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John Furlong - 'Teaching Tomorrow's Teachers'

1st April 2015 - John Furlong introduces his report on options for the future of initial teacher education in Wales – 'Teaching Tomorrow's Teachers'

John Furlong photoIn early March, the Welsh Government published my report on the future of initial teacher education in Wales – 'Teaching Tomorrow's Teachers'. The report is one of a raft of different measures being considered by the Government in order to raise the quality of schooling in Wales.
What we know from international evidence is that the single most important thing that can be done to raise quality is to invest in the teaching profession. That means doing three things. Firstly, attracting into the profession the best possible candidates– people who are academically able and have the right disposition and aptitudes for teaching. Secondly, offering them the best initial teacher education and training possible. And thirdly, offering continuing support so that teachers can refresh and develop throughout their careers. My report focuses on the first two of these imperatives but there are clearly links to CPD as well.

So initial teacher education is a very important but in Wales it needs to change for two reasons. Firstly because we know from Estyn and other reports undertaken in the last two years that the quality of current provision is not as strong as it should be; it falls a long way behind what the international evidence shows is good practice. Secondly, because the Donaldson Review of Curriculum and Assessment in Wales published in February raises the bar on what will be expected of teachers in the future.

Professor Donaldson proposes giving teachers much more control over what to teach, how to teach and how to assess their students; this he argues will unleash the creativity of the profession and raise quality in our schools. Personally I am excited by his proposals, but they will inevitably raise the level of what is demanded of teachers. If there is less detailed government prescription, then every teacher will need to know the 'why' and the 'how' of teaching, not just the 'what'.

So how does initial teacher education in Wales need to change? My report suggests that we need to strengthen both the contribution of universities and schools and how both partners work together. Potentially universities have a huge amount to offer but I don't think current arrangements capitalise on that properly. Too often what the universities focus on is practical training which in reality can be much better done in schools. Universities need to add something different, drawing on research, on theory, and drawing on their knowledge of best practice in schools across Wales and internationally.

At the same time I want us to strengthen the contribution of schools. I want them to be able to take lead responsibility for key parts of programmes and I want their contribution it be fully acknowledged. When schools take on significant amounts of responsibility in teacher education, as some already do, then I want to see that recognised by governors, by local authorities and most particularly by Estyn.

In order to raise the quality of provision I have set out 9 specific recommendations for the Government to consider. These include a proposal to develop a new set of professional 'standards' for initial teacher education. These need to be richer than the current standards - not just focusing on what newly qualified teachers 'can do' – but what they must know and understand as well. These new standards then need to be clearly linked to other professional standards in order to support progression.

I have also proposed setting up a new accreditation procedure with a Teacher Education Accreditation Board established within the Education Workforce Council for Wales. Universities and their partner schools will need to apply for accreditation and, just like university training for doctors or lawyers or accounts, be re-accredited every five or six years. This will allow the Accreditation Board to set out what it, independently, thinks good training should involve- in terms of a broad curriculum and in terms of what both universities and their partner schools need to provide. This will mean that as in Scotland, in the future, the profession itself will have a major stake in overseeing the initial teacher education.

New Standards and new accreditation procedures are at the heart of my proposals but there are others as well. I have also proposed that the undergraduate route for primary teachers be extended from three to four years. This would bring it in line with undergraduate courses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which all consistently attract significantly higher quality entrants than is currently the case in Wales. And finally I have proposed that the government strengthens pedagogical research in Wales by investing in a network of research groups across the county in key areas that are needed to underpin the work of teacher education. Currently there is virtually no research capacity in Wales in key areas such as bi-lingual education, Mathematics and Science or Foundation Phase teaching. Without it how can the sector keep up to date with developments internationally let alone become a 'self-improving system'?

Teacher education in Wales is today at a critical turning point. If the teaching profession is to make its proper contribution to the raising of standards in our schools then what is needed is a form of initial teacher education that is expansive rather than restricted, one that gives teachers themselves the skills, knowledge and dispositions to lead the changes that are needed. Fortunately for Wales, it does have a large number of individuals and institutions that are highly committed to good quality initial teacher education. Once it is clear which of the options I have set out the Welsh Government wishes to adopt, then I am sure that the sector will seize the opportunities they provide, working together to give Wales the quality of teacher education that it needs for the future.

John Furlong's is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oxford. His report is available at 

John Furlong
Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Oxford

John Furlong began his career as a teacher in an inner London comprehensive school, studying for a PhD at the same time. He then moved into higher education and has worked at 7 different universities; he has been a professor in four of those universities and head of department in three. His last appointment was as Director of the University of Oxford Department of Education, a post he held for nearly 10 years. During his career, John has led numerous educational research projects, taught extensively at every level of the system and published over 100 articles and books. His most recent book. 'Education – an anatomy of the discipline' was recently awarded first prize by the UK Society of Educational Studies.

John has had a range of national and international roles in education: UCET national executive (1992-7); President of BERA (2003-5); Chair of the BERA/RSA inquiry into research and teacher education (2014). He was a member of the UK RAE/REF education panels in 2008 and 2014 and convenor of the 2014 Hong Kong RAE Education panel. A key theme of his work has been the professional education of teachers and he has chaired and participated in a five national reviews of teacher education on behalf of different governments (Wales 2006; Brunei, 2008; Ireland 2012; Northern Ireland 2014). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and is currently teacher education adviser to the Welsh government. His report 'Teaching Tomorrow's Teachers; options for the future of initial teacher education in Wales' was published by the Welsh Government in March this year.