An evaluation of reforms in Initial Teacher Education

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This study considers some important aspects of the development of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in England. It is done through a review of the literature in the field, including academic evaluations of important reforms. Backgrounds of political ideologies of ITE were also investigated in order to judge the nature of current reforms. The nature of ITE in the 1980s, said to be the most radical period of educational reform, was investigated. Born from this spell was the partnership model, an aspect of ITE which remains today and it was of interest to evaluate its effects on teacher competence.

The paper concludes that the literature suggests there has been an improvement in quality of teaching since the partnership model of ITE has been introduced, by comparing HMI inspection results of the 1980s with recent publications including an Ofsted report.

In evaluating recent reforms it was concluded that the 'White Paper' although leaning towards the right of the political spectrum, there are certainly elements from other schools of thought. From a distinctly left wing line of thought, the paper seeks to provide existing teachers with the intention of training new entrants with more resources. As a by-product this benefits their own development, and improves their teaching. From the right, increasing the proportion of time students spend in the classroom with a focus on improving practical teaching skills.


This paper is a study into the development of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) in England. The aim of this paper is to gain an understanding of the reforms that have played a role in developing ITE into its current state. I will review supporting and opposing arguments from politicians and academics from the literature of this topic in an attempt to provide an overall picture of these developments.

In an attempt to fully comprehend recent developments, I will provide a brief background into the political ideology of ITE, and how they have impacted student teachers since the 1980's. In addition to this I will provide political, professional and academic influence and opinions on amendments. Central to the study is a description of the progress made towards the partnership model of ITE and its details.

This is a current area of interest due to the recent reforms proposed by the Education Secretary of the recently elected coalition government, Michael Gove, in his White Paper to parliament. As a member of the Conservative Party, it is understandable that views about ITE will reflect those of the political right, with an emphasis on practical aspects of teaching, and understating theory. Former Conservative Party special advisor Anthony O'Hear (1988) encapsulates this line of thought making the following contribution to the Social Affairs Unit debate of the Green Paper:

"The essence of good teaching is knowledge and love of the subject to be taught and mastery of the practical skills of teaching. Neither are best learned from the theoretical study of teaching."

This is echoed to some degree in the White Paper (Gove, 2010, p. 9) by promoting "Teaching Schools" that will be modelled on teaching hospitals, assigning more importance to practical aspects of teaching. It is of interest to investigate how these new proposals relate to the research literature on ITE, in order to evaluate them.

Due to devolution in the UK, Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved executive and legislative powers respectively in regard to education and training and are responsible for their own ITE procedures (Leeke et al., 2003, p. 21, 25; McNamara, 2009, p. 93). It should be clear that the focus of this paper is of ITE in England and not of the other constituent countries. There may however be some overlap due to prior UK wide control under the Department for Education and Employment's (DfEE) predecessors (Raffe et al., 1999, p.11).

Political Ideology of Initial Teacher Education

Prior to 1839 there was minimal government involvement in the training of teachers (Rich, 1972 in Smith, 1999, p. 27). Gardner (1993, p. 23) notes that even up until 1846 teachers were learning on the job. This resulted in the introduction of formal training and inspection, led by the recently formed HMI (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education) in order to regulate classroom activity. Despite the lack of government involvement prior to 1846, there was some form of teacher training available. Church funded teacher training colleges had been founded from 1839 to 1840, credited with being "the beginning of modern teacher training" (Smith, 1999, p. 26).

From 1846 onwards as More (1992, p.3) explains, "theory and practice of pedagogy inevitably became part of the training college syllabus". Previously there was little in terms of teacher education (including subject knowledge) involved in teacher training. Arguments from educationalists such as Dr. Andrew Bell did little to improve the inclusion of any theory into teacher training, theorising in 1806 that:

"It is by attending the school, seeing what is going on there, and taking a share in the office of tuition, that teachers are to be formed, and not by lectures and abstract instruction."

