A new role for schools in teacher education

29th November 2002 at 00:00
The boundaries have been changed by the guarantee of mentoring for probationers, say John McCarney and Jack Winch

WHAT should now be the principal focus of initial teacher education? As laudable new opportunities for induction are established with a guaranteed place hopefully leading to full registration, should the strict separation of responsibilities between the universities for initial education and the schools for induction support simply be continued?

Is this sensible and would a more integrated development plan for the whole period prior to teachers attaining the Standard for Full Registration not be more satisfactory? Should a more holistic approach be adopted, with a five-year developmental plan for undergraduate programmes and a two-year plan for post-graduate programmes with a common end-point of attaining the standard?

There will now be a formal mentoring system in schools for newly qualified teachers. However, the staff who will support the new teachers are very often the same staff who will be responsible for students undertaking a placement. Currently, schools provide support to students in a spirit of professional co-operation and goodwill; the universities have provided limited staff development. Given that these staff will now have formal responsibility for their new teacher colleagues, is there a significant difference in supporting a new teacher and supporting a student teacher?

If the mentor teachers can be trusted to support and assess the new teacher, can the universities not also recognise their professionalism and formalise student support? The effect of such an enhancement of the current partnership arrangements is that schools would be asked to take a formal role in the education of future teachers. Given that these student teachers will become colleagues of those now being asked to assist in training them, it does not appear an unreasonable request.

While the university can provide input on general educational matters and generic teaching issues, the school and mentor teacher have the opportunity to talk to the student on a daily basis and review a particular lesson, the ongoing work of the student, the planning of future lessons - work which cannot be carried out by the university tutor and is best supported by a teacher.

Although university faculties of education are seen as having successfully added expertise that does not reside in schools, the balance between university and school has to change - not least because the teachers'

settlement has eroded salary differentials between teachers and teacher educators, making recruitment to the ranks of the latter more difficult.

So the role of the university tutor has to change from one in which they visit the student once or twice during school experience placements, mainly for the purpose of assessment. Tutors in the future should concentrate on positive support for students, possibly working beside them in the classroom.

Given that the tutor may no longer assess the student, it would mean that this responsibility should transfer to the school. This is a significant change from the current arrangements, but it would parallel the new induction system providing consistency in the assess-ment process between initial teacher education and induction.

The issue of quality assurance of school experience will then have to be addressed. However, depending on financial constraints, the role of the university tutor may evolve to one of moderation of school placement assessments.

Since the merger of colleges of education with universities, there is now significant pressure on university tutors to produce research papers at an internationally refereed level, which does not necessarily contribute to the improvement of professional practice. The interaction between teaching and research needs to be reviewed so that sufficient time and effort can be spent on the core task of supporting and leading the professional development of teachers.

Whatever shape teacher education takes in the future, it is essential that new relationships between the school and university sectors will be based on a full and open debate on the future of teacher education as a whole rather than on a series of well-meaning yet piecemeal developments and unconnected initiatives.

John McCarney and Jack Winch are lecturers in the education faculties of Glasgow and Strathclyde universities. This article is based on a paper presented at the annual conference of the Association for Teacher Education in Europe, held in Warsaw in August.

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