A training odyssey

4th November 1994 at 00:00
New arrangements for teacher training present problems as well as opportunities. Gerry Gregory and Bryan Nicholson report on their experience at Brunel.

In the world of design and technology education, things are looking up. We're promised a set of marching orders to stay in place long enough for us to get used to them - a welcome development in initial teacher education. For undergraduate students currently beginning their final year, these new rules of engagement will be the third they have had.

Initial teacher education in the current academic year is different in another way. Under the terms of Department for Education Circular 992, schools now play an enlarged role in the partnership, and teacher education is conceived in terms of developing "competences". In the rhetoric of management literature, these changes present both problems and opportunities.

The questions relating to the new partnership include: o Have technology departments sufficient resources (chiefly staff time) to take more responsibility for initial teacher education?

o Assuming this becomes a matter of funding, are higher education institutions able to foot the bills?

o Compared with traditional arrangements in higher education, can viable teaching groups of technology students be located or clustered in particular school departments?

o Is there a danger that pupils will see less than they would otherwise of their most experienced and senior technology teachers - and too much of student teachers?

If all the above can be solved, do school technology staff have the tools (that is sufficient expertise in studentadult education) to do the job - a job which involves using up-to-date research and theoretical literature and contributing to academic as well as professional assessment? It's one thing to be a successful teacher; it's another thing to know how it's done and how to coach others.

The opportunities include: o More of the expertise of experienced technology teachers might be available to students.

o Students might take part in joint planning, teaching and evaluation.

o Through school experiences, students may develop greater understanding of pupil development, school cultures and the contexts in which schools operate.

A dominant theme in the literature of change is the importance of people in any change process, and this is recognised in Brunel University's response to Circular 992. Our main concern has been with the development of teachers for the "mentoring" role. (Mentor is the adviser of Telemachus in Homer's Odyssey. If anyone knows of a drawingpainting of him, we would be very interested. ) Schools are tending to adapt the old arrangements to the new circumstances. In the past, responsibility for students was typically shared between a senior colleague and a subject specialist. The senior colleague's brief entailed assuring the student an appropriate timetable and a broad experience, including acquaintance with special educational needs provision and the teacher's pastoral role and participation in staff meetings, staff development activities, parents evenings and so on. The job of the subject specialist was to promote the student's development as a teacher of technology. There was wide variation in interpretation of these roles.

Brunel's initiative deals with the subject specialist's role. To date we have run two training programmes for department heads. These inducted the participants into new local arrangements for school-based learning including traditional teaching practice.

They also addressed such issues as the aims of initial teacher training in technology and principles for assessing student learning, in project work as well as practical teaching. In the second programme a key focus was observing and discussing students' lessons.

Participants' lists of the aims of technology initial training were compared with those in Brunel's new course documentation. A remarkable correspondence emerged. Myths of higher education's "ivory towers" and practitioner instrumentalism were exploded; and participants were keen to emphasise general preparation for teaching above a narrow focus on technology.

The long-standing partnership between teacher educators at Runnymede and pupil educators in our network of schools is in good heart. We share doubts about the viability of the new arrangements, including how teachers in schools can give priority to trainees over their pupils, and the high cost of traineeteacher ratios as low as one to one. However, we share determination to make them work for the benefit of students and their future pupils.

Gerry Gregory is a senior lecturer in education and Bryan Nicholson is a professional studies tutor at Brunel University o Three publications useful for staff development have arisen from these programmes: Full reports of the two programmes provide a wealth of details, including participants' perceptions of present problems and challenges; and an illustrated booklet, Observing Students' Technology Lessons, offers advice on approaches before, during and after lessons. Booklet Price: Pounds 3 (inc pp); or Pounds 15 for all three from: Ann Hunt, Brunel University, Egham, Surrey, TW20 0JZ (official order or cheque with order)

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