Zeal for research reveals the genuine Bourne identity

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Strathclyde University's new dean of education had never previously worked in Scotland and arrived as something of an unknown quantity. Henry Hepburn went to meet her

Strathclyde University's new dean of education had never previously worked in Scotland and arrived as something of an unknown quantity. Henry Hepburn went to meet her

Jill Bourne insists her Strathclyde University colleagues should not be fazed by her research background. There had been speculation about how much Professor Bourne, who started as dean of education at Jordanhill in November, would shake up a faculty that had been criticised for a lack of research output. Would her arrival from the University of Southampton mean a preference for recruiting those with research reputations?

Apparently not: there may be a short-term need to boost the faculty with experienced researchers but, in the longer term, she hopes the university will "grow our own". What she wants is not so much a track record in research, but a zeal for it.

"Teachers face problems all the time which could be research questions," she says, "and we should help set up a more rigorous approach to solve these problems."

She adds: "Once people from teaching backgrounds start looking at a problem and doing a bit of education research, they find it very exciting. What we want to try and achieve is to break down that split between research and education."

Professor Bourne, 61, appears genial and approachable. She listens carefully to questions and, in a soft South African accent, gives thought- provoking answers on the bigger picture: she recently met World Bank officials and discussed how the faculty's expertise with looked-after children could help orphans in war-torn areas.

She believes that trainee teachers, too, should see bigger pictures, for example by working on problem-solving with other students. A social worker who sees the impact of exclusion on a child, and a teacher who sees the benefit of exclusion on the class left behind, could learn from each other, she says. "It's about understanding each other's roles and putting the children at the centre - instead of focusing on the service."

Although Professor Bourne has encountered deep pride in Jordanhill's long history of training teachers, she also flags up the faculty's strengths to face the future. These include a "very good" financial position, which will allow new roles to be created. Most are still under wraps, but already a chair in teacher education is being sought to examine how the training of teachers is likely to change, and to keep track of international developments.

The nature of teacher education will also come under scrutiny, prompted by the 2011 move from Jordanhill to a pound;60 million new base on the university's main campus.

As learning becomes more personalised in schools, Professor Bourne believes any new building must reflect the need for teachers to become more flexible in response. She speculates on whether there is a need for lecture halls and static computers, or whether study and social areas should intermingle. And why shouldn't students train in more than one part of the country, or study largely at home?

She also hopes the move will forge stronger links with subjects such as sociology, psychology and music.

She has been impressed with how teacher education institutions work together in Scotland. Particular examples are the Scottish Teacher Education Committee ("there's nothing like it in England") and "revolutionary" collaboration on school placements. "In England, people scrabble and fight with each other for school placements," she says.

Professor Bourne finds herself enthused by her new surroundings. "Teachers here still feel a sense of control and the ability to innovate. In England, people would say: `Am I allowed to do that?' I don't think anyone in Scotland would ever say that to me."


Born in South Africa in 1947; moved to England in 1958; graduated from Liverpool University with BA (Hons) in philosophy in 1968.

Worked as a journalist and travelled widely, teaching English in Turkey, Spain and India.

Returned to England in 1974, became a foster parent - she later adopted the boy and has another son - and taught English as a second language in a primary school.

Gained a distinction in primary PGCE, a diploma in teaching English to speakers of other languages, and a PhD at the University of London's Institute of Education.

Worked on two major projects: a national survey of provision for bilingual pupils, and an evaluation of training of teachers of English as a second language.

In 1990, became a lecturer in primary English at the University College of Wales in Swansea, before moving to the Open University and leading development of a primary PGCE by open and distance learning.

Chair of Southampton University's school of education from 1998. Recent research included routes into teaching for teaching assistants and a Sure Start programme. Also produced reports for the Teacher Training Agency on training teachers to work in multi-ethnic classrooms.

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