Why do we know so little about ITE?

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Concluding their dialogue on teacher education reform, Hirek Kwiatkowski and Ian Menter agree on the importance of research

Dear Hirek, It was indeed a wise move to create the chair of teacher education at Glasgow University! In all seriousness, I am at least partly reassured by your reply, that we may indeed see some significant developments in initial teacher education (ITE) in Scotland over the coming months and years.

However, I remain concerned about the lack of research evidence that underpinned the review or the proposed developments in the ministerial response. But perhaps more important, the continuing apparent lack of interest on the part of the Scottish Executive in commissioning research in this area is surprising. By contrast, we know that research has been and will be commissioned as part of the development of A Curriculum for Excellence. Perhaps I am being impatient, but it surprises me how little has been done in the field of ITE.

While we know there is research going on at a number of institutions on the induction year, early professional development and some features of the post-McCrone landscape, little of this has been commissioned by the Executive and relatively little is focusing on ITE. Even the national applied educational research scheme, which is an umbrella for many important research developments, does not include a focus on ITE (although some work on CPD is included).

As you know, my former University of Paisley colleagues and I undertook two major reviews on behalf of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which will be published shortly, both relating at least in part to ITE. One was on widening access into the teaching profession. We noted both the geographical challenges and the imbalances in the current workforce, but we also listed a number of recommendations for addressing these challenges.

The other review was on models of partnership in ITE. While I take your point about the need to avoid dated language that may carry inappropriate connotations, it does remain the case that the roles and relationships of those involved in ITE have not been addressed with the same seriousness as, for example, those in the induction scheme.

So, overall, I guess I am agreeing with you on the basis of professional judgment that much of the review and the minister's responses seem sensible and should bring about positive change. But I am still not convinced ITE has sufficient priority in the national education agenda.

Let us hope this exchange between us can play at least a small part in raising it higher.

Yours, Ian ear Ian, You seem determined to push the research issue - and I agree with this. Looking back momentarily, the original deadline for the review precluded any initiated research. However, I note your point regarding the research intentions in relation to A Curriculum for Excellence. While it may be a little early to formulate or even signal a related research agenda for ITE, I agree that the need for such action is clear.

From your own comments, I would focus primarily on the ITE and induction-probation interface, particularly in the context of the teacher education continuum to which I referred earlier in our correspondence.

There are already comments being made widely (and possibly with some justification) regarding the success of this scheme; and we know that the General Teaching Council for Scotland is collecting and looking at valuable data on the induction scheme.

However, we have yet to see a major fully designed and resourced research project relating to the recruitment, initial professional education and induction of new entrants to the teaching profession. The current context could not be more apposite or propitious. One of the frustrations of working in the highly politicised area of ITE in Scotland is the combination of opinion (and even judgment) that abounds, often ill-informed or uninformed, and the lack of valid and reliable data or research reports against which to reflect on such comments.

While our Scottish ITE process has chosen not to follow the profile of routes in England and Wales, there has been a greater commitment elsewhere in the UK to investigate and engage with the issues and controversies of ITE. We may have reservations regarding some of the work of bodies such as the Teacher Training Agency in England, but what can we point to in Scotland that even raises key issues nationally?

And there are plenty of issues. You mentioned your studies from Paisley. A case can be made that these could have informed that review, and that they can indeed inform the recommended action arising from the report. However, it is also legitimate to suggest that the ministerial response has moved the context on beyond your earlier studies.

What needs to be methodically evaluated is what will emerge from the review and how far this will meet the aspirations for teacher education and the profession of teaching articulated in the report. Perhaps a similar rigorous scrutiny might also focus on the "Teachers for a New Era" project, another important initiative focused upon enhancement of ITE.

It is essential that this review does not become another abortive record of intent. As well as monitoring the progress of the Education Minister's requirements through reports, the significance of this review and the commitment to achieving the changes it proposes and enables should be reflected by the Executive initiating, along with the education faculties in Scotland's universities, a significant research programme to evaluate the impact of the second stage review of ITE.

As someone who feels increasing confidence in that commitment to the teaching profession through my work with colleagues in the Scottish Executive Education Department, in relation to teacher workforce planning as well as in the review group, I would hope and be optimistic that there will be a positive response to a reasoned case for a research agenda to underpin delivery of the new ITE agenda in Scotland.

On which positive note, I am happy to conclude this brief correspondence.

Hirek Hirek Kwiatkowski is dean of the faculty of education at Glasgow University and was a member of the review group on initial teacher education. Ian Menter is professor of teacher education at the university.

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