'As a tutor, I would almost parachute in for a one-off visit'

21st January 2011 at 00:00

Hardly has the ink dried on the Donaldson report than one of its key recommendations, the creation of "hub teaching schools", is to be piloted in Glasgow.

Planning for the Glasgow West learning community project, described by its originators as "a model for `clinical' practice", was complete before the report was published.

But the concept may have inspired the recommendation by Graham Donaldson, the former senior chief inspector of education, for the establishment of hub teaching schools. They would act as a focal point for research and learning and teaching and, above all, as a means of improving students' placement experiences through closer working between universities and schools.

From next month, two Glasgow University tutors will shadow 31 PGDE student teachers as they carry out their six-week placements at Hillhead High, Notre Dame Secondary and 11 local primaries in Glasgow's west end.

The aim is to get away from the one-off "crit" lesson and replace it with something more akin to continual assessment.

Built into the model will be "learning rounds" - a concept used in a growing number of authorities, which encourages teams of teachers to observe each others' classes, and improve their own practice through discussion of what they have seen. The university will also hold weekly seminars on key areas of teaching practice like behaviour management.

The scheme was conceived by Jim Conroy, former dean of education at Glasgow University, and will be piloted by university tutor Delia Wilson, who co-ordinates the science courses, and Margaret Jago, head of the BEd 4 course.

Francis Donaghy, head of Hillhead Primary (one of 11 primaries involved), felt that in recent years, the balance of accountability had shifted towards teachers, some of whom were reluctant to shoulder the responsibility, while some students received few visits from tutors.

This pilot model would allow tutors to get a better insight into the functioning of schools: like headteachers, when they move out of the classroom, university lecturers inevitably lost some of that perspective when they worked in higher education.

He also hopes the project will mean that schools like his will become testing grounds for action research, where the link is made between theory and practice - in all classes, not just those where a student teacher is working.

Winnie Mallon, quality improvement officer at Glasgow City Council with responsibility for student and probationer support, said her authority worked very hard to ensure that student teachers were well supported. But she hoped this programme would ensure greater consistency of the student experience.

Classroom teachers could sometimes feel they had been left to assess student teachers on their own, but the presence of Mrs Wilson and Mrs Jago almost full-time in the schools should create a stronger partnership between schools and university, said Mrs Mallon.

"I also hope that the judgments they come to regarding the competence of student teachers will be robust and won't just be based on the one-off `crit' lesson but a more holistic view of the student's progress," she said.

Mrs Jago, a former primary teacher who joined Glasgow University eight years ago, will link with primary and secondary student teachers for one half of the week; Mrs Wilson, a former chemistry teacher, will work with the same students for the other half of the week.

"As a tutor, I would almost `parachute in' for a one-off visit," Mrs Jago said. "This will be far more supportive in terms of the student: I'll be able to identify fairly early in a placement where there are any issues or concerns and work to address these concerns by involving students in the discussions.

"Crucially, it will involve school partners from the outset and give them a strong role in the process."

Mrs Wilson said that learning rounds - a model of classroom observation devised by Richard Elmore of Harvard Graduate School of Education - would help prepare young teachers for making teaching a more transparent activity.

Mrs Wilson hopes this programme will allow primary teachers to observe lessons in secondary, and vice versa.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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