Education CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education is committed to the highest standards of research and teaching and is a significant contributor to the improvement of educational policy and practice in partnership with schools, colleges and other educational agencies both in the UK and internationally. The Initial Teacher Education programme is consistently the top provider of teacher education in the UK, as judged by OfSTED.

This statement has been written by Elaine Wilson who, thanks to generous funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, has been supporting new science teachers through and beyond initial teacher education.


Good teacher education is a vital contributor to school standards and the work of the many thousands of excellent teachers doing an excellent job already ought to be celebrated. However there are still areas for improvement, and inner city schools pose a particular problem. A key factor in inner city schools is the lack of teacher continuity and low retention rates. The proposed system wide reform does not tackle this issue specifically and may indeed upset the equilibrium in other parts of the system which are functioning well. Careful attention to addressing teacher wastages would go some way to solving the inner city hard-to-staff school problems.

1. Recognition that excellent teachers make the most significant difference to a child’s education confirm what we in teacher education have believed for a long time.[1] Consequently it is vital that all those involved in teacher education work together now to ensure that there are excellent professional teachers in every classroom and that these teachers have the full support of their schools, parents, community and government. However we must build on our strengths and celebrate the many thousands of excellent qualified teachers who on a daily basis make a significant difference to children’s lives. We must draw on our combined expertise to work to address the significant problems that exist in many of our inner city schools. Therefore it is important that teacher education programmes and government work together to try to solve this problem. The solution may lie in retaining more of the well qualified trained teachers in these difficult-to-staff schools rather than engaging in system-wide reform which risks undermining the preparation of sufficient numbers of newly qualified teachers in this country.

2. What evidence is available to help identify the sorts of applicants who become the most effective teachers, and the strategies known to be effective in attracting these applicants?

2.1 There is considerable variation in the recruitment patterns and demand for teachers throughout the regions so it may not be helpful to base recruitment drives and policy changes upon what are largely urban trends and shortages. For example, recruitment in schools in Northern Ireland, Scotland and the NE of England is buoyant and retention rates are high. Consequently schools in these areas are populated with teams of experienced long serving teachers. Our own research with former students indicates that constant turnover of staff in inner city schools exacerbate the problem. Schools in disadvantaged areas need continuity of staffing to build relationships between teachers and students based upon trust. This is one of the main reasons for the lack of progress of learners in disadvantaged inner city schools.

2.2 Evidence from our own research conducted with colleagues in Monash University[2] shows that new teachers who are likely to be successful enter the profession for largely altruistic reasons. Our data suggest that the main drive in choosing a career in teaching is to be able to work with children, to help shape their lives, and to increase social equity through education. Frequently these new graduates have had to defend their choice of career to family members and peers and this negative image of teaching needs to be challenged much more explicitly.

2.3 Increasingly we are recruiting more mature career changers in science subjects who have been research scientists dependent on short-term grants. For this group teaching offers a rewarding career with job security. Our work has shown that this transition is not straightforward and requires careful support.[3]

2.4 The recent TDA recruitment campaign has been successful in bringing both new and mature graduates into our course and we have been working closely with other departments within the university, by inviting career changers to visit our local partner schools and by bringing back serving teacher alumni from our courses to talk to prospective applicants.

2.5 Furthermore, we have been working with undergraduates in our other university departments and have recently obtained generous financial support from the Ogden Trust[4] to support the transition process for excellent graduate physics career changers.

3. Which particular routes into teaching are more likely to attract high quality trainees?

3.1 University—school partnership courses educate the majority of the 30,000+ new teacher entrants into the profession each year. Independent inspections of these programmes by OfSTED consistently indicates that the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) route via a university—school based partnership far exceeds the quality of other routes into teaching.[5] The model of university—school based partnership is mirrored in other countries such as Finland, Singapore and Sweden, reported to be the best performing countries in the world.[6] Indeed, all Finnish teachers complete a four year long university based Masters course before entering the profession and this is also the case in Singapore. However, both Finland and Singapore recruit much smaller numbers of new teachers each year and notably retention rates are also very high in both countries.

