Stepping up the training tempo

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Where the University of Dundee leads with its MA in education, others will follow. Emma Seith reports on the new primary course, the implications and likely changes that will take place at other institutions

On Monday, student teachers at the University of Dundee will become the first to embark upon the next generation of initial teacher education courses. The university is the first in Scotland to overhaul its four-year primary BEd programme and replace it with an MA (hons) in education in response to Graham Donaldson's review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future.

Like Dundee, the universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh plan to introduce an MA to replsace the BEd. The University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland are proposing to introduce a BA, while the University of Glasgow has yet to decide the name of its successor qualification.

There is speculation in the sector that Glasgow might opt to stick with the BEd brand, for fear that applications might drop for less recognisable new degrees.

The Donaldson review endorsed the concept of concurrent degrees, such as those offered at the University of Stirling. These combine degree-level subject content, like a modern European language, with a primary teaching qualification.

Such a model strengthened knowledge and skills both for teaching and, if necessary - given the tough jobs market - for other forms of employment, argued Professor Donaldson.

All teacher education institutions expect to have their new courses in place by 2014 and all, with the exception of the University of Aberdeen, say the most significant change is likely to be the introduction of modules from other areas of the university.

Aberdeen student teachers already take subject options from the wider university, thanks to its Scottish Teachers for a New Era programme, which was implemented in 2006 with funding from the Hunter Foundation and the Scottish government.

The universities are likely to offer specialisations in subjects such as modern languages and science - areas that Professor Donaldson said had been shown in international evidence and inspection to have "a particular need to improve learning, teaching and attainment".

It will be easier to introduce specialisation at the University of Strathclyde because of its move off the 40-acre Jordanhill campus into the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, says BEd course leader Amanda Corrigan.

The universities yet to introduce new courses are keenly awaiting the recommendations of the National Partnership Group for Teacher Education and the reaction to them from education secretary Michael Russell.

The group, set up to examine how the recommendations in Teaching Scotland's Future could be implemented, holds its last planned meeting today. But its proposals will hold no surprises, promises co-chair Professor Richard Edwards, who is also head of the School of Education at the University of Stirling. This is good news for Dundee.

Balancing an increased focus on academic attributes with increasing levels of pedagogical expertise has been a challenge, admits Peter Wakefield, university programme director of Dundee's new MA in education. At times it has been like trying to fit a quart into a pint pot, he says, borrowing a phrase used by Professor Donaldson in his report to acknowledge that the greatest difficulty facing teacher educators was "meeting the ever-wider demands on course time". But now the university is confident it has a programme that ticks all the boxes.

The first semester of the new MA will be given over entirely to academic study, with modules from other areas of the university on offer. This session, aspiring primary teachers will be offered modules in life sciences, inter-professional working, history, politics, mathematics, economics, English, French, German, Spanish, philosophy and film studies. In the second semester, the focus will be on professional practice.

"We anticipate that we will have students who may pursue a modern language in years one and two, undertake a module that explores the learning and teaching of modern languages in year three, and then undertake their undergraduate thesis in the field of modern languages in year four, giving them immense depth in a key curriculum area. They could do something similar in maths, social subjects, English etc."

The university is also introducing four new educational studies modules, available to all students: developmental psychology, the history of education, the philosophy of education and comparative education.

"It is anticipated that students from other disciplines, who have an aspiration to become teachers, may undertake one or more of these modules," says Mr Wakefield.

To further enhance trainee teachers' maturity - something Dundee thinks is key to improving teacher quality - a non-school-based placement will be taken up in the second year that for some will mean working for three months overseas.

"They will seek their placement themselves and make the necessary arrangements," says Mr Wakefield. "If they wanted to work in a surf school on Bondi Beach that would be fine, as long as they could afford to go and there were learning and teaching issues associated with the placement."

More likely than Bondi Beach, however, might be a placement abroad through the British Council's Erasmus exchange programme or, more locally, in community education, social work, hospital schools, special schools, the ranger service, theatres, art groups or businesses.

A unique link between the university and a private school in Athens may also be exploited by some students, predicts Mr Wakefield. The Costeas- Geitonas School for 3- to 18-year-olds is branching out into teacher training and is also running Dundee's new MA in Education programme for Greek students this year (see panel, page 12).

