Failing to innovate? Failing to communicate

The response to Transforming Teacher Education has been really encouraging and it’s had some great coverage and produced real interest. A piece in the Times Higher published last week captured some of the argument of Jane’s and my book and I have been thanked, criticised and, of course, strategically ignored following its publication. Although mostly thanked, it has to be said. I didn’t quite realise how widespread the feeling was. You can read the piece by John Elmes here and I’m grateful to him for doing such a great job. I did actually say those things.

The focus in John’s piece on failing to innovate is something Jane and I emphasised in the book. The last real innovations in initial teacher education in England that were led by universities took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Three innovations stand out: the Leicester experiments in IT in Teacher Education and the focus on school-based research; the mobility of school teachers and university lecturers between sites for student teacher learning that took place at Sussex University; and the profound reconceptualisation of the design of ITE within the Oxford Internship Scheme. Everybody always talks about the Oxford scheme but the other two were also really important. (Ann Childs and I are currently working on an historical piece about the Internship Scheme).

The other failure, though, that didn’t come out in the interview and is worth restating loudly, is that universities have also failed to communicate – with the profession as well as the wider society – about why things like PGCEs or university involvement are important and why they make a difference. This failure to communicate has been strongly highlighted by the entry of Teach First on the scene. Teach First really knows how to communicate. They are very persuasive in their call to young graduates and their presentation of teaching as having a moral purpose. You can disagree with them – and the basis on which they argue – but at least there is a basis to argue with. Most of the time, universities have just assumed they are a good thing or that just because they are universities they have a right to continue as they are. Or worse, they have assumed that the teaching profession needs universities in order to reflect. Duh!

So having some strong arguments about what universities can contribute to ITE and the strengthening of the profession is something long over-due and urgently needed. I was part of a meeting yesterday afternoon that may well lead to such arguments appearing as we enter the general election campaign proper. I am keeping my fingers crossed.