Initial Teacher Education and Retention

by Bethan Marshall

July 23, 2023

One of four in the series Propositions for a Labour Government 2023/24

What the Conservatives have done

The current Conservative government has made a number of radical changes to the provision for Initial Teacher Education in the last five years, none of which have aided recruitment into the profession. In 2019 it introduced the Core Content Framework which was to be the template for all phases and subjects in ITE, a one size fits all. It was divided into two sections – where students – Learn That and Learn How To in five different areas – Behaviour Management, Pedagogy, Curriculum, Assessment, Professional Behaviour. It has become all but statutory.

The best ITE has always encouraged trainees to engage with a diverse range of research (appropriate to phase and subject) that enables teachers to make informed choices when planning and teaching. By contrast the framework, introduced by the Tories, focuses on certain types of research relying heavily on a particular reading of cognitive science and how children learn. There are for example around 50 references to ‘the metacognitive’, ‘meta-analysis’, ‘cognition’ and ‘cognitive load’ as well as 32 references to ‘retrieval’ and ‘retrieval practice’. While there may be some sense in this within STEM subjects, other disciplines such the Arts and English find it much harder to conform and have to distort their disciplines to comply.

The Conservatives then carried out a largely negative market review of ITE in 2021. This resulted in providers of ITE – universities, SCITTS and schools, including the overarching National Institute of Teaching – having to apply for re-accreditation from the DfE if they were to continue to run their ITE programmes. All providers had to describe their courses under the following headings – Curriculum, Mentoring and Guidance, Assessment, Quality Assurance and Structures and Partners. The process was in itself a major constraint on academic freedom. There were two opportunities to apply, one in January 2022 with the chance to resubmit in June, the other in June 2022. Only 80 out of the 200 received accreditation in the first round.

After the second round was complete, numerous providers, some long-term such as Durham, Sussex, Brunel, failed to be accredited at all and now have only one more year to run. Nor does the process seem to have taken account of how potential students in areas which now have no provision will train. For those institutions which have been accredited there is another phase. All courses must submit the programmes of work to the DfE, who have the power to reject, rewrite and do follow up visits to the provider to check they are teaching what they said, which is a restriction worthy of the Politburo.

Everything the Conservative government has done has constrained and restricted both the opportunities and ways in which people can become teachers.


What Labour can do

 We believe that a Labour government should oppose these changes and allow more freedom and diversity within the sector.

On coming into office they should immediately reverse the accreditation policy and allow training providers that were excluded to return to provision.

They should advocate a more diverse curriculum for teacher education that does not rely so heavily on one ideological position. Disciplines differ and children learn in a variety of ways, and this should be reflected in ITE.

Ofsted should monitor the quality of the training through its effectiveness, rather than its compliance to a prescribed framework and list of quality requirements.

There should be a serious overhaul of funding – the current up/down bursary system isn’t working. Training should be funded by government, not done through charging fees.

The crisis in teacher recruitment is mirrored in teacher retention. We are losing teachers in large numbers, much faster than we are replacing them. The reasons for this are many but include workload, remuneration, oppressive accountability and de-professionalisation. This is a significant agenda that needs time to be addressed, but an incoming government could at the outset have an impact by changing the nature of the dialogue and engaging with the profession, affirming its importance and creating an environment of trust and partnership thereby replacing the current top-down management and punitive accountability.


Bethan Marshall’s article is one of four papers together published by the New Visions for Education Group as “Propositions For The Next Labour Government”


Featured image by Tamás Mészáros: