Last week the Scottish Government finally released the tender documents for its ‘new route into teaching’. Ever since plans to tender for what looks like a fast track teaching programme were announced, questions have been asked about whether this will allow Teach First to realise its long-held ambitions of expanding north of the border. In recent week I have published a number of stories highlighting key aspects of Teach First’s Scottish proposals (see here) and lobbying operation (see here).
Here I take a look at the specifications of the tender for the proposed new programme with a particular focus on the similarities between the Scottish Government’s plans and the systems currently operated or proposed by Teach First.
The first rule of any investigation is simple: follow the money. In the case of the Scottish Government’s “new route into teaching” this will mean following up to £250k, which is the top end of the available budget for a project that will last just a couple of years.
But it’s not just about the headline figures. As shown below, the government expects employers (ie. councils) to fund the salaries of anyone working through this new scheme, and has also stated that the existing Scottish payscales must be respected. Interestingly, however, they also state that they would be willing to consider “any innovative incentivisation that can assist recruitment.”
This could mean just about anything but the government will have to be extremely careful to avoid a scenario where an “incentive” is deployed to create a de-facto unqualified teacher’s salary, as is available in England and utilised by likely-bidders Teach First (who suggested something very similar to the Scottish Government a few months ago). This is definitely an area to keep an eye on, especially with John Swinney having now announced £20k bursaries for people switching career to become teachers of STEM subjects.
The tender documents also contain a timeline for the development and delivery of this new route into teacher. Bids must be submitted by the end of November 2017, with the government awarding the contact at the start of the new year (ignore the typo in the tender documents). From that point, the programme will have to be designed, marketed, accredited and verified within, at the very most, 12 months (although it seems likely that most organisations would seek to start the programme in August or even – in the case of Teach First – July, giving just 6 months to get things up and running). As the screenshot below shows, the new course will be advertised to prospective students before it has even been accredited by the GTCS.
As has already been reported in The Herald, even Teach First felt that this time scale was too narrow, although – and as is highlighted later – this was very much in the context of seeking favourable terms for themselves.
As the tender documents make clear the winning bidder is not designing a programme that they will operate for an indefinite period; instead they are creating a system which will be given, in its entirety, to the Scottish Government.
This means that as of December 2020 (at the latest) this new route into teaching will be brought in-house and, presumably, operated by an arm of the Scottish Government from that point forward (although the government could in theory re-tender for a new operator while retaining the model).
Given that the SNP has previously described the tendering process (in the case of CalMac) as “the most expensive exercise in futility” it seems likely that questions will be asked of this approach. If this new system is to ultimately be operated in-house, and the government knows, at least in general, what it is looking for, then why not simply run it on a fully public basis from the beginning rather than, potentially, hand £250k to a private organisation? The total cost of the tendering process, and this figure relative to the overall cost of the programme, will clearly come in for scrutiny further down the line.
Another notable aspect of the tender surrounds the need to link with a university as part of the programme. A few days after the tender was opened a question was submitted, with an answer that is likely to raise eyebrows:
This opens the possibility of an organisation with no experience of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland, supported by an organisation with no experience of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland, winning a £250k contract to establish a new form of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland. It’s not difficult to see why this might cause problems, and hard questions would have to be asked of any organisation which, in seeking to enter the Scottish education system, had been unable – or unwilling – to secure a partnership with a Scottish university. In the case of Teach First this is particularly relevant because documents obtained under FOI laws suggest that they have been finding it difficult to convince a Scottish university to work with them (more to come on this in the next few weeks).
As The Herald has already reported (see here) this new route into teaching will involve a very small number of people:
Whatever else this programme may be, then, it is clearly not an answer to the increasingly worrying recruitment crisis in Scottish education. It is also worth noting that Teach First recommended a cohort of around 40 students for the first year of a new Scottish programme as far back as 2012:
Another interesting aspect of this section of the documents is the reference to “innovative advertising and recruitment techniques”.
This phrase immediately reminded me of the following paragraph, which comes from an HMIE “information-gathering” visit to Teach First from 2011 (obtained via FOI):
This is just one of a number of areas of the tender which aligns very closely with what we – and the Scottish Government – already know about Teach First.
Another similarity between the tender documents and the Teach First approach is found in the focus on “leadership”.
These screenshots come from the Scottish Government’s tender documents.
The images below come from documents submitted to the Scottish Government as part of Teach First’s pitch for permission to bring their teacher training model to Scotland.
It’s also worth highlighting that the existing Teach First programme is in fact called the ‘Leadership Development Programme’. On the website it is described as follows:
Focus on deprivation
Which brings us to what is, without doubt, the most interesting aspect of this tender: the focus on getting new teachers into schools in areas of deprivation. Indeed, bidders are given explicit instructions that new student teachers must work in “schools with high levels of deprivation” and that the winning organisation must work with areas being “supported by the Attainment Scotland Fund”, part of “a targeted initiative focused on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation” (Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire). (http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Education/Schools/Raisingeducationalattainment)
These are taken from the tender documents:
This might not seem particularly surprising – after all, the government has spent the last couple of years insisting that tackling the fact that those from deprived background suffer a significant educational disadvantage (the so-called “attainment gap”). In Scotland, however, problems around teacher numbers are not concentrated in areas of deprivation – instead, we struggle to attract and retain teachers in rural areas and in specific subjects (although evidence suggests that the number of subjects facing such problems continues to increase).
The following images are taken from Scottish government briefing papers prepared in advance of meetings between both Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney and representatives of Teach First:
It would seem, then, that the Scottish Government is about to spend up to a quarter of a million pounds, plus the costs of the tendering process itself, tackling a problem that they themselves clearly and categorically state does not exist – but which Teach First was explicitly set up to tackle:
With Teach First widely expected to bid for this new contract, the organisation’s history of lobbying the Scottish Government is acutely relevant.
Scottish Government documents make absolutely clear that they have been under no illusions about this lobbying. Ministerial briefing papers explicitly mention the organisation’s “long held ambitions of exporting their model of Initial Teacher Education to Scotland”.
Despite this, government ministers held several unminuted meetings during which Teach First appears to have received advice regarding a future bid to the Scottish Government. Full details of these meetings can be found here: https://jmcemedia.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/revealed-meetings-between-the-scottish-government-and-teach-first/
Furthermore, Severin Carrell (The Guardian’s Scotland editor) and I recently revealed that Prince Charles has also lobbied the government on behalf of Teach First, but that the Scottish Government refuses to reveal details of this lobbying. You can read that story here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/14/scottish-ministers-refuse-to-make-public-prince-charless-lobbying-letters-teacher-training-rules-scotland
It is plainly unacceptable that an organisation which was seeking a change in government policy, and which is expected to bid for a subsequent government contract, was able to hold unminuted meetings with the former Education Secretary, the current Education Secretary (and DFM) and the current First Minister, and questions should be asked about the extent to which this lobbying influenced the final design of the tendering documents now available.
But it’s not just the secretive meetings that are concerning. The Herald has already reported on Teach First’s attempts to both delay the tendering process (in order to improve their chances of a successful bid) and convince the government to allow them to bypass it altogether (see here).
Below is a screenshot of one of Teach First’s emails to the Scottish Government:
Here we see them ask the government if it would be willing to pursue an “alternative arrangement” to the “public tender process”. This was actually part of a lengthy email in which Teach First pushed hard to convince the government to follow a path that would be better suited their organisation.
Although these requests appear – at least thus far – to have been rejected, they still raise questions about any potential bid from Teach First for this government tender.