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Can a more honest ITE curriculum improve teacher retention in FE? - Martin Hoskin

30th March 2023

In 2021, Ofsted reviews of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) criticised a lack of ‘ambition’ within the curriculum, with “Very few [providers going] beyond incorporating the minimum statutory curriculum entitlement” (Ofsted 2021). But what is an “ambitious” ITE curriculum and why is it essential that prospective teachers are exposed to more than just the core content?

ITE should be more than just a “process”. Getting the initial stages of training right is a key part of producing well rounded and effective teachers. It also supports the retention of these teachers in the profession beyond their initial training. As difficult as the recruitment of new teachers has become in the current climate, retention is also at an all-time low. Department for Education (2021) data shows that just over half (51%) of teachers who started in the FE sector in 2016 were still teaching after 3 years, which represents a decline of 17 per cent from 2000. Would a more “ambitious” ITE curriculum help to stunt this rapid decline in retention figures?

With taglines such as “Teach part-time in further education…without changing your career” and “If you have real-world industry experience, you already have what it takes…you don’t always need teaching experience”, the current DfE recruitment drive appears to vastly underplay the additional responsibilities a teacher has to contend with outside of the classroom. A teacher brand new to the profession, timetabled for only a few hours a week, will spend a disproportionate amount of time working “outside” of the classroom, planning, preparing and assessing, not to mention the progress reporting, pastoral support and additional administration duties. The idea that teaching is something which can be done on an ad-hoc basis for a couple of hours a week is misleading and, although not necessarily intended, appears disrespectful to those who have made teaching their vocation.

The call for a more ambitious curriculum is admirable but maybe a more honest curriculum is what is needed, to ensure that new teachers are resilient and prepared for what is to come. Involving trainees in as much of the real day-to-day activities of a teacher is one way to overcome this. Completing all the necessary activities to meet expectations consumes so much time, morale, energy, in a way that limits the ability of practitioners to make real improvements to their teaching practice (Coffield, 2017), yet we appear to shy away from giving new teachers a genuine, “warts and all” account of the teaching profession. This can lead to unexpected workload pressures and surprises for NQTs. The scramble to fill T-Level classrooms with industry professionals, many of whom are entering directly into the classroom and bypassing the traditional teacher training routes,l further compounds the issue of workload. Although industry experience is incredibly valuable to help further education providers meet their local skills needs, despite what the aforementioned marketing form the DfE may imply, having real world experience isn’t all it takes to be a teacher.

Besides providing a more realistic introduction to teaching, an ambitious curriculum could pay greater attention to the way in which teaching practice is developed. The suggestion that we must know something before we can do something seems like the default approach in most forms of education. Noddings (2003) defines teaching as a form of relational practice, in which a respectful and reflexive approach is taken to inquire into and consider a learner's life experiences and individual needs. Within ITE we should see “...practice and theory develop reflexively and together” (Carr, 1995, p3), to ensure that newly qualified teachers are able to learn from their experiences, rather than being led by the traditional method of using prescriptive performance indicators of ‘outstanding’ teaching.

Confining the “craft” of teaching into a finite set of principles and practices can stunt innovation and free-thinking (Thoilliez, 2019). The freedom to explore new and innovative ways of teaching and learning, whilst critiquing and reflecting upon “tried and tested” techniques, is a valuable process for training as a teacher. Building self-confident and reflective practitioners should therefore be at the forefront of ITE. Anyone who has spent time in an FE classroom, or any other classroom for that matter knows that teaching is more than a lesson plan. More than a simple blueprint of what an outstanding lesson should look like. Techniques that should work can be tested with the environment of the classroom but it is the context which shapes the effectiveness of any singular technique. Some models of ITE in further education are heavily technique and objective focused, portraying the idea that there is ‘Best Practice’ or ‘Tips’ to be an outstanding teacher.. They encourage practitioners to latch onto a technique which may or may not then work in practice, once the classroom dynamics and individual students' personalities are applied. In essence these events become nothing more than empty rituals through which the teacher will try and regularly fail to make an impact.

The quest for perfection and the workload, constant monitoring and paperwork which inevitably follows can be a heavy burden which contributes to teachers leaving the profession. With ITE as it currently exists, are we setting our teachers up to fail before they have even become teachers? I am not suggesting that we should remove educational standards or competence based assessments. We still have a duty to ensure that young people are being taught by appropriately qualified teachers. My argument focuses more on how we can provide a more realistic experience in order to develop the skills and qualities needed to thrive rather than just survive and ultimately retain teachers, both new and currently working within the FE sector. Of course the problem of retention is multifaceted and impacted upon by more than just the ITE experience but providing a more honest account of what being a teacher in FE entails may be a good starting point for tackling this growing issue.


Carr, W. (1995). For education: Towards critical educational inquiry. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Coffield, F. (2017). Will the Leopard Change its Spots?: A New Model of Inspection for Ofsted. London: UCL Institute of Education Press.

Department of Education (2021) Further education college workforce analysis. Available from https://assets.publishing.serv...

Dunne, J. (2021). What's the Good of Education?. In The RoutledgeFalmer reader in philosophy of education (pp. 145-160). Routledge.

Noddings, N. (2003). Is teaching a practice?. Journal of philosophy of education, 37(2), 241-251.

Thoilliez, B. (2019). The Craft, Practice, and Possibility of Teaching. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 38(5), 555-562.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.