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School based trainee teachers seek more, not less, of a role for universities

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 September 2021

Jane Tillin.

The Government’s Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Market Review has received widespread criticism from universities and school leaders. Their concerns include the prescriptive nature of the proposals and implications for the quality of teacher education and school partnerships. There are concerns that the proposed model promotes professional compliance rather than autonomy and further marginalises universities’ role in new teachers’ learning. Now that we have heard from universities and school leaders, where are the voices of the student teachers themselves?

My new study sought to understand the perspectives of primary and early years teachers who were completing a significant employment-based ITT programme at the IOE. The study examined trainee perspectives on the roles of the scheme’s three partnership organisations in their learning and in turn consider the implications for the university role in their learning.

Whilst a small-scale study, findings from eight in-depth interviews point to the university’s distinctive role in school-based ITT, a role that can be highly valued by trainees. The research found that these trainees sought more, not less university teaching to support their early practice.

Several considered how the university role might be extended, with suggestions for the university to work more closely with schools and trainees to support practitioner enquiry, and further university input to support a critical understanding of subject specific pedagogy.

Trainee Perspectives on the University Role

The university teacher educators on the programme are defined by their role in awarding the Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), as academic specialists supporting masters level teaching and learning, and as experts in teacher development. Trainees viewed the expertise and knowledge of the university and university teacher educators as crucial in supporting their understanding of subject specific pedagogy and theory and research to support critical reflection on practice.

Reflections on the quality of university teaching often related to trainee perceptions of tutor expertise.

‘…the people that were…teaching us knew what they were talking about… the quality of the education that I received was excellent.’

 ‘…the amazing tutors …when you have the training it’s really good.’ 

The majority reflected on the joined up approach to theory and practice, valuing the ability to swiftly apply theory learnt at university to their practice. Several remarked on the university role in providing clear academic guidance and readings to support reflective practice. All trainees noted the value of enquiry based assignments and several were explicit about the importance of the academic qualification.

‘…the quality of the lectures was just brilliant…they signpost you to research…they make you think.  I appreciated the grounded nature of it, you’ve got the academic stuff in there and you get us to reflect and think about evidence informed practice, but I think you do that in a very practical way.’

‘I think it has to work with a university. I think you have to… have the rigour of the PGCE or PGDE.’

For many, the speed of immersion into classroom practice and the salaried route into teaching were motivating factors when choosing this programme. This is in line with recent research by George and Maguire (2019).  Whilst trainees spoke positively about the programme overall, there was a desire for more time to learn effectively, with several reflecting on feelings of being ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘drowning’ early on in their training.  Others remarked on attempts to cram too much content into teaching sessions across the partnership and a desire for a more gradual and scaffolded approach to learning.

This is of concern as workload and challenging school contexts are known to have an impact on teacher retention (Worth and Van den Brande, 2020).  To effectively support new teacher learning, trainees seek more time: time to engage with literature, expert colleagues and practitioners; time to engage in classroom enquiry and reflect on outcomes for themselves and their pupils; time to become research informed, engaged and autonomous professionals.

The Future of the University Role in New Teacher Learning

Trainees valued university teaching and time away from the school context to critically reflect and engage in dialogue with their peers relating to theory and practice, supporting Orchard and Winch’s (2015) argument that the university provides a positive space for sustained critical and creative thinking away from workplace pressures. UCET argue that teaching is an intellectual profession in which new teachers need to be equipped to think critically about theory, research and practice. Theory and research played an important role in supporting trainees’ practice and the majority reflected on the high quality of university teaching, with findings strongly supporting an argument to retain the university role in new teacher learning. This trainee reflects on the importance of evidence informed practice.

‘..increasingly teaching is now very much more evidence informed…it’s an academic job with a massive dose of practicality’

Findings from this small scale study just scratch the surface of student teacher perspectives. Before irreparable sector damage is risked, perhaps there is a need to slow down this sector review and further explore the valued practice that already exists in ITT and ITE through the perspectives of those learning to teach, before we lose the vital role of the university in educating new teachers altogether.

 

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