(Gardner, 1993, p. 25)

This approach to some degree is reflective of neo-conservative thinking in the matter of ITE. Modern conservatives place an emphasis on the importance of the practical aspects of ITE with little mention of theoretical understanding. This is observed in the White Paper (Gove, 2010, p. 9) suggesting an increase in the "proportion of time trainees spend in the classroom, focusing on core teaching skills".

In the 1830s an implicitly practical pupil-teacher system was developed by Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth (Seaborne, 1974, p. 330-331). It was based upon religious ideals, with the desire of affording more access to education to the 'humbler classes'. Despite these good intentions there was criticism of the pupil-teacher system, notably by Reverend R. J. Bryce (1834):

"It appears to me that the education of these schoolmasters is a thing of the same kind as if medical students, instead of studying general scientific principles to guide their medical practice, were simply to follow a physician or surgeon through the wards of an hospital and look at him while he felt the pulse and examined the symptoms of the patient, and then take notice what sort of prescription he afterwards wrote."

(Gardner, 1993, p. 35)

There is an extraordinary resemblance to the recently proposed Teaching School modelled on teaching hospitals (Gove, 2010, p. 3 & p. 9). Although it is not yet known what form these Teaching schools will take, it seems strange that identical arguments are both used to both promote and discredit the same theory.

The Cross Commission of 1888 suggested that universities should be involved in ITE in order to address the shortcomings of the 'learning on-the-job' approach as identified by the Newcastle Commission in 1861 (Gilroy, 1992, p. 8).

The increasing involvement of Higher Educational Institutions (HEI) in the training of teachers in the early 20th Century was paralleled by the government, mandating HEIs involvement in ITE with the full cooperation of Local Education Authorities (Patrick, 1986, p. 243; Newbolt, 1921, p. 171; Education Act, 1902, Section 22(3); Education Act, 1918, Section 1(c)(ii)). Eventually the involvement of HEIs was acknowledged by the creation of Area Training Organisations (ATOs), with HEIs supervising "all aspects of courses for the initial training of teachers" (Gosden, 1989, p. 2). At the culmination of the course, the HEIs - through the ATOs - would recommend to the Minister of Education the students that should be awarded qualified teacher status (QTS). Gosden (ibid.) claimed that these links "had the effect of both strengthening and broadening the professional and academic aspects of training".

The involvement of HEIs in ITE according to leftist rhetoric is welcome. The National Union of Teachers expressed their satisfaction that teachers were trained at universities, enjoying the elevated status that they offered (Tropp, 1957, p. 71). Shirley Williams of the 1976-1979 government praised HEIs for their role in providing increased number of teachers in preceding years (Smith, 1999, p. 32). This was despite conservative criticism during this period, led by the Robbins Committee on Higher Education (p. 29).

Reforms in Initial Teacher Education since the 1980s

James Callaghan (Labour), UK Prime Minister from 1976 to 1979 did not hesitate to address the issue of teacher education. He initiated 'The Great Debate' on education (speaking at Ruskin College, Oxford) challenging the 'autonomy' and 'professionalism' of teachers, following reforms by previous conservative governments. His overall aim was for more regulation in the education system (Furlong, 2005, p. 120-121). Whilst there was no direct mention of ITE Smith (1999, p. 32) credits this speech as having 'implications' on teacher training.

As a result, the 1980s saw the most radical reforms in the education system to date (Gilroy, 1992, p. 14). They included the conception of The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE) in 1984, a series of DES (1982 and 1983) and HMI (1981 and 1987) publications (Patrick, 1986, p. 254), and the 1988 Education Reform Act. The culmination of the 'Great Debate' on education resulted in the introduction of the National Curriculum.

