Doing the rounds

16th March 2012 at 00:00
What the new approach to teacher training is taking from teaching hospitals

Ashley Lang was ill when her tutor came in to observe her in action on the first primary PGDE placement, so did not perform at her best. And when Brian Siegel was undergoing his "crit" lesson, a child ran out of the classroom.

Brian kept his cool and salvaged the situation but sometimes students are so nervous about being observed that "teachable moments" can pass them by, says University of Glasgow tutor Mike Carroll. On the other hand, tutors can be treated to a "very artificial all-singing, all-dancing show", admits the course leader of PGDE (primary) school experience.

His colleague, Julie Robinson, agrees: "You see the children looking round with faces that say `why is he doing this?'"

A new model being introduced by the University of Glasgow's School of Education makes these tutors confident they will get what they describe as a more "naturalistic view" of their students' abilities.

"We will know who they really are," says Mrs Robinson, who is course leader of PGDE learning and teaching.

For the next six weeks, Dr Carroll and Mrs Robinson will provide a permanent University of Glasgow presence at Irvine Royal Academy in North Ayrshire and its feeder primaries.

The academy has taken on double its usual number of trainee teachers and is playing host to 12 secondary PGDE students on their second placement. The university has also placed 15 primary PGDE students in Irvine Royal's five feeder primaries.

The university wants to get away from the one-off "crit" where tutors are parachuted into schools for a couple of hours to observe their charges. Instead it is taking inspiration from the teaching hospitals used to train medical students, with university tutors relocating to schools for the duration of student placements, students observing each other in the classroom during "learning rounds" and attending school-based seminars.

Crucially, at the end of the placement, the school and the university will write a joint report on each student's performance.

The model has already been tried and tested. Last year, two University of Glasgow tutors shadowed 31 PGDE student teachers at Hillhead High, Notre Dame High and 11 primaries in Glasgow's west end.

The evaluation found students were "generally very positive" about their experience, with 86 per cent reporting it had promoted their professional learning and development. Now the model has been expanded to the Irvine Royal cluster and schools in the south of the city - King's Park Secondary, Holyrood Secondary and four primaries.

By next year, the University of Glasgow hopes all its postgraduate trainee teachers will carry out their practical placements in schools with tutors on-site.

Not every university school of education is convinced, however, that Glasgow has found the key to improving school-university partnerships and student experiences.

There are concerns that if some schools are selected to become the profession's equivalent of teaching hospitals and others are left out in the cold a two-tier system could emerge, with small rural schools almost certainly missing out entirely on the opportunity to shape the next generation of teachers.

A higher concentration of students in certain schools could increase teacher workload and pupils could suffer if exposed too much to trainee teachers, add the critics.

These risks have not escaped the notice of the teaching unions especially as Larry Flanagan, the incoming general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, experienced the new model of teacher training first-hand, as principal teacher of English at Hillhead High.

Workloads increased under the new model, he claimed; tutors lacked subject expertise; and pupils were more likely to be taught by students, with a potential impact on their learning.

Glasgow City Council refutes the accusation that student teacher numbers have been raised in the schools trialling the new model of placement. All Glasgow schools will eventually be involved in training teachers in this way, it hopes.

"All teachers have a role as teacher educators and we don't want to single out certain schools to be hub schools, but we had to start somewhere," explains Winnie Mallon, quality improvement officer at Glasgow City Council with responsibility for student and probationer support.

There are three main benefits to the new model, she feels: giving students the opportunity to observe each other through learning rounds; the weekly seminars held in school which allow students to link theory and practice; and the joint assessment produced at the end of the placement by tutors and teachers.

The University of Glasgow tutors based at Irvine Royal Academy are in no doubt about the benefits of the Glasgow model - not least of all for themselves. They have been out of the classroom for years; having a concentrated period in school will make them better at what they do, they feel.

"I signed up for this partly because of my own professional development," Dr Carroll admits. "I've been out of (classroom) practice for eight years. I've been reading a lot about the theory of curricular change and I think I know it, but I know in my heart of hearts I don't really. You only really know if you are engaged in the process."

