Student teachers this year have gone through an “unprecedented and traumatic event”, David Smith, chair of the Scottish Council of Deans of Education (SCDE), has said.
This year student teachers have experienced isolation, bereavement and illness, while many have had financial worries and others have been helping their own children with remote learning at the same time as working on their own studies.
“It has not turned out to be the experience any of us would have hoped for, and my heart goes out to them,” said Dr Smith, who is also head of the school of education at the University of Aberdeen. “We understand and have been incredibly empathetic to their experience, having experienced it ourselves in some ways.”
However, in an interview with Tes Scotland, Dr Smith said he hopes that student teachers will now have “real reassurance” about what the future holds, thanks to the publication of guidance last week which sets out what they have to achieve in order to move on to the next phase of their journey: probation.
This year universities will be able to recommend students for probation if they have carried out at least 55 per cent of the school-placement experience usually required.
In the case of the one-year PGDE (postgraduate) course, that means they will have to complete a minimum of 10 weeks in school, as opposed to 18 weeks. A maximum of 20 per cent of that classroom experience – or 10 days – can be acquired through remote teaching.
Teacher training: School placement opportunities for student teachers
The document – which has been produced by SCDE, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) and the Student Placement Management Group – also makes it clear that as many quality student school placement opportunities as possible will be needed “before Easter, and where possible up to the end of the summer term”.
It recommends that the students closest to completing their qualifications should be prioritised for in-school placements.
Dr Smith told Tes Scotland: “We are finalising the numbers – and, to an extent, they depend on how things unfold going forward – but a reasonable scenario means that the numbers that don’t reach the 55 per cent should be relatively minimal. It is a scenario to support progression and quality, and I think it gets that balance right. They are not going to be required to repeat a year.”
He added: “I don’t think we will see a dip in probationer teachers. By working with schools and local authorities, we have found an agreed way forward and I think we have avoided what would have been a significant dip in the ability of students to progress into the workforce. We have found a way forward whilst being very mindful of quality and the need for support.”
Student teachers who are unable to meet the 55 per cent "in-school experience" threshold can be put forward by their universities for an extension which will last for eight weeks at the beginning of the new school year in August. They will then be assessed to see if they have met the required standard and if they have they will stay on at the school to carry out their probation.
“They will spend the same length of time in the school but their status will be slightly different,” says Dr Smith.
In normal times, teacher education institutions are used to running lectures involving hundreds of students but coronavirus restrictions on campus this year have rendered this kind of learning impossible.
Some blended learning has gone ahead, said Dr Smith, but more typically lectures have been “chunked” and watched online, and then followed up with tutorials and workshops.
Universities have also had to change the way they do observations this year. There has been a move to doing these remotely in order to minimise the number of people in schools and to cut down on tutors travelling. This has resulted in tutors watching recordings of their students teaching, as opposed to being in their classrooms in person.
Given all they have had to contend with, Dr Smith believes the students who progress on to probation this year will possess one essential quality a good teacher needs in spades: adaptability.
He said: “It has been a kaleidoscopic experience [for student teachers] nationally with many hues and approaches to achieve the same outcome. We have all had to be adaptable and adaptability in teaching is a key skill – to develop that dexterity of mind and to adjust the learning to the context you find yourself in.”