3.2 Whilst it is important to offer a variety of routes into the profession to prospective teachers, current funding arrangements mean that upfront payments make it more financially viable for career changes. For some mature students this may not be the most helpful route. As alluded to earlier, these highly qualified, experienced career changers need careful support during the transition period. Our experience shows that the progress that a novice makes on an Employment Based Initial Teacher Training (EBITT) course is determined by how good the school-based training programme is and retention is linked closely to how well supported the new teachers feel in their first few years in the profession. A number of our partner schools also train Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) students alongside our PGCE students. The school based programme draws on experience of working with the university department and uses the same training programmes. This seems to work well with the GTP students finishing the course and taking up posts in schools. However for this to work well there is a critical mass of students that any school department can work with at any one time. We have found that too many novices in one department at any one time diminishes the experience for the novice and students in the classrooms. Equally for a novice to have an authentic experience in schools they must work alongside an expert actually doing the job in their own classroom. Having too many novices assigned to one expert teacher would distract the expert teacher away from their core activity of teaching students in their classrooms.

3.3 The main advantages of university—school based routes as perceived by schools and new teachers are that PGCE courses allow time to think away from the busy classroom and opportunity to engage in professional conversations with school based experts, university based educators and peers in others schools. Our research shows that what PGCE students value most is:

provision for subject specialists to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the specific subject from the perspective of a young learner in a school;

help and time to develop a sophisticated understanding about how students learn;

time to update recent developments in subject knowledge;

access to knowledge of and instruction in effective ways of teaching the subject to ALL learners in ALL classrooms;

help and support to make thoughtful, deliberative judgements in response to all the unique classrooms new teachers are likely to work in the future;

contrasting school experiences during Initial Teacher Education (ITE);

access to supportive expert school based mentors who have been trained by the university;

opportunity to work with internationally recognised teacher educators and researchers;

sustained pastoral support during the first few, potentially difficult years, of teaching, beyond ITE;

to be able to work within a collegial teacher learner community with support networks among peers, expert teachers and active subject lecturers;

time to think about practice in authentic classrooms with the full support of both a school based mentor and university based lecturers;

support from expert teachers in applying and preparing for interviews and first teaching posts and; and

a recognised Masters level qualification in addition to qualified teacher status.

4. Whether the Government’s proposed changes to initial teacher training will help to recruit these trainees

There does not seem to be any evidence from any of the sources we have read or from our own experience in support of “making EBITT routes the default route” to teaching. Our main concern is that by shifting the centre of training into schools, novices will be dependent on schools providing all aspects of education needed to produce world class teachers.

A school’s core activity is about educating the young learners in their care. It seems odd that all the burden of recruiting, educating and retaining novices be placed on already very busy schools when there are already dedicated effective systems in place for doing this.

5. What evidence is available about the type of training which produces the most effective teachers and whether the Government’s proposed changes to initial teacher training, particularly the focus on more school-led training, will help to increase the number of good teachers in our schools

The most recent Ofsted annual report noted that the best teacher education takes place in university partnership courses. Indeed, our own recent inspection report concluded that our courses are examples of an:

“outstanding well-established and collegial partnership based on positive relationships, mutual respect, high expectations, a pursuit for excellence and a detailed and up-to-date knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of teaching.

……the university’s national and international reputation and its place at the forefront of many educational initiatives which ensure high quality training is immersed in research and current practice enabling trainees to become critically reflective practitioners and employable classroom teachers.”[7]

Central to Ofsted’s praise is the recognition that, like us, Finland, too forges close links between schools and universities. The overwhelming evidence from around the world is that for novice teachers to learn how to teach well they must spend time alongside expert practitioners in authentic classrooms but also have access to the intellectual stimulus gained through having close ties with a university department.

Our own experience is that we recruit outstanding, highly committed graduates, of whom around 30% are Cambridge graduates and Postdoctoral students, who expect sustained intellectual challenge and stimulation and opportunities to talk about their developing practice.

They spend 24 weeks of their 36 week PGCE course in partnership schools working alongside expert teachers, whilst also having time and opportunity to reflect on what they are learning as well as being updated about recent innovative approaches to teaching their subject and understanding how children learn through university input.

6. How best to assess and reward good teachers and whether the Government’s draft revised standards for teachers are a helpful tool

A recent survey undertaken by the EU investigated the kinds of skills and key “competences” informing the curricula and other teacher education documents in EU countries, and the extent to which the teacher education curricula of these countries provide teachers with the knowledge, skills and competences. Three distinct models emerged from the survey.[8]

Model One: The competence requirements are prescribed in detail at national level by a government body; this is the case in 5 countries, namely: Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Slovenia, UK.

