while making it impossible to download the data usefully (which used to happen). Ditto large parts of the NPD. I do not think this is in any way controversial.

      My point is precisely that the DfE / Whitehall should NOT impose IT standards on schools or anybody else. I blocked all attempts to do this and I tried to stop almost all new IT projects as they were clearly doomed. I am in no way suggesting that the DfE should fix / choose IT standards for schools.

      Re BCS they were helpful in dealing with Computer Science and the curriculum but I think I should have written Computing at School (CAS) not the BCS, but I can’t remember now I will check…


      • If I misunderstood then yes you need to change your wording…
        PDF’s are in any case what would generally be regarded as “open”, sure the format was originally designed by Adobe but for a long time the format has been in the hands of supposedly “open” standards committees full of bureaucrats from the IT vendors etc. So it’s immediately confusing to anyone that knows this the way you have worded it, even if they are not looking at it from my perspective.
        I agree they should make actual data files available, indeed they don’t even do this when freedom of info requests go in they tend to reply with documents in the way you mean.
        I agree that the DfE should not centrally fix / choose IT standards for schools, but I also know that the cabinet office trying to do it for any of the public sector is counterproductive and a waste of time and money.
        The BCS are regarded as a joke in the profession. Their utterances have often been at odds with the way the business really works, and what is going on within it. Most practioners do not join, and crucially most of the best practioners do not join. I have lost count of the number of MBCS and FBCS folk who I do not rate. A good example of poor FBCS folk are military officers who stumble into IT towards the end of their career, end up running a defence IT programme, mess those programmes up comprehensively and get given FBCS on the strength of a few peers recommending them on the old boy network, and recommendations from their vendors who need to keep them sweet, and so on. I have also seen the BCS explain the business with a fundamental lack of understanding of the freelance model. I have also seen the BCS join in with the political bubble in describing skills shortages in areas which are in fact in skills oversupply, and bowing down to the Indian outsourcing movement in many ways. One of the problems with the BCS is it needs to earn membership fees and it is therefore not impartial in many ways. Another is the sheer lack of representation of real delivery practioners.


  7. Sorry I initially posted this in the wrong place – so you might want to delete it from there! Price to pay for banging on about Digital Literacy is a highly visible user error 😉

    Dominic, I entirely agree and I have had 35 years experience at the cutting edge. I’d go further, why are we tying up information in pdfs when you can make a pdf from a web page *if* you really need one? Why hundreds of ppt files most of which do no more than display bulleted text? The mentality should be make it as simple, linkable and transferable as possible unless there is a really, really good reason for not doing so and lack of IT literacy in the providers (or users) is not a really good reason. Educate them, don’t just dumb down to accommodate them. The point about standards is that there is now a reasonable international consensus on open standards eg W3C and governments should be reinforcing those not undermining them by continuing with proprietary de facto standards that reinforce monopolies. Why? Because in the end it massively lowers the cost to tax payers. If you are savvy you can legally run an entire company without needing to pay a bean in software licenses (we do it so this is not idle speculation) but we have invested in our own lifelong learning. If you think education is expensive try ignorance ;-). I think its about time educators started eating their own dog food on this stuff. Bleating on about lifelong learning and digital literacy is all very well, but it always seems to be targeted on someone else. The DfE should….children will have to change jobs…. adults will have to retrain. Actually, its here and now and it means everyone reading this text.


  8. Dominic – I think you summary is a reasonable attempt to capture the key messages of the blog but I don’t feel the blog accurately reflects the true state of ITE – but can appreciate you can only summarize what people contribute. However here are my comments based, like you, also on my motive to improve initial teacher education/training. Before this however something I am curious about is who was informing the DfE about ITE as reading through your blog and various comments it doesn’t appear that an ITE voice was being heard? At the start of the coalition the Teaching Agency was replaced by NCTL and certainly it would seem a lot of the ITE ‘intelligence’ was lost in the changeover. From a providers perspective this was also a significant change as the previous relationship had been one based upon dialogue and working towards a common cause. However the tone did dramatically change and providers were at times excluded from discussions (particularly about School Direct) and many problems could easily have been avoided if there had been an ongoing of dialogue with providers – so was it policy to exclude the providers or was this simply an oversight?

    In terms of you asking about making specific points rather than general comments – whilst this would be easy to do – the context of the problem needs to be clearer for any comments to be worthwhile however where possible I have tried to do this.

