A Call to Arms: Leverage These Evidence-Informed Standards for Teacher Education

Paul A. Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen

Actually, it’s absurd. Students studying to become doctors and lawyers have fairly standard curricula that provide them with an evidence-based basis for their future professions. Students who want to become teachers, on the other hand, have no standard curriculum to provide them with a solid foundation needed for their future profession and many have curricula that are far from evidence-based. Recently, the English government launched a country-wide framework which forms the basis for teacher education. This blog is a plea for other countries around the world to follow this example.

We know that the quality of the teacher is the most important factor when it comes to influencing student learning (also see our blogs ‘The Teacher Makes the Difference’ and ‘What Makes a Top Teacher?’). The English government is clearly well-informed and is taking the evidence around teacher quality to heart.

On November 1, they published a rock-solid document: The Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Core Content Framework [1]. This framework defines the standards that each teacher minimally needs to meet in their teacher education. We quote (emphasis is ours):

The ITT Core Content Framework – building on and replacing the Framework of Core Content for Initial Teacher Training (2016) – defines in detail the minimum entitlement of all trainee teachers … [and] the ITT Core Content Framework draws on the best available evidence… In designing their curricula, … providers should ensure their curricula encompass the full entitlement described in the ITT Core Content Framework, as well as integrating additional analysis and critique of theory, research and expert practice as they deem appropriate (p 3-4).


The ITT Core Content Framework sets out a minimum entitlement for trainee teachers and places a duty on providers of initial teacher training – and their partner schools – to meet this entitlement. In the Teachers’ Recruitment and Retention Strategy, we made clear our firm belief that teachers deserve high-quality support throughout their careers, particularly in those first years of teaching when the learning curve is steepest. This is in line with other esteemed professions like medicine and law. We know the profession shares our belief, which is why the ITT Core Content Framework sets out a detailed articulation of this shared ambition, including how trainees should be supported to manage their own workload and wellbeing whilst they train and as they embark on their career in school (p 7).

The ITT Core Content Framework is designed to support the development of future teachers in five key areas:

  1. Behaviour management
  2. Pedagogy
  3. Learning plan
  4. Assessment
  5. Professional behaviour

The idea is: The better the teacher, the better the teaching, the better the learning, and thus, the better it is for the students. This goes for all students and in particular those from families with a low socioeconomic status, low-educated parents, as well as for students whose first language is different than the language used in their school. Everybody wins.

One feature of a top teacher, as studied by John Hattie, is a deep, conceptual understanding of the content of their subject, how to teach, and knowledge around how people learn. These three elements ensure that top teachers have better-organised knowledge and therefore, they’re better able to make connections between (new) content and students’ prior knowledge, and they’re better at explaining and ‘transferring’ the new content. These top-notch teachers are also better at connecting learning content to other subjects or topics in the curriculum, monitoring students’ learning challenges or other problems, and providing them with relevant and useful feedback. Hattie writes (p. 15):

Expert teachers do differ from experienced teachers – particularly on the way they represent their classrooms, the degree of challenges that they present to students, and most critically, in the depth of processing that their students attain. Students who are taught by expert teachers exhibit an understanding of the concepts targeted in instruction that is more integrated, more coherent, and at a higher level of abstraction than the understanding achieved by other students.

No one is born as an expert teacher. One can only become one through a) strong evidence-informed teacher education (meaning a structured introduction to the core of knowledge, behaviour, and skills that define high-quality education), b) experience, c) coaching from competent colleagues, and d) continuous learning. To this end, the English ITT-framework consists of eight standards:

  1. Set high expectations
  2. Promote good progress
  3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge
  4. Plan and teach well-structured lessons
  5. Adapt teaching
  6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment
  7. Manage behaviour effectively
  8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

Each of these standards begins (see left-hand column below) with what the teacher-in-training should know at the completion of the curriculum (‘Learn that…) based on the best available educational research. For example, standard 1’s initial goal is: Learn that teachers have the ability to affect and improve the wellbeing, motivation and behaviour of their pupils.


Example of a part of the first standard

The right-hand column contains a list of things that the teacher-in-training should be able to do upon completion of the curriculum (Learn how to…), explaining how the teacher can accomplish the given goal and what it looks like in practice, again based on research-based knowledge, as well as conversations with professionals, such as scholars, pedagogical centres, and of course teachers.

The first standard notes (see the right-hand column in the image) that the teacher should be able to communicate a belief in the academic potential of all pupils, by:

    • Receiving clear, consistent and effective mentoring in how to set tasks that stretch pupils, but which are achievable, within a challenging curriculum.

For each standard, there are references that lead to the underlying research and additional reading materials (i.e., all is backed up with research (evidence-informed)).


Example of the references for the first standard

Recently, Tim Surma, Kristel van Vanhoyweghen, Gino Camp, and Paul A. Kirschner conducted research on the two most effective learning strategies according to John Dunlosky and his colleagues (2013; see our blog here) and to what extent these are included in teaching education literature or syllabi in the Netherlands and Flanders (see this blog). The results show that to put it mildly, there’s much left to be desired (also see our blog And the Winner is Testing, and Interleaving: Variety is the Spice of Learning). Of course, there is way more knowledge available from research.

The results of the latest PISA (2018) scores are highly disconcerting. For example, on average across OECD countries, around one in four 15-year-olds did not attain a minimum level of proficiency in reading or mathematics. In other words, 25% of our children in secondary schools are functionally illiterate and non-numerate.

Governments around the globe would grow in stature if they also would take the step needed towards creating a strong, evidence-informed basic curriculum for teacher education. The ITT Core Content Framework is ready to go. Some countries can simply pick it up and use it, others can translate it before they can do the same. There really are no excuses.


Department for Education (2019). ITT Core Content Framework. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/843676/Initial_teacher_training_core_content_framework.pdf

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. http://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266

Hattie, J. (2003, October). Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? Paper presented during the Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference on Building Teacher Quality, Melbourne. https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=research_conference_2003

OECD (2019). PISA 2018 Results: Combined executive summaries volume I, II & III. https://www.oecd.org/pisa/Combined_Executive_Summaries_PISA_2018.pdf

Surma, T., Vanhoyweghen, K, Camp, G., & Kirschner, P. A. (2018). Distributed practice and retrieval practice: The coverage of learning strategies in Flemish and Dutch teacher education textbooks. Teaching and Teacher Education, 74, 229-237.


[1] The ITT Core Content Framework and the underlying resources on which it is based have been reviewed and approved by the independent Education Endowment Foundation.