The White Paper 'Teaching Quality' in 1983 included the criteria for the accreditation of ITE courses, with CATE (DES, 1984 in Furlong et al., 2000, p.2; Taylor, 1990, p. 117) advising the Secretary of State for Education on their approval and administering accreditation (Gilroy, 1992, p. 9; Barton et al., 1992, p. 41; Furlong et al., 2000, p. 2; Barton et al., 1994, p. 530). It also approved the introduction of 'radical' schemes such as the school based Articled Teacher and Licensed Teacher routes to gaining qualified teacher status (DES, 1989 in Furlong et al., 2000, p. 2; Barton et al., 1994, p. 530). Whitty (1993, p. 263) reasons that the standards introduced by CATE could be viewed as a 'National Curriculum' ITE, an opinion forwarded by Barton et al. (1994, p. 535). Ultimately this would result in a standardised course length; reforms in the selection criteria of students; universities keeping links with maintained schools; members of staff having school teaching experience and a review of subject and professional studies (Patrick, 1986, p. 255).

The HMI surveys of 1981 and 1987, as well as other evidence provided by the DES highlighted government concerns about ITE and a need for change in teacher training (Patrick, 1986, p. 254; Furlong et al., 2000, p. 14). In most cases the HMI were critical of the development of 'practical teaching competence' (Furlong et al., 2000, p. 14). In the opinion of HMI, almost one quarter of newly qualified teachers had inadequate teaching skills, an opinion supported by the teachers themselves. Between one-fifth and three-fifths suggested they were inadequately prepared (HMI, 1982 - CHECK). The survey of 1987 (HMI, 1988) acknowledged there had been improvement, however their opinion was that there was still cause for apprehension. Almost a third of teachers claimed they were only moderately satisfied (24%) or dissatisfied (8%) with the training they received (p. 25). The common complaint was of an overemphasis on academic study rather than on teaching practice (p. 26).

Upon contemplating these claims, Hargreaves (1990) openly disagrees; leading to questions of partiality, and it would be of interest to investigate the political motivations of the DES and HMI. He is of the opinion that CATE has, offered very little to the improvement to ITE. Additionally he views the introduction of the licensed and articled teacher schemes "with alarm and dismay" (Hargreaves, 1990, p. 5). It is therefore pertinent to ask if the reforms were really necessary or if they were purely victories in a party political struggle. Regardless, the impact on ITE was profound with a consequent move towards the production of a framework to formalise the partnership model of teacher training.

Partnership Model of teacher training

Prior to 1992, there were ITE courses that had intimate though unofficial working arrangements with schools in the locality. Government Circulars 9/92 for secondary and 16/93 for primary ITE courses (DFE, 1992; DFE, 1993) established a framework for the affiliations. The government insisted that in the future ITE courses should work on the basis of a partnership between HEIs and schools. Schools would take the responsibility for training students to teach their specialist subjects, assessing pupils and manage classes. They would also supervise students and assess their competence. Conversely HEIs would be "responsible for ensuring that courses meet the requirements for academic validation, presenting courses for accreditation, awarding qualifications to successful students and arranging student placements in more than one school" (DFE, 1992, p. 3; Christie et al., 2004, p. 120). Christie et al., (2004, p. 120) provide an interesting take on the nature of school-HEI partnerships, understanding them as "a complex network of relationships, some long-standing and close, others new and distant, shifting from year to year and from placement to placement."

Gilroy (1992, p. 19) argues that although the circulars display the reforms set out by Kenneth Clarke (Secretary of State for Education and Science) in a neutral light, "Mr Clarke's proposals have no historical support whatsoever, as they are very similar to those rejected, with good reason, a century or so ago." He further accuses Clarke of abusing the power of his position to gain political benefits, betraying those involved in the education system.

In a consultation document, Clarke outlines his plans for the reforms stating that "the whole process of teacher training will be based on a more equal partnership between school teachers and tutors (...) with the schools themselves playing a much bigger part" (DES, 1992, p. 7). To further emphasise this point it was declared that 80% of the secondary PGCE must be school-based, and resources for teacher training would be moved from HEIs to schools (Gilroy, 1992, p. 7). It was later revised by John Patten that the 80% school-based practical training should be reduced to 66% (Whitty, 1993, p. 263).