    1. In relation to access to training materials this is something I simply don’t recognize. I don’t ever recall anyone from NCTL / TDA/TA/ DfE ever asking for specific information on content or access to curriculum materials. The recent Carter review is the first time I can recall being asked for information and we have provided it – no problem. I suspect the review has also received a lot of material from other providers (or perhaps not) but my concern would be what conclusions they can accurately draw from such information?
    Given the whole basis of ITE is about partnership and the sharing of information with schools is central to this – I don’t really understand where the problem was so would be interested to know what you were after?
    2. Mentoring (and securing high quality placements) has always been a key issue within ITE both nationally and internationally and the reality is that good mentoring is critical to good ITE. Over the years many providers will have worked hard trying to develop mentor expertise and there is a wealth of research on mentoring to be drawn upon. Two points I would however make. Firstly ‘outstanding’ teachers don’t necessarily make ‘outstanding’ mentors also ‘outstanding’ schools don’t necessarily make the best environments for training in. Secondly an unintended consequence of School Direct is that there are scenarios where mentoring may not be as good as within traditional ‘HEI Direct’ courses as often the placement school is based upon the need to recruit a teacher rather than the school being chosen because it provides outstanding training (although not exclusively). The bizarre point with this is that the provider is still accountable to Ofsted on the quality of the mentoring so this does present a tension, which providers have to overcome. The extent that schools value the mentoring role is also variable and whilst many providers will have put a lot of resources into mentoring this may not always be matched by all schools that clearly and understandably have other priorities. High quality mentors require lots of attributes (and time) but there is also an important process of (where possible) matching the right trainee with the right mentor as whilst mentoring is about developing skills and knowledge it is also very much about relationships. A suggestion would therefore be that if schools are involved with ITE as part of School Direct that they are also equally culpable (through Ofsted/ NCTL) so that there is a shared liability and responsibility in meeting the various requirements. I suspect this will have to happen eventually but this would need to include the schools response to prioritizing the quality and development of mentoring by their teachers, but also the meeting of other key QA measures, such as retention and quality of trainees and training. At present the culpability for School Direct rests largely with the provider so this needs to be addressed through shared understanding and responsibility.

    You suggest that Teaching Schools might take a lead in developing mentoring and this appears the stock answer to most but there is a danger, in relation to mentoring, of marginalizing schools where there are excellent mentors who may not be part of a Teaching School network. There is also clearly a wealth of expertise and experience in HEIs. Elevating the status of mentors in schools and valuing of mentoring within a national framework could be a very positive move.

    3. QTS – if the initial training of teachers is changed to be more school focused then it would be interesting to explore an extended period of training which leads to a qualified status. Certainly this is the case in many other countries. The evidence suggests that two to four years is the period needed for high quality teacher education in top ranked education systems. In the past I have proposed the term “Proto Professional” which values a trainee’s developmental status as an ‘emerging professional’ and supports their entry into teaching in a more overt and systematic way – particularly into an increasingly fragmented and diverse educational landscape. Further developing clinical practice models also offers new opportunities whilst in many ways, what we had in the proposed move to an all Masters profession by virtue of MATL was one way of doing this as it extended the period of development (this goes back to my early point that this all seem to get lost during the change to NCTL). Having explicit expectations about content may be useful but the list provided by David Weston wouldn’t be too far off what most providers will already be doing without them being part of the Standards. Possibly the reason why you suggest some Universities dislike the Doug Lemov approach is that it will get a trainee so far and may be very useful early on but ultimately you are wanting to develop trainees who can work in many different environments, who are autonomous and reflective (not that the Lemov model exclusively inhibits this). Whilst a corporate approach may work in a chain of schools (this isn’t necessarily a criticism) this may not always be in the trainees best interests in the long term. This was also partly an issue with the national strategies in that teachers were being instructed to use prescribed methods in schools but were not always sure why or were not allowed to question such practices – something that may have also have been legitimised by Ofsted. Ultimately QTS is linked to professionalism and there has to be consideration as to what extent schools want autonomous professionals (which may not always be the case).

