January 26

Teacher Education Exchange: a personal view

In March last year, just as I was joining King’s College London, I organised a seminar on initial teacher education at which Sven-Erik Hansen (Finland) and Ken Zeichner (US) spoke, both leading international researchers in the field. The rest of the room was filled with some of the leaders in the field in the UK, colleagues who brought a great depth of experience in the practices of initial teacher education, the policy sphere, and research. There were some inspiring discussions as well as some more worrying dawning realisations and a germ of an idea was born. Over the next few months – and a pair of Innovation Workshops organised by the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) in London and Manchester – Teacher Education Exchange emerged.

Teacher Education Exchange is a collective of university-based teachers, leaders and researchers who also have considerable professional experience in schools. What unites us is a commitment to a transformative position on the development of the university contribution to the initial and continuing professional development of teachers. We believe that the dominant discourses around initial teacher education, in particular, are structured and constrained by the reform/defend dichotomy – you either have to argue that universities are rubbish and their contribution to teacher development sub-standard and that new ‘providers’ need to take over. Or that the status quo and business as usual in university education departments has to be defended at all costs.

We reject this dichotomy as a structuring device in arguments about how universities might improve their contribution just as we reject other ludicrous dichotomies such as progressive/traditional that circulate around the echo chambers of Twitter.

The reform/defend dichotomy is an international phenomenon and, in the US, zealous, ideologically-driven reformers have characterised any form of teacher development that involves universities as ‘Teacher Development 1.0’. Against their caricature of what goes on in university-led programmes, they propose instead ‘Teacher Development 2.0’: Teach for America and phoney ‘independent graduate schools of education’ like Relay are good examples of 2.0 programmes. Unfortunately for the reformers, there is no evidence that these 2.0 start-ups are any better than the 1.0 programmes they despise. So all we’re left with is the flatulent rhetoric of pompous and self-regarding reformers – however well-intentioned – with the consequence that real progress and genuine innovation becomes even harder to realise as both 1.0 and 2.0 entrench their positions.

You see the same phenomenon in England and, sadly in my view, you also see the drab spectacle of some leaders of university education departments either buying in to the reformist 2.0 position (and, again in my view, fatally undermining their own situation and, indeed the job security of those they lead) or the even sadder show of trying to sit uncomfortably on the fence, desperately trying not to offend either camp and exposing a fundamental lack of professional vision. As I have said before – and sometimes to my colleagues’ concern – I believe we have suffered from a fundamental lack of leadership on this issue in university education departments. My reading of John Furlong’s Anatomy of a Discipline is that he would agree with me.

In Teacher Education Exchange, we have instead proposed Teacher Development 3.0 – a transformative position that we believe overcomes unhelpful dichotomous constructions of the debate about how universities might contribute to profession-led teacher development. I’ve emphasised that last section as it is at the core of our argument: we’re not interested in returning universities to a ‘golden age’ of professional leadership; the profession itself should lead itself and universities and their Education departments, we argue, have a distinctive but reconfigured and probably smaller (thinner but longer) contribution to make. On the other hand, we also believe that the profession has to step up and take responsibility for the core of work-based learning that is at the heart of professional education, along with responsibility for its monitoring and quality assurance. Like the new Chartered College in England, we prefer the formulation of profession-led to school-led; teacher development is bigger than the single school or the multi-academy trust and bigger than the individual headteacher or CEO of a MAT. That’s the implication of the concept of profession.

To that end, we have published our first pamphlet, Teacher Development 3.0: How we can transform the professional education of teachers, which is free to download from the Teacher Education Exchange website: teacher educationexchange.com

On Tuesday evening this week, I spent an hour or so talking with one of the most inspiring students I’ve ever worked with. He had expressed an interest in moving from a school leadership position into a university role as a teacher educator and also undertaking a doctorate. We need new people like this former student in our universities – fresh from successful school experience at a senior level, intellectually curious and, unlike so many of the self-styled reformers, lacking in vanity and eager to learn.

When there have been cases of significant innovation in the past in the field of teacher education, they have often come from a generation of school leaders who have migrated into university education departments. That was the case with the Oxford Internship Scheme and the group of teachers around Harry Judge in the period 1974 to 1987. My personal dedication of Teacher Development 3.0, if allowed one, would be to this former student of mine – as an invitation to come in to the universities and help us make the kind of architectural changes to teacher development programmes that we need to really address the societal as well as educational challenges we face.