Moore (1994) and Barton et al. (1994) argue that Clarke's reforms were an attempt to reduce the influence of HEIs in order to reduce theoretical content and place an emphasis on more pragmatic aspects of teaching (Moore, 1994, p. 28-29; Barton et al., 1994, p. 531). The argument indicates the reforms were implemented along party political values, rather than based on any evidence.

In analysing these arguments, it seems an important question is; has partnership resulted in the production of more competent teachers that was expected? The answer to this question would ultimately provide justification for partnership or not.

Currently the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) accredits providers of initial teacher training in England, providing they can fulfil the criteria set out by the Secretary of State (The Education (School Teachers' Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003, s. 11 (2)). Although there is flexibility in terms of course structure and content, there are specific requirements that providers and trainees must abide by. Most notable for providers is the requirement that the training is based on a strong partnership with schools (TDA, 2011a).

Regarding the trainee, there is a need to display competence in English and mathematics regardless of their subject specialism. This is done in the form of standardised entry requirements (GCSE grade C in both subjects), and interviews that also establish which candidates have good interpersonal skills (TDA, 2006, p. 12). It is argued that this is necessary to reduce the number of applicants with poor numeracy and literacy skills, so as not to allow training standards to slip. Some have argued that these requirements are not high enough (TDA, 2006, p. 10). This concept of criteria was initially introduced by CATE, which was quite original at the time of inception (Wragg, 1990, p. 25). In this sense there has not been a great overhaul since the 1980s.

It is also of interest to observe how elements of the courses available today differ from those prior to official partnerships. Trainees currently spend considerably more time in schools than in the past. Secondary Graduate QTS programmes (one, two or three years) require that trainees attend schools for 120 days (24 weeks), with four year courses requiring attendance for 160 days (32 weeks) (TDA, 2011b). In contrast the one year courses supplied by University Departments of Education, Colleges of Education (Technical) and the Art Training Centre required a minimum 60 day attendance at schools (Dent, 1977, p. 157). Available thee year courses leading to the Teacher's Certificate consisted of approximately twelve to eighteen weeks of teaching under supervision.

The makeup of previous ITE courses also included lectures, seminars, tutorial groups, supervised and self directed practical activities, and observation and teaching practice in schools (Dent, 1977, p. 159). Similarities can be drawn to the current format of ITE courses; however structural requirements placed by the TDA means less flexibility.

The TDA requirements each have a rationale provided, with the common themes among them including structure, quality, support, equality, preparation and variety (R2.1-2.9) (TDA, 2011c). Has this resulted in more competent teachers? The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (Gove, 2010, p. 3) certainly believe so indicating an increase in standards. This notion is certainly backed up by Ofsted (2003, p. 4) who claim that newly qualified teachers are the best there has ever been. Although it may not be completely accurate, it would be of interest to compare the results of the HMI surveys with recent Ofsted reports. It was found that only one tenth of lessons were unsatisfactory, and nine out of ten trainees showed good subject knowledge in the period 1999-2002 (Ofsted, 2003, p. 4). This compares favourably to 25% of NQTs having inadequate teaching skills as discovered by HMI in 1981 (HMI, 1982 - CHECK).


In conclusion, it is important to confirm if the aims of this paper were addressed. Using the literature available, it was observed that there are particular political ideologies in the field of Initial Teacher Education. Conservative right wing opinions of the present and recent past - notably of politicians such as Thatcher and Clarke (Gilroy, 1992, p. 2, 6) but also writers such as Dawson (Barton et al., 1994, p. 536) and O'Keeffe (Whitty, 1993, p. 265) - reflect ideological principles such as those voiced by Bell in 1806. Contrarily, the majority view of the late 19th and early 20th century were those associated with the political left. This is supported by the increased involvement of HEIs, with an appreciation of the academic aspects of initial teacher education.