    One issue with all of this is that we can keep raising the bar of entry to the profession but we also have to consider the consequences and likely impact. There is most certainly a recruitment crisis emerging so whilst making the skills test harder, creating greater incentives for higher degree classifications and shifting Ofsted inspection priorities are all good headlines – each raising of the bar simply diminishes the pool of talent to draw upon (and perhaps encourages others to go under the bar via non QTS routes). So I don’t think many would disagree about raising standards or increasing the demands upon QTS – the reality is there has to be sufficient people to recruit and who are capable of meeting these demands therefore teaching has to be made sufficiently attractive (not just financially) for people to want to enter it. Ultimately the strategy should be to get the best in, give them the best training and ensure their long-term development with high quality extended CPD guaranteed across a career – but this all costs! I don’t believe there are any quick wins for developing the workforce on the scale that is needed but equally this is not an impossible task. However I would also question adopting certain practices from other counties (e.g. your reference to Gates) as the scale, context and culture all vary significantly. Borrowing policy seems to be the norm when the reality is that policy does not always travel well.

    4. School Direct – I am glad you copied my quote about my concern about how some schools may get access to the very best trainees and particularly my fear the supply of high quality trainees to challenging schools may dry up. To expand upon this a little further – a key feature of initial teacher education is that trainees arrive with a whole set of values, preconceptions, attitudes and dispositions largely based upon their own successful education. Central to ITE is the trainee often-experiencing very different education environments to those where they were educated (in many ways a central feature of TF) as well as examining their beliefs and values. Having been through this process and reflected upon it they are then in a good position to decide on the type of environment that they feel (and perhaps know) they could make a difference in during their career. To a certain extent aspects of School Direct have removed this and whilst School Direct might serve some schools very well (which is great) – it may equally be detrimental to other schools (not so great). Just also to make the point again – I think the introduction of SD was poorly managed (but at least you have also confirmed this) but I also think aspects of it are encouraging but there is urgent need of an evaluation to identify best practice. I feel School Direct as part of a mixed economy would work well but I need to reiterate the ITE system wasn’t broken (but could be improved and there were plenty inside ITE saying this). Whilst you make claims about headteachers complaining about PGCE courses – headteachers / Senior teachers in schools have routinely been part of the inspection process of ITE and would have had an opportunity to comment on ITE provision so I am surprised their comments haven’t shown up more frequently particularly if this was the key rationale for change. However one of the biggest benefits that has arisen from School Direct and development of Teaching Schools is that I believe communication between Schools and HEIs has improved significantly. One outcome of this is that many headteachers now realize what a slog it is to recruit, train and retain the most able graduates – so I do feel there is greater understanding and long may this continue.
    The ITE sector has however been highly regulated, quality assured and inspected and has repeatedly met these requirements. As previously noted Michael Gove frequently said we have the ‘best generation of new teachers’ – so where did they come from and how did he know? Whilst there seems to be some belief that bringing a market into School Direct will incentivize the ‘bad HEIs to reform’ the exact opposite can also be true in that the best providers (depending upon what you believe this to be) could walk away from providing ITE (as some have). Quality isn’t necessarily driving the decision making of all schools involved in SD (an analysis of this would be useful) – but the amount of money a provider provides to the school often is. I suspect this will take a few years to settle down but at present I would suggest that unfortunately a lot of energy is being diverted away from ITE focusing on money and contracts rather than pedagogy and practice. Therefore any review of ITE and School Direct needs to examine the ‘incentives’ for those wishing to be involved in ITE.
    5. In relation to research – we will have to agree to disagree about the quality and value of education research. The Cargo cult label is however disparaging if being applied to all education research so you will need to be more specific – but I would also ask how much the government has recently invested as a percentage of expenditure on education research? The point is that education research has to be funded and the perception is it is generally poorly funded. Good research is central to good ITE and again there is a danger of research being squeezed as part emerging ITE practices. As mentioned last time I would rather have a separate discussion about research but my belief is that good ITE is embedded in good research and should link to mentoring, QTS, the Standards and so on. Research should be central to a Postgraduate qualification and all new teachers should be research literate but this isn’t anything new for many providers (but may be more difficult for some providers).

    Finally whilst many of the changes to ITE have been challenging the disruptive element has created new spaces for developing ITE in new ways, which can be viewed as positive. There are really interesting developments in some Teaching Schools and there are really interesting developments appearing in School Direct however the next few years are critical to bring some coherence to what is now a fragmented approach to ITE.
    Therefore despite the turbulence we may be closer to something more desirable that might not have been possible with previous structures but the direction of future travel needs some thinking through. Moving away from political timeframes – we need to be examining what is emerging from new practices and what can be reproduced that may be showing signs of being positive. This has to overcome the binary of either school led or HEI led and look seriously at teacher supply and development, which I believe is in a potentially perilous state. There is a real need for all sectors to work together on this, as the benefits can be considerable!


