University of Cambridge threaten to stop teacher training amidst new government proposals

The university is ‘deeply concerned’ that adopting these proposed adaptations to teacher training would significantly ‘lower standards’ of training

University of Cambridge has threatened to stop offering teacher training, following proposals from the Department of Education (DfE), which recommend that all teacher training courses should be centrally accredited, and should conform to a new, central set of quality requirements.

In a statement released by the university yesterday (06/07), Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, and the Head of the Faculty of Education, Professor Susan Robertson, said they were “deeply concerned” that implementing the new DfE proposals would “lower” the “standards” of the university’s teacher training programme.

University of Oxford have issued a similar statement, suggesting the DfE’s plans “threaten the future” of its teacher training programmes.

This week, the DfE announced proposals to launch a new accreditation system for all initial teacher training providers as well as publish new quality requirements that all courses would need to conform to.

In their statement on behalf of Cambridge, Virgo and Robertson say that although they “support” the objective of the new DfE proposals, which is to promote “consistently high-quality teacher training”, they are “deeply concerned” that these proposals would require the university to adopt a model within which they “could no longer guarantee the high standards [it has] achieved to date.”

More specifically, Virgo and Robertson state that the new proposals include only one model of training, which they believe would “obstruct” the university’s delivery of a “flexible, highly-personalised, innovative curriculum” which is “responsive to trainees’ and schools’ needs” and “based on the best available research.”

They add that contrary to the new proposals, “evidence overwhelmingly shows” there is “no single ‘right’ way” to train teachers to work in “diverse settings” and support pupils with different needs.

They also believe that the new DfE proposals could “erode” long-term partnerships with, and create many serious challenges for, partner schools involved in Cambridge’s teacher training scheme, “who have themselves contributed to and greatly enriched” the design of the scheme.

Virgo and Robertson therefore concluded that the university therefore “cannot in all good faith accept or offer aspiring teachers a programme that would lower standards in this way”, adding that the DfE’s proposals would “compromise the essential characteristics of programmes such as ours, which are already producing outstanding teachers, year after year.”

They said if these proposals were implemented, “with great regret we would see little option but to review the viability of Initial Teacher Education at the University of Cambridge.”

The university has therefore asked the government to adjust the DfE proposals to accommodate the continued delivery of university-based teacher training via Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses.

Cambridge prepares around 300 news teachers to enter the profession every year and its PGCE courses have repeatedly been rated ‘outstanding’ by different reviewers across multiple inspection frameworks.

University of Oxford issued a similar statement to Cambridge, saying the DfE’s plans “threaten the future of programmes” like Oxford’s Postgraduate Certificate in Education.

Lord Knight, a former education minister in Tony Blair’s government, told The Telegraph: “It feels more like they want to have a tighter central control on what quality teaching looks like.”

He said that if the government forged ahead with the planned changes, there was a “real risk” that the best universities would withdraw their teacher training courses because “their academic freedoms are being impinged on.”

Likening the state-controlled teacher training syllabus to something out of a “Stalinist regime”, he added: “It really feels like an Orwellian nightmare with a centralised state dictating how teachers should think.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which is made up of 24 universities in the UK, including Cambridge and Oxford, said he was concerned that proposals would have “unintended consequences” on high-quality teaching, adding that they could “pose a risk to university involvement in initial teacher training.”

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said the proposals were aimed at driving up standards for teachers.

Feature image credit: Sophie Carlin