Toppling the myth of the ivory training tower

24th June 2011 at 01:00

Teacher training is something that always seems to attract a bad press, whatever the reality on the ground. Cliched and outdated stereotypes abound, often the image of crusty academics who haven't been near a school in years teaching irrelevant theory to a group of aspiring yet impressionable teachers.

There is also, in some quarters, perceptions of political bias with, for example, the columnist Minette Marin suggesting in The Sunday Times last year that teacher training is "full of toxic left-wing dogma". Even positive or tangential stories are sometimes drafted so as to reinforce negative messages.

So, what is the true position? Well, for a start, teacher education and training is not delivered by out-of-touch academics in teacher-training colleges away from a school environment.

All initial teacher education and training (ITET) programmes are delivered in full partnership between universities (not, please note, "teacher-training colleges") and schools. Partner schools are involved in the planning and delivery of programmes and in the recruitment and assessment of trainees.

The programmes are based on standards set by the Wales Government and are regularly inspected by the same body, Estyn, that inspects our schools. PGCE students spend the bulk of their time in school, while undergraduates spend (in terms of weeks) even more time in the classroom. Results from comprehensive (as opposed to partial) surveys show that the programmes are popular with teachers themselves and with schools.

For example, one ITET centre regularly receives "effective" or "very effective" ratings in excess of 90 per cent from both schools and newly qualified teachers. Estyn inspection results reach similar conclusions.

As teacher educators, we might, of course, be expected to say that everything in the garden is rosy. But we do not. Some things do need changing, and we will do whatever we can with our partners in schools to do just that.

There have been recent stories about newly qualified teachers not being able to find jobs, and it may be that a detailed survey of the country's teacher supply needs should be conducted (although the fact that the GTCW data shows 81 per cent are in some kind of teaching post suggests that any reduction in the number in full-time posts reflects the changing employment practices of schools rather than massive over-supply).

More should be done to bring an increased number of schools into close partnership with ITET universities, something which a model along the lines of the new teaching schools being developed in England might help to address.

We agree, as I said before, that only so much can be achieved during a nine-month PGCE, and consideration does need to be given to either extending the PGCE or, as the GTCW has suggested, ensuring that a teacher's early professional development builds on and complements their initial training.

GTCW has also suggested that a continuum of high-quality and structured early professional development that builds on ITET might lead to teaching becoming an all-masters qualified profession. That is something the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers has long been calling for. There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the impact that school-focused, masters-level study can have on teachers' classroom performance. As far as school improvement is concerned, it is one of the best tools we have in our box.

Where does all this leave us? As providers and champions of teacher education, we might be expected to stand our ground and "dig our heels in".

However, the community recognises the need for change, the need to do something to develop teachers more, involve more schools in ITET and increase the status and effectiveness of teaching.

The chair of UCET Cymru, John Parkinson, recently chaired a conference to help shape and influence the future of teacher education in Wales and expressed a desire for the regional ITET centres to work together to ensure that we achieve the highest standards for teachers and learners in Wales.

Welsh universities will have a key role to play in contributing to the future of teaching, the future of those aspiring teachers and the inspiration they will provide for our children and young people.

James Noble-Rogers is executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers.

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