    • Good post.
      I am left wondering with all this talk of extending the number of years it takes to gain QTS what happens to folk who did not go straight into teaching.
      I look back on my own school days, and as a pupil my view of the best teachers were the small number who had done jobs doing other things and done some kind of conversion course to become teachers late in life. I’d hate to see routes open to such people become so long and complex that the profession is, in practical terms, only open to folk who go into it early in life.


  9. Dominic,
    Thanks for this, and for the acknowledgement of my earlier comment. I have been pondering your question/recommendation:
    “Teaching Schools to address the consistency of mentoring. How??”
    I have been turning this around in my head this evening without much success, until I started thinking in terms of, what do I think WOULDN’T work. I don’t think DfE should be taking practical steps to improve mentoring. I don’t think that frameworks, standards, accreditation, qualifications, recognition systems *by themselves* would improve the consistency of mentoring across schools. More or less for the same reasons you propose regarding centrally-defined QTS standards. All my (admittedly limited) experience and research suggests that professional learning is a process which relies on any systems and structures being mediated by human relationships to be really effective. In that, I guess I’m with Carl Rogers, but I don’t want to get bogged down with the theory. In short, it’s about getting the best people we have to be mentors of the next generation of teachers.
    It struck me that this isn’t a million miles from the culture in the military towards training and development. I can’t remember where I came across it, but I once read something along the lines of: ‘the good soldiers become specialists. The really good soldiers become officers and leaders. But the really good, the outstanding ones, they are hand-picked to go back to the academy to train the raw recruits.’ So maybe the solution lies in changing the parameters of the teaching profession, to make this role one of the most valued, prized and competitive career moves a teacher can take, and developing a new professional identity of ‘teacher-mentor’.
    So, if I was to follow your brief for this discussion a little better, I would say to DfE senior officials/spads:
    1. Go and talk to Charlie Taylor, and suggest to him that – as part of the review of the ‘Big Six’ – NCTL encourage/nudge Teaching Schools not only to take more responsibility for issues of teacher supply (as per my previous comment), but also to hand-pick their VERY BEST classroom practitioners and get them to mentor trainees and collaborate with other mentors, in their own and other schools (i.e. establish a community of mentors). There is some really great stuff going on in some schools (which I came across in my research) and you need some sort of community to allow those ideas and approaches to spread. You can give them some functional mentor training if you want, but if they’re great teachers they will be good mentors too; and if they have the chance to talk to other good mentors, they will become great mentors.
    2. Provide a fund for schools who are willing to engage with this process, to allow them to give mentors the significant time and financial recognition for this role to be taken seriously as a viable career path for excellent classroom teachers.
    2b. If anyone wonders whether schools would be willing to release their best from the classroom to work with other schools in these supposedly competitive times, I refer you to Julie Slater and the Outwood schools. I’m going to take a stab and guess that the quote on p.9 of your PDF is from her.
    3. Start with funding for a small cohort of selected mentors and small number of schools and rigorously test the impact of this approach on the trainees’ pedagogical competence and their pupils’ learning. A small seed fund, which has been shown to work, may be all you need DfE to do to effect a cultural change, now heads have more freedom re pay and conditions.

    This is *sort of* like the current SLE role, but not quite… as I understand that’s more focused on developing leadership and management skills, and *sort of* like the old AST role, but not really – actually, it’s more like the AST role as originally conceived in 1997’s ‘Excellence in Schools’ before it became more focused on working with existing teachers in the 2000s.

    Essentially what I’m proposing for mentors and mentoring quality is the same approach that has been taken to attract the best candidates into teaching and drive up the quality of teaching – cf. Teach First (with its high-ish academic bar and personal qualities-based assessment), Teacher Training Scholarships for physics etc (£25k for 1st/2.1 + similar personal assessment), Physics and Maths Chairs (£40k for post-docs to go into teaching alongside continuing research activity).. and so on.

    Sorry, I realise this is an overly long response; I feel like I ought to end with a dance number.

    But – £40k to be a teacher-mentor? Wouldn’t that make the role a serious proposition?


  10. Pingback: The Royal College of Teaching – Membership and Fellowship Requirements | Clio et cetera

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