Empowering new teachers to close the attainment gap

20th July 2018 at 00:00
New recruits’ efforts to break down barriers will be supported by a £600K project

The new national standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy ran in schools for the first time last year. But are teachers equipped to interpret and understand the data they get from these tests and adjust their practice accordingly? How does the information they collect from their own class tests and observations impact on their lessons?

Improving new teachers’ use of data to drive up the attainment of disadvantaged children is one of the goals of a new £600,000 project being funded by the Scottish government through the Scottish Attainment Challenge.

The project, which is set to run in eight teacher education institutions, aims to better equip student teachers in their final year of university and first year of teaching to improve attainment in schools serving deprived areas.

Each institution will spend its share of the funding on the interventions it believes will make the biggest impact in its context; improving new teachers’ data literacy will be the focus for the University of the West of Scotland’s School of Education.

Stephen Day, project lead for the university, says: “We want to look at how we make our final-year students more reflective and how we encourage them to draw on the evidence. We want to explore the ways they make meaning [from] the data they get from national assessment, their formative assessment and summative assessment. How are they using that to track and adjust what they do?”

The University of the Highlands and Islands, meanwhile, has opted to look at improving attainment in composite classes because these are a common feature of small, rural schools. And the University of Edinburgh is looking to support new teachers to make better use of the outdoors in order to break down barriers to learning.

Ultimately, all the findings from the different strands will be pulled together.

The project will cost a total of £623,346 over three years and be supported by three PhD students. It is being coordinated by Moyra Boland from the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, who is also chairing the new panel looking into improving career pathways for teachers.

Boland says her own institution will be using the money it receives from the project to increase the presence of university staff in schools so that teachers early in their careers are better supported.

Academic staff from the university are already present in the schools where student teachers go out on placement, instead of being parachuted in to carry out one-off observations. Over the coming academic year, the university hopes to use the funding to maintain and increase this presence in order to build the capacity of students and newly qualified teachers to improve literacy, numeracy, and health and wellbeing.

Boland says that the increased presence of University of Glasgow lecturers in schools will not lead to new teachers being told how to close the gap. Rather, the plan is to help new teachers to create “communities of practice” through which they can work together to figure out how to remove barriers to learning faced by disadvantaged pupils in their classes.

“It will not be about a lecturer saying, ‘This is what you have got to do’,” Boland adds. “This is about a teacher-led system where teachers use their knowledge and understanding to select the pedagogy appropriate for their context, rather than a knight in white armour riding up and saying, ‘This is how you are going to work’.”

Earlier this year, Tes Scotland reported on plans to track the progress of hundreds of 2017-18 teacher education graduates as they progressed through the first five years of their careers (bit.ly/TesMQuITE).

The goal of the Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE) project is to uncover once and for all the essentials of high-quality initial teacher education. MQuITE will be funded to the tune of £400,000 by the Scottish government.

A Scottish government spokesman says that it is funding the work with new teachers “to enhance teacher education and identify effective interventions to support closing the poverty related attainment gap”.

He adds: “Our ambition is for Scotland to be the best place to grow up and to achieve that we need to raise attainment and reduce educational inequity for all of Scotland’s children and young people.”


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