A morning at the Carter Review of ITT – revised version

Friday 26th and I fetch up at Sanctuary Buildings for a ’roundtable discussion’ on ‘delivering effective primary ITT’ at the Carter Review of Initial Teacher Training. For those who live outside the rump UK (England), the Carter Review is an ‘independent review’ of teacher education programmes that is supposed to focus on their ‘quality and effectiveness’. The brief for the review is here and the advisory group supporting Andrew Carter is named here.

Interestingly, if you google ‘Carter Review’ you get lots of reviews of a computer game called ‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’. It looks quite good and some of the reviews say it is like no other game they have played. Unlike the video game, the Carter Review of ITT is very much like games of its sort. Most disappointingly, the roundtable for the discussion also turned out to be rectangular, with me perched at one end and the man himself at the other. I had gone straight for the coffee; he for the chair’s chair.

This is not an illustration of the Carter Review. It is a still from a video game called 'The Vanishing of Ethan Carter'.

This is not an illustration of the Carter Review of ITT. It is a still from a video game called ‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’.

The focus of the discussion  up to the point I had to leave (I was teaching in the afternoon) was around two issues: ‘quality mentoring’ and ‘the challenges of primary subject knowledge’. On mentoring, piggy-backing on another participant, I tried to get in a few points about the distinction between mentoring and coaching and also (and most importantly, for me) resisting the old fashioned ITE mentoring model of first sit at the back observing the ‘master teacher’ and then they get to sit at the back watching you, the novice. In other words, I tried to expand the notion of mentoring from mainly observation to key skills such as co-planning and co-teaching and contriving opportunities to bring the new teacher into the practice of teaching. Not rocket science and acknowledged to be good mentoring practice for at least 20 years since it was codified by Donald McIntyre in The School Mentor Handbook.

On subject knowledge, a mild skirmish around the validity and reliability of online tests of subject knowledge such as the Praxis test developed by ETS in the US and the very definition of ‘subject knowledge.’ I resisted selling my book on the topic, now out in paperback and available at all good booksellers. Nominated for the Richard A. Meade Award it was too. Anyway, I didn’t mention it. Instead, I tried to suggest that there was a complicated relationship between teachers’ subject knowledge – usually measured by proxies such as degree subject or classifications or tests – and how good they were at teaching. There is  no evidence of high level prior qualifications being a determining factor in high quality teaching other than for secondary Mathematics teaching where good prior qualifications suggest your students will do better than those who are not specialists. But on the other hand, primary school children whose teachers have PhDs in Maths perform worse than children whose teachers have lower qualifications. The primary children who do best, their teachers have degrees in Mathematics and Education. (See the 2005 AERA report Studying Teacher Education).

As is usual on these occasions, you make the point; it is noted; the conversation moves on. Just before I left, the discussion had turned to the possibility of finding a test of Mathematics that would identify all the ‘gaps’ in a teacher’s knowledge if they wanted to become a teacher…..

The strongest and most urgent impression I had from this morning was the excellence and expertise of representatives of some of the SCITTS (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training Schemes) around the rectangular table. Of course the invitees were mainly from SCITTS and schools with just three out of 14 present from universities. And it would be easy to be defensive of universities and their role in ITE just because they are universities. But when colleagues from SCITTS talk so wisely and on the basis of such deep knowledge and experience, it is clearly overdue time that universities raised their game. Universities and HE teacher education people have been complacent for far too long and, I have to say, sometimes sneering of what goes on in SCITTS. (Four days later I was at a very famous university where I heard those very sentiments). When SCITTS are as good as some of those around the Carter table, most universities have a lot of catching up to do.