How partnership works in practice

7th July 1995 at 01:00
Ian Menter and Joan Whitehead have tapped anxieties about school-based teacher training.

The restructuring of initial teacher training, launched in 1992, was one of Kenneth Clarke's last initiatives as Education Secretary. The introduction of school-based training for secondary teachers led the way and has been followed by a similar initiative for the primary sector.

The National Union of Teachers was concerned about the potential impact of these reforms on teachers and on teaching as a profession. The University of the West of England, in conjunction with the NUT, has been carrying out research to identify the views of a national sample of teachers and of those working in higher education institutions. The study is based on questionnaire returns at the end of 1994 from 192 secondary teachers, 97 primary teachers and 53 respondents in higher education. About half of the teachers were NUT representatives; the others were staff with responsibility for co-ordinating the work of student teachers.

Three major themes which have emerged are: the principle and practice of partnership; competence-based professionalism and diversification of training routes; the validity of the Government's claims about the professional benefits which can accrue to schools from an involvement in ITT.

Our research reveals a professional commitment to the principle of partnership by those schools which have become involved as well as by the HEIs. In practice though, finding schools to become partners in training has become increasingly problematic, with the number of HEIs experiencing such difficulties in the secondary sector rising from 51 per cent in 1993-94 to 71 per cent in 1994-95.

One reason for this difficulty may well be teachers' perceptions of a shift in the balance of responsibilities towards schools and hence an increase in their workloads. Even in the secondary sector, fewer than half the training co-ordinators thought that the new balance of responsibilities was about right.

In the primary sector, slightly more than half of the co-ordinators felt the balance prior to the reforms was about right with the vast majority perceiving the new arrangements as too heavily weighted to schools.

These responses may relate to the availability of resources. More than half of the secondary school co-ordinators believed that the resourcing of school- based training was unsatisfactory, even though 45.7 per cent of schools received both cash payments and professional development opportunities from their partner institution.

The Government's reforms introduced a number of output competences which students must demonstrate in order to be recommended for qualified teacher status. Views on these statements of competence as a basis for training and assessment of students were generally positive. Any reservations expressed related to the prescriptive nature of the competences which were perceived to limit holistic professional judgment about students' development and attainment.

The diversification of training routes was less warmly welcomed. For example, the proposals for a shortened six-subject primary BEd were endorsed by only 35 per cent of primary respondents, opposed by 25 per cent and almost unanimously opposed by HEIs. The introduction of training for specialist teacher assistants in primary schools had a mixed reception. Many respondents recognised the value of such training but again a significant number feared that it could deprofessionalise teaching, especially in early-years education.

In the Government's circulars detailing the reforms, strong claims were made for the benefits to schools, teachers and pupils. We found that teachers do indeed believe there are some professional benefits. A majority of the co- ordinators agreed that involvement with training improved teachers' practice (90 per cent of secondary and 59 per cent of primary co-ordinators). Even larger numbers (95 per cent and 76 per cent) agreed that teachers had been prompted to reflect on their own professional practice.

These positive views contrast with responses from 54 per cent of secondary co-ordinators and 70 per cent of primary co-ordinators who felt that training students took time away from teaching pupils.

The findings suggest that the commitment of the profession to the education and training of its own members, previously made almost without question, is being tested by the new arrangements. School staff are facing many other new demands and pressures, such as Office for Standards in Education inspections.

The reforms are at an early stage, particularly in primaries where implementation is not mandatory until September 1996. It is possible that anxieties will diminish. However, it is also possible that quality of training will be diluted because of pressures of workload and resources. Research and monitoring must continue to ascertain whether the advantages perceived by the Government outweigh the disadvantages.

Ian Menter and Joan Whitehead are at the faculty of education, University of the West of England, Bristol. The research was carried out jointly with staff in the NUT's education and equal opportunities department. The full report will be available from the NUT later this month.

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