Model Two: The competence requirements are set in outline at national level by a government agency, but are adapted or further defined at a lower level, eg by a Teacher Education Institution; this is the case in 18 countries, namely: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden.

Model Three: The competence requirements are set at a lower level, eg by a Teacher Education Institution; this is the case in 4 countries; namely: the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Malta.

It is noteworthy that in Finland, University departments have a considerable input and have autonomy to set their own curriculum for individual local circumstances.

The Commission’s communication “Improving the quality of TE”[9] summarised the proposals which, in their view, would support the work of improving the quality of teacher education. They concluded that the following condition would ensure that this would happen:

The provision for teachers’ education and professional development ought to be co-ordinated, coherent, and adequately resourced.

That all teachers should possess the knowledge, attitudes and pedagogic skills that they require to be effective.

The professionalisation of teaching should be supported.

A culture of reflective practice and research within the teaching profession should be supported.

The status and recognition of the profession should be promoted.

7. What contribution professional development makes to the retention of good teachers

There is considerable evidence from recent studies in the US and England about the importance of opportunities for continuing professional development [CPD] in sustaining teachers’ growth throughout their career and in updating practice. Our research in the recent state of the nation review[10] and beyond,[11] when taken together, highlights the importance of effective CPD in sustaining quality teaching, teacher satisfaction and teacher retention. This research concludes that CPD needs to be tightly aligned to institutional and individual teachers’ needs; to be intensively and contextually focused; to take account of teacher Pedagogical Content Knowledge and subject content knowledge; to engage school leaders in working closely with teachers and their practices; and to be aligned to targeted improvements in student learning outcomes.

8. How to ensure that good teachers are retained where they are most needed, particularly in schools in challenging circumstances

Our research shows that when job demands outweigh job resources then teachers either move from the school, or in many cases leave the profession.[12],[13] Job demands are primarily related to the exhaustion component of burn-out, whereas (lack of) job resources are primarily related to disengagement.[14] Job resources in teaching are linked to; having professional autonomy in how to manage and organise individual classrooms, having strong social support networks within and beyond the school and having positive constructive performance feedback. Job demands are linked to excessive workload, feeling incompetent, lack of support from colleagues and school leaders. Although bad behaviour of students is sometimes cited as a job demand our experience shows that in schools where a collegial, convivial environment prevails, challenging student behaviour is not perceived as a job demand.

The implications of this for schools are that reducing demands and increasing resources are likely to yield different effects. Reducing job demands would decrease levels of burn-out and also, indirectly, increase levels of commitment. On the other hand, increasing job resources would not only lead to more engagement but would also protect from burn-out. Therefore from a school management perspective, investing in job resources may pay off more than focusing on the reduction of job demands.


[1] See papers at

[2] Watt, H M G & Richardson, P W (2008). Motivations, perceptions, and aspirations concerning teaching as a career for different types of beginning teachers. Learning and Instruction, 18, 408–428

Paper available

[3] Wilson, E & Deaney, R (2010). Changing career and changing identity: How do teacher career changers exercise agency in identity construction? Social Psychology of Education,13(2)169–183.

[4] Ogden Trust;

[5] See recent reports;

[6] McKinsey Report How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top.

[7] See OfSTED report at

[8] Final report and the annexes of the project “Teacher education curricula in the EU”, see:

[9] Musset, P (2010). Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Training Policies in a comparative perspective. OECD Education working papers, No 48. OECD publishing

[10] Pedder, D, Storey, A and Opfer, D (2009). Schools and Continuing Professional Development in England: the State of the Nation, synthesis report. London: Training and Development Agency.

[11] Desiomone, l, Porter, A, Garet, M, Yoon, K & Birman, B (2002). Effects of professional development on teachers instruction. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 24, (2) 81–112

[12] Wilson, E & Demetriou, H (2006). New teachers’ perspectives on their early years of teaching. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick, 6–9 September 2006. Available online at [Accessed 12–10–11] and

[13] Fox, A, Wilson, E & Deaney, R (2011). Beginning Teachers’ Workplace Experiences: Perceptions of and Use of Support. Vocations and Learning, 4 (1) 1–24.

[14] Bakker, A, Hakanen, J, Demerouti, E, & Xanthopoulou, D (2007). Job resources boost work engagement, particularly when job demands are high. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99 (2), 274–284.

November 2011

Prepared 30th April 2012