Artwork: Kate Vaughan
What Michael Gove says about trainee teachers having the opportunity to observe and learn from teachers in school is critically important. I would also say, however, that the opportunity to do this is a significant feature of initial teacher education (ITE) provision at universities.
At Exeter, where I work, Ofsted said that one of the tools we use to help trainees first observe their in-school tutors and then put into practice what they have learned from them ‘accelerates trainees’ progress and learning’. Ofsted are returning to the university later this month to discuss this and take case study material to share on a national basis.
Underpinning all of our initial teacher education at Exeter is the theory that knowledge is socially constructed. We therefore have a rigorous system of tracking trainees’ progress, based on regular observation of practising teachers (most often the teacher in the placement class), followed up with observations of trainees’ practice and weekly development meetings at which targets for improvement are set and agreed upon. Observing and having dialogue with experienced experts is at the heart of this part of the trainees’ learning.
I therefore have two concerns about the proposal to remove ITE away from university provision.
Firstly I am not convinced that schools have the capacity on their own to monitor trainees’ progress rigorously. In Exeter trainees are overseen by two people in school and one from the university. I am concerned that moving ITE provision away from universities will weaken the essential work of quality assurance, both of in-school training and of trainee progress.
My other concern is that removing ITE away from universities may result in training which could be characterised as ‘top tips for teachers’. However good are the models of teaching that trainees encounter in school, I would argue that they need to be trained in how to think through issues not only of classroom management, for example, but those concerning curricula, pedagogy and assessment. Universities such as Exeter, with their subject knowledge expertise and research-led teaching, are best placed to deliver this high quality training.
I would argue, therefore, that our trainees’ learning is especially powerful because of the theoretical underpinning and pedagogical knowledge they have previously acquired in the university programme. It is a ‘both/and’ model where school and university expertise work in partnership with each other, not a polarised ‘either/or’ model so often characterised in the pronouncements of the media. Our trainee teachers develop at the rate that they do because of the deep learning that takes place in both contexts.