Investigating the political history of ITE, made it apparent that reforms regularly seemed to echo the political party elected to government. Gaining this understanding provided a platform to evaluate current reforms, with my initial point of interest to search for parallels between the White Paper of 2010 and conservative ideologies. Arguments from Hargreaves (1990) and Gilroy (1992) were provided to assess reforms of the 1980s in an opposing light to the emergent New Right.

Away from the political arena, it may be of interest to assimilate academic suggestions for ITE into this appraisal and ultimately ascertain if there are parallels between them and the White Paper with regard to ITE. On the principle that the White paper is formed by a right wing government, I shall initially evaluate suggestions for ITE programmes by right leaning educationalists. O'Hear (1988; Smith, 1999, p. 45) suggested that the Licensed Teacher scheme should become the 'norm' rather than an option for all students. He bases his arguments on falling standards of teaching over a time period that coincided with the requirement to complete an ITE course. Also supporting this argument was his perceived success of independent school teachers with no teacher training compared to their colleagues teaching in maintained schools. Wragg (1990, p. 27) points out his ignorance of the socio-economic makeup of the students. Lawlor (Smith, 1999, p.49) suggest that HEIs should play no role in teacher training whatsoever but that it should be carried out solely in schools under the supervision of experienced teachers.

Elements of these arguments are clearly present in the White Paper. In summary the White Paper's goals are to increase the proportion of time students spend in the classroom, improve and expand the current school-based routes into teaching, and a focus on practical teaching skills. There is however no evidence of a will to disassemble current teacher education methods. Hextall et al. (1991, p. 81) suggest it is the belief of O'Hear and Lawlor - who incidentally had never taught in a school (Gilroy, 1992, p. 11) - that "all one needs to become a teacher is a qualification in a subject, and a motivation and desire to teach."

From another political and professional outlook, Hargreaves and Warnock have also advocated the breakdown of the structure of teacher education, with the desire to reallocate resources located in training institutions to teaching schools that would fund and resource their own programmes of ITE.

While this may appear identical to some aspects of conservative opinions, Hextall et al. (1991, p. 81) assert that 'the intention is clearly different'. Hargreaves (1989 in Hextall et al., 1991, p. 81) argues that extra responsibility and more resources provided to existing teachers with the intention of training new entrants, will as a by-product benefit their own professional development and improve their teaching. This point is echoed in the White Paper (Gove, 2010, p. 9) pledging to "Develop a national network of Teaching Schools (…) to lead the training and professional development of teachers and head teachers". Warnock (1990 in Hextall, 1991, p. 82) also mentions the importance of professional development, despite fearing the prospect that alternative career paths may be opened for experienced teachers.

Hargreaves also suggests that financial resources should be allocated to schools to fund the training of staff and to pay for external expertise where necessary. The White Paper (Gove, 2010, p. 43) adheres to these suggestions with the pledge of "providing funding for high-quality training and classroom teaching resources" in specialist areas such as the teaching of systematic synthetic phonetics in primary school classrooms.

In closing, it would seem that on the surface, the proposed reforms have elements from both ends of the political spectrum. Discontinuity within left and right texts suggests that the reforms may be driven by aspects such as funding, control, accountability as well as politics. However, as with all political pledges, not until after the reforms have been implemented can a true assessment of its intentions be made. It would be unsurprising however, considering the back and forth in terms of ideology of reforms through history, if ITE continued to be the ball in a game of political tennis. To illustrate how reforms in ITE are idiosyncratic to the political regimes that implement them, and how methods of teacher training over history are constant and few, Wragg states:

"There have certainly been cyclical elements in the history of teacher training. Methods die and are rediscovered in modified form by an exultant future generation."

(Wragg, 1974, p. 43)