‘Unique’ study aims to hone teacher education

1st June 2018 at 00:00
World-leading research will prize data over ‘anecdote and sensationalist stories’

Initial teacher education has been under fire in Scotland in recent times, and now Tes Scotland can reveal details of a “unique” project designed to ensure a steady supply of high-quality teachers at a time of extreme strain on the workforce.

A report on the new project suggests that ITE in Scotland is in an unprecedented state of “flux” – which brings a significant “threat” as much as it does “exciting possibilities”.

In 2017, Scotland’s teacher-education institutions saw off the fast-track training programme Teach First, which places teachers in schools after just a few weeks. But in the process, the quality of their own programmes came under close scrutiny.

One claim to hit the headlines came from a student teacher who said that ITE graduates did not have the necessary skills to teach P7 maths.

More recently, both primary and secondary headteachers have questioned the calibre of teachers entering the system (“Concerns raised over quality of probationer teachers”, Tes Scotland, 6 April)

Teacher-education institutions have also been accused of failing to adequately cover myriad topics – from literacy to informing teachers about additional support needs. Some trainees see school placements, rather than what they learn at university, as “the real benefit of the teacher-training year”, as one student teacher put it last year when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee.

Now, however, research – described by the academics involved as “groundbreaking and unique” globally – will follow hundreds of 2017-18 teacher-education graduates as they progress through the first five years of their careers. The goal is to uncover once and for all the essentials of high-quality ITE.

Graham Donaldson, author of the seminal 2011 report on Scottish teacher education Teaching Scotland’s Future, is not involved in the new research, but says it will help to improve international understanding of the impact of teacher education. Donaldson, who sits on the Scottish government’s International Council of Education Advisers and who is a former chief inspector of education, says he hopes the study will uncover the elements of ITE that encourage teachers to be reflective practitioners, dedicated to improving and developing over the course of their careers. He also hopes that it will improve the coherence of ITE programmes.

Donaldson says: “Too often, students see theory and practice in separate boxes – you do the stuff at university to pass the exams and you learn how to teach in school. We need to get the relationship between the two much closer.”

He adds: “There is surprisingly little good research on the impact of teacher education. This [study] has the potential to contribute to our understanding of teacher education, not just in Scotland but internationally.”

The University of Edinburgh’s Aileen Kennedy and the University of Strathclyde’s Paul Adams are the principal investigators on the project, Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE). MQuITE will be funded to the tune of £400,000 by the Scottish government, and Adams will provide an early indication of progress at the Scottish Learning Festival in September.

The research – which will follow at least 300 new teachers – is a collaboration between all nine teacher-education institutions and also involves the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Kennedy acknowledges that the project could generate some uncomfortable findings. However, she believes, “the bigger danger is not to ask these questions”.

She adds: “It does not matter if we expose some things that are not great. That’s the whole point of doing it – and we can then do something about it.”

The researchers have already started to gather data and, in the coming weeks, every ITE student graduating in Scotland this year will be asked to complete an online survey about their experiences. University teaching staff and school staff are also being invited to share their thoughts (bit.ly/MQuITEsurvey).

Kennedy says: “For too long, in Scotland, we have relied on anecdote and sensationalist stories about how many hours of whichever aspect whichever teacher-education institution is doing, and making assumptions about quality from that. This research will support a more realistic and research-informed national conversation about initial teacher education.”

Adams hopes that the research might reveal the kind of ITE that encourages new teachers to remain in the profession, since a significant proportion drop out in the five years after qