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Expert opinion from IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society


Inspiring teachers to learn together: why our partnership with schools enriches deep learning for early career teachers

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 19 October 2021

Qing Gu, Mark Quinn, Hilary Adli and Sue Hellman.

14995841 / Pixabay

The Department for Education’s proposal to radically restructure Initial Teacher Education (ITE) has renewed an ongoing debate about why universities must have a key role to play in the education of our future teachers.

As we have successfully launched our  Early Career Teacher Full Induction Programme nationally,  we feel obliged to contribute to the debate by sharing what we have learned from leading partnerships with like-minded schools and universities to provide the professional development pathways that enable early career teachers to fulfil their passion, purpose and commitment as lifelong educators. Our Full Induction Programme is established in the early roll-out areas through the UCL Early Career Teacher Consortium and our national roll-out provision with 21 school-led Delivery Partners.

Schools and universities have a century-old history of working together. Our experience reinforces two old truths about the significance of school-university partnerships in connecting knowledge and professionalism in ways that inspire and nurture the learning and growth of early career teachers.

First, partnerships with schools are not easy to establish and can be even harder to sustain. The challenges to connect are inherent in the profound differences in professional cultures, practices and expectations between universities and schools. However, when such differences are regarded as strengths to cherish rather than weaknesses to overcome, they open up opportunities that stimulate new ways of thinking, doing and practising.

After a year’s bumpy journey together, the shared commitment to give early career teachers the best professional learning experience that they deserve has brought us closer with our Early Roll Out Consortium partners. Such commitment stems from a strong belief that our collaboration represents how theory and practice can be reconciled and enacted to create a Core Induction Programme that enriches and expands the learning spaces for ECTs and their mentors.

Second, and related to the first, is that the collaboration between schools and universities in the early and national roll-out provision offers a living example to show how ‘theory into practice’ works to support teacher learning. This is especially relevant if we are serious about placing  professionalism in the making of our teachers.

We are deeply concerned about a reductionist approach to improving teaching in schools – by which students are standardised, the transferability of teaching across different classrooms and different contexts is taken for granted, and teachers are at risk of becoming technicians who are expected to copy prescribed actions to bring about the desired pupil outcomes. If we expect teachers to advance the quality of the profession, we must create a professional learning programme that treats them as ‘scholars’ (Hatch, 2006) who are able to investigate, reflect on and learn from their activities.

We have programmed teacher learning to be centred upon ‘theory into practice’. There are leading brains in the field of education in our partnerships who have unpacked theories in ways that are intellectually meaningful to early career teachers. There are also outstanding teachers and school leaders who have the current knowledge, skills and experience to provide us with rich illustrations of teaching practices that inspire pupil learning in real classrooms. Early career teachers are guided, especially through classroom-based inquiries in Year 2, to learn to be critically engaged with their colleagues in professional conversations which enable them to reflect on, at depth, how to apply the Early Career Framework’s ‘learn that…’ statements to their own classrooms with their own pupils’ learning and progress in mind.

The environments in which teaching and learning take place will continue to change and teachers will have to learn to live new lives (Day & Gu, 2010). The social and intellectual assets in our ECF partnerships offer new teachers a powerful ‘promise of change’ (Day, Gu & Townsend, 2021) as we challenge and support them to grow to become capable professionals who know how to make informed decisions about what they teach, how they teach it, and importantly, why they teach in this way in their own classrooms.

Therein lies the real value of school-university collaboration: together, we inspire the minds of a new generation of teachers and make meaningful change happen in the profession.



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