By the time a student is coming to the end of their PGDE they have "insider knowledge" due to their time spent in the classroom, he continues. This is something Dr Carroll feels he now lacks.

"At the end of the PGDE, students talk about practice in ways I struggle to understand. I feel uncomfortable and start to feel like the outsider. But we can feed back what we learn here into the next cohort of students."

The benefits, however, are more than personal. The closer working relationship between university and school will be helpful when it comes to ironing out problems faced by students, says Dr Carroll.

"Under the pre-existing model, if a student had a concern it would usually have been emailed to us. We would not know the member of staff or the school dynamic and it could be difficult to deal with the issue."

He hopes tutor presence in school will lead to more open and frank discussions about students with teachers.

"When you are interacting with an outsider there are things you are prepared and not prepared to say. Because we are going to be part of the fabric, hopefully they'll be able to let us know what they really think."

One of the successes of the Glasgow pilot was the joint assessment of students by schools and the university. Teachers said the new approach reduced the anxiety and stress associated with having to judge a student's performance alone and the University of Glasgow's senate noted that joint assessment had reduced the number of conflicting judgements from tutors and teachers about whether a student should pass.

One depute involved in the pilot reported that two of the students placed with her school had not passed. This was not due to a deficit in the programme, she believed, but was a result of a more thorough assessment regime. Under the previous model, less able students might have got through.

Nevertheless the evaluation report, led by Professor Ian Menter, chair of teacher education at the University of Glasgow, noted that the pilot had "not been without some difficulties". Students complained contact and dialogue with tutors was less frequent than they had anticipated and teachers argued that more tutors were needed to cover the number of students.

It was admirable that students were clamouring for more time with their tutors, said Professor James Conroy, the former dean of education at the University of Glasgow, who spearheaded the new approach. But students on the pilot were undoubtedly getting more tutor time than under the traditional model, he said.

"Give someone a taste of ice cream and what do they want?" he asks. "More ice cream."

Input from subject specialist tutors, however, has certainly reduced - a point also raised by teachers involved in the pilot. Under the traditional model, a modern studies tutor would have assessed a modern studies student; under the new model the on-site tutor, who might not even have a background in the same sector, let alone the subject, does the assessment.

Principal teachers can provide subject-specific support, say the scheme's supporters, but this view was "strongly contested" by the four secondary subject specialists within the school of education who were interviewed for the evaluation.

Because students were expected to attend seminars and learning rounds while in school, timetabling and communication were also highlighted as issues in the pilot evaluation, entitled The Glasgow West Teacher Education Initiative: A Clinical Approach to Teacher Education.

One primary teacher interviewed bemoaned the fact that the trainees never participated in a "genuine full week of class".

Mrs Robinson confirmed timetabling had been the most challenging issue so far in North Ayrshire, which plans to extend the project to other schools and teacher training institutions.

Students have to attend three three-hour seminars at Irvine Royal Academy over the course of their placement, which translates into three whole mornings out of school for primary students and just over nine periods missed for secondary.

On top of this, time has to be made for learning rounds, where they observe a segment of a fellow student's lesson for 15 to 20 minutes and then discuss what they have seen and how it might influence their practice.

It might be a challenge to fit it all in, but it's worth it for the end result - the interweaving of theory and practice - says Professor Graham Donaldson, who advocated the creation of "hub teaching schools" in his review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future.

"This provides a much, much better framework for linking theory and practice. Students can embed the theory in their practice in school instead of being taught it at university as an academic exercise," he says.

The University of Glasgow model of teacher placement also addresses perceptions that universities are remote and do not understand the reality of teaching and the classroom, Professor Donaldson says. It has led to a more rounded development of students, he believes.

In the longer term, schools with enhanced links to university could be used by local authorities to support career-long learning, he suggests.

"We can always identify reasons why we don't think something should happen. But in this case I think the principle is so powerful we need to find ways of making it happen," he concludes.

The national partnership group for teacher education in Scotland will report in the summer on how the recommendations in Teaching Scotland's Future can be implemented.