The need for "more rigorous" student recruitment was highlighted in the Donaldson report to tackle "poor interpersonal skills and basic weaknesses in literacy and numeracy".

The University of Dundee has run online maths and literacy assessments for a number of years and this year, along with the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, it will pilot a new maths assessment that has been designed by specialists from the three institutions, with the support of Education Scotland. A literacy assessment aimed at trainee teachers is also in the pipeline, but will not be piloted until next year (see panel, right).

Those driving the development of the assessments stress that they should not be used to determine who gets into teacher training. Rather, they argue, the assessments should be used by students as a means of identifying gaps in their own knowledge which they should then be trusted to plug.

The University of Dundee used to use language and maths assessments to aid selection but scrapped the practice, Mr Wakefield continues. "Our research suggested that these were not good indicators of ultimate success on the programme," he says.

For the past four years, Dundee has selected its trainee teachers through teamwork activities, individual presentations and discussion groups. Teamwork activities have included redesigning a school playground to make it more educational; this year's two-minute presentation was based on the W.B Yeats quote that "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire".

The process makes it easier to judge candidates' suitability than the face-to-face interviews the university used to carry out, especially as interview questions had started appearing on social networking sites, says Mr Wakefield. It also has the bonus of being less time-consuming, with roughly 10 candidates being interviewed in a couple of hours, rather than six, he says.

Candidates must cite experience working in schools on their Ucas form to even be considered for selection, he adds.

Selection processes vary considerably between universities, said Professor Donaldson in Teaching Scotland's Future - a comment borne out by TESS `s findings that the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow only interview for some of their initial teacher education courses while the University of the West of Scotland currently uses a traditional face-to-face interview.

Professor Donaldson called for more employer involvement in the selection process and more consistent attention to students' "interpersonal skills". Difficulties with literacy and numeracy needed to be addressed at entry and during the course, he said.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland is on the cusp of reviewing both the document that dictates the minimum entry requirements to teacher training (the Memorandum on Entry Requirements to Courses of Initial Teacher Education in Scotland) and the document that dictates the content and nature of university courses (the Guidelines for Initial Teacher Education Courses in Scotland).

The changes will be completed by spring next year, says Tom Hamilton, director of education and professional learning.

"Previously these were government documents but they were handed to the GTCS in April when we gained independence," he says.

Neither document has been revised for several years, says Mr Hamilton. Any changes will be influenced by Curriculum for Excellence and the Donaldson report, as well as the recommendations of the National Partnership Group for Teacher Education, the Modern Languages Working Group and the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group.

Everything from the possibility of establishing a national assessment centre where prospective student teachers can be put through their paces - as mooted by Professor Donaldson - to the introduction of psychological and psychometric testing will be considered.

The GTCS will also look at the possibility of creating new teaching qualifications in subjects such as psychology, sociology and politics.

Already changes to degree programmes are resulting in tougher entry requirements. The University of Dundee used to demand entrants achieve by the end of S5 ABB or BBBC at Higher with a C in Higher English. To get in this year, however, school leavers had to have ABBB at Higher with a B in Higher English, to bring teacher training in line with the university's other MA courses.

The University of Strathclyde, meanwhile, used to demand four Bs at Higher but those embarking on the new BA in education, which begins next year, will need AAAB, with a B at Higher English.

Other changes to Dundee's four-year primary training programme include the creation of an electronic portfolio for every student in which they will reflect on their developing knowledge, understanding and skills; eight elective modules exploring the pedagogy associated with the eight areas of CfE; and a longer final placement of 11 weeks to develop closer links between class teacher and university tutor.

The University of Stirling will not be making significant changes until the National Partnership Group publishes its proposals and education secretary Michael Russell responds, says head of the school of education and co-chair of the group, Professor Richard Edwards.

Nonetheless the university is already in discussion with neighbouring councils to see how it can play a greater role in their teacher induction programmes and career-long CPD after Professor Donaldson's call for induction to "build seamlessly" from initial teacher education and for universities to play more of a role.

Professor Edwards says: "This whole emphasis on career-long learning is critical. Initial teacher education can only provide a base from which teachers are going to need a lot of opportunities to advance. The aim of the National Partnership Group is to try to make recommendations that put in place the infrastructure to enable that to happen."

