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University of Cambridge warns it may withdraw from initial teacher training if government shake-up proceeds

The University of Cambridge has hit out at government proposals that will change how new teachers are trained – and warned that if they are implemented, it may no longer be prepared to run the courses.

Its education leaders said they were “deeply concerned” that the plans would mean they could “no longer guarantee the high standards we have achieved to date”.

The Senate House of the University of Cambridge
The Senate House of the University of Cambridge

The Department for Education launched a seven-week consultation on Monday on recommendations from a review of the initial teacher training (ITT) market, led by Ian Bauckham and an expert panel.

It proposed changes to teacher training courses, including:

  • New intensive school placements;
  • New lead mentor role and specialist training for mentors so they can provide high-quality support to trainees;
  • Quality assurance arrangements across ITT partnerships to ensure a high-quality experience for every trainee;
  • Accrediting all ITT providers based on the new quality requirements;
  • Utilising teaching school hubs to support training providers, especially locally and in disadvantaged communities.

Courses must centre on an “evidence-based trainee curriculum” with a “core content framework”, the review said.

But the university, which prepares around 300 new teachers each year, delivered a damning verdict.

Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro vice-chancellor for education. Picture: Richard Marsham
Professor Graham Virgo, senior pro vice-chancellor for education. Picture: Richard Marsham

Prof Graham Virgo, pro vice-chancellor for education, and Prof Susan Robertson, head of the Faculty of Education, said: “The single model of training proposed would obstruct our delivery of a flexible, highly-personalised, innovative curriculum, responsive to trainees’ and schools’ needs and based on the best available research.

“The evidence overwhelmingly shows there is no single ‘right’ way to train teachers to work in diverse settings and to support pupils with different needs.

“The proposals could erode long-standing partnerships with, and create a number of serious challenges for, partner schools who have themselves contributed to and greatly enriched the design of our programmes for trainees. In addition, the distinction made between accredited providers and delivery partners poses serious challenges.”

They added: “The university cannot in all good faith accept or offer aspiring teachers a programme that would lower standards in this way. Now, more than ever, children need teachers of the highest possible quality.

“These recommendations would compromise the essential characteristics of programmes such as ours, which are already producing outstanding teachers, year after year.

“We recognise that these are only recommendations. Were they to be implemented, however, then with great regret we would see little option but to review the viability of initial teacher education at the University of Cambridge. We have therefore asked the government to adjust the proposals to accommodate the continued delivery of university-based PGCE courses.”

School standards minister Nick Gibb. Picture: PA
School standards minister Nick Gibb. Picture: PA

Unveiling the plans, school standards minister Nick Gibbs said: “The proposed changes would build upon the ambitious reforms the government has implemented to create a golden thread of training, support and professional development, informed by high quality evidence, which will run through each phase of a teacher’s career.”

But the University of Oxford also said the plan “threatens the future viability of programmes such as the Oxford PGCE”. Russell Group said the plans would have “unintended consequences”, while UCL suggested it was “disappointing that the feedback from many quarters of the initial teacher education and schools system is not reflected in the proposals”.

The consultation can be seen at gov.uk/government/consultations.

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