On increased tutor presence:

Ashley Lang, primary PGDE student: "For my tutor visit I was really ill. This time round the tutor will have a more consistent view of how you teach and how things are going."

Brian Siegel, primary PGDE student: "I think we all know that teaching can vary day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. Having tutors in there constantly through the learning rounds allows them to see your growth from start to finish and not just how you perform on that one day."

On the lack of specialist tutor contact:

Diana Condeco, secondary PGDE history student: "It's not really a concern. I was told if I had any problems just to email."

Leigh Duncan, secondary PGDE physics student: "I was worried at first but I was told by my tutor to keep in touch."

On the reduced variety of placements

Ashley: "When you start at a school, so much time is taken up finding out who is responsible for what - even things like whether or not you do your own photocopying. To not have to do that on your final placement allows you to concentrate on the teaching."


Too rigid a model of hub schools which specialise in teacher training could create a "two-tier education system", Professor Donald Christie, head of the University of Strathclyde's school of education, warned.

And two other universities - the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) and the University of Aberdeen - have confirmed they have no plans to go down the hub school route.

The first stumbling block was how to justify choosing one school as a partner while rejecting another, said Jim Maclean, a senior lecturer at UWS with overall responsibility for initial teacher education programmes.

"The implication is that one school is better than the others, but schools do change. A primary could change quickly if an inspiring headteacher moved on to another job, and in secondary a fabulous maths department could lose all of its experienced staff over the course of a couple of years. Apart from that, the reality is our students need to be exposed as much as possible to a range of situations. If we were to concentrate them in some of the biggest schools in Ayr, they would not experience a rural setting, composite classes and so on."

Concentrating more students in fewer schools would be cheaper but could create "stresses and strains" for schools, Mr Maclean felt.

There were other ways to improve links between schools, students and universities, said Mr Maclean. One of the most basic was ensuring that from the outset schools had a named university contact. UWS had started providing three contacts for each student so that if the student's tutor was unavailable, the school could try the programme leader or, failing that, Mr Maclean himself.

The university was also offering a postgraduate certificate in mentoring aimed at teachers and was trying to develop a network of associated university tutors - heads, deputes or principal teachers identified by local authorities as exceptional practitioners who support students in schools.

The University of Aberdeen's Scottish government-funded Placement Partnership Project has been looking at different ways to enhance existing school-university partnerships. It found a constant tutor presence in schools was not necessarily welcomed, said Liz Clark, the School of Education's acting head. But schools did like the allocation of tutors to be "less random".

The university found assigning schools "link tutors" and sending out their picture and contact details before students arrived was very successful - as were joint observations and assessment by tutors and teachers.

The university also encouraged enhanced peer working among students during placements by, wherever possible, placing more than one trainee in a school or, when it was not possible, using Glow Meet.

Concentrating students in fewer hub schools would make financial sense but small, rural schools had too much to offer to be bypassed, Ms Clark argued. Sending students to a variety of schools made their university experience richer, she said.


The sign above the main entry to Irvine Royal Academy in North Ayrshire proudly proclaims the school is partnered with the University of Glasgow. It is an honour to be linked to one of the top universities in the world says Irvine Royal head Stirling Mackie. He hopes his pupils' aspirations will be raised as a result.

"It raises the whole profile and importance of learning and teaching when you've got that number of student teachers and lecturers in the building. We want further and higher education to seem like a more natural progression for our young people.

"Some areas in our catchment are among the five per cent most deprived in Scotland. This is not a leafy suburb."

It is Irvine Royal's experience and enthusiasm for learning rounds that makes them the perfect partner for the University of Glasgow, says Mr Mackie. When learning rounds were first adapted for Scotland, the academy was one of the pilot schools.

Mr Mackie hopes the use of learning rounds and the new placement model will eventually make the question "how did so-and-so ever get to be a teacher?" redundant.

"Previously the school did a report and the university did a report based on one observed lesson which might have been fantastic," says depute head Frank Hotchkiss.

"The school might have been saying over the period that's not what we saw. The joint report should provide the student teacher with more robust feedback."

Original headline: Under close observation: a new approach to teacher training

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