Professional review and development will be an integral part of the future system, he says, adding: "The National Partnership Group was set up to put together proposals for the implementation of the Donaldson review. There are not going to be any big surprises."

After today's meeting of the National Partnership Group, Professor Edwards anticipates that things will move "swiftly".

"It is my understanding that the cabinet secretary wants the same thing," he concludes.


University of Dundee trainee teachers will embark on a new MA in education on Monday; one month later, Greek student teachers will begin studying the same course at a private school in Athens.

Up until now, the Greek private school's only foray into teacher education has been to provide short CPD courses. The Costeas-Geitonas School for 3- to 18-year-olds has, however, decided to branch out, due to the lack of provision in Greece for teacher training which leaves thousands of prospective teachers without a place every year - more than 7,000 students apply for admission to one of 2,000 places in the country's nine faculties of education.

Much of the course content will be delivered electronically using pre- recorded lectures and Skype. However, the students will also be supported by University of Dundee lecturer Erika Cunningham who has moved to Greece to become their tutor and ensure the smooth running of the programme.

The course in Greece is expected to attract about 50 students this year.

1984 - The year teaching qualifications in Scotland began to be delivered through degree-level studies

7,717 - The number of student teachers in Scotland in 2006-07

6,162 - The number of student teachers in Scotland in 2010-11

20% - The proportion of Scottish student teachers who were male in 2010- 11

23.5% - The proportion of 2011-12 probationer teachers finding full-time permanent work, according to TESS survey

50% - The proportion of 2011-12 probationer teachers left jobless or on supply, according to TESS survey

50 - The number of recommendations in the Donaldson report


Assessments aimed at improving trainee teachers' literacy and numeracy skills are to be piloted in Scottish universities this year and next, but these will not be used to select who gets into teacher training, say those involved in their design.

But others working in the sector argue they will act as de facto entrance exams because the gaps in knowledge they highlight may prove insurmountable for some.

Academics from the universities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have been working on an online maths assessment for trainee teachers that they will pilot in their institutions this year.

"This is not a maths test and in no way is it a gatekeeper - this is about students' professional learning," says Helen Martin, a lecturer in maths education at the University of Aberdeen who has been leading the development of the assessment along with Susan McLarty from Edinburgh and Sheila Henderson and Richard Holme from Dundee.

Students will not be obliged to pass the maths test in order to stay on the course, but will be urged to take it regularly to assess their understanding. "It's about them becoming aware of where their understanding is and working on that," says Mrs Martin. The test, which draws on a bank of over 200 questions, will be used in different ways by the different institutions, she says, and will be divided into five sections:

- information handling and probability (14 questions)

- shape and space (11 questions)

- measure (11 questions)

- number systems (nine questions)

- calculations with number (10 questions)

The format and content of the literacy assessment has yet to be agreed but it will be piloted next year and will be used by student teachers to identify gaps in their knowledge so that they can study by themselves.

The University of Dundee has been using online assessments to support students' literacy for a number of years and reviewed it last year.



Initial teacher education in Scotland currently centres on the four-year undergraduate route leading to the BEd degree and one-year PGDE.

In addition, the University of Stirling provides concurrent BA and BSc programmes, and other universities have been actively developing new models including combinations such as an MA with education (Aberdeen) and an MSc with a teaching qualification (Strathclyde).

New approaches to concurrent degree programmes have the potential to offer graduates opportunities for far wider and deeper study, says Graham Donaldson in his review of teacher education in Scotland, Teaching Scotland's Future.

The report therefore calls for the traditional BEd degree to be "phased out" and replaced with degrees that combine academic and professsional studies.

"These new degrees should involve staff and departments beyond those in schools of education," he says. He also recommends that:

- selection for entry to initial teacher education programmes should be made more rigorous;

- candidates for teaching should undertake diagnostic assessments of their competence in both literacy and numeracy;

- the marketability of transferable skills in education degrees beyond the education sector should be highlighted;

- initial teacher education and induction should be planned as one overall experience;

- increased emphasis should be given to ensuring that primary students have sufficient understanding of the areas they are expected to teach;

- the professional component in programmes of initial teacher education should address more directly areas where teachers experience greatest difficulty such as literacy and numeracy and additional support needs;

- new and strengthened models of partnership among universities, local authorities, schools and individual teachers be developed.

Original headline: Masters plan: shake-up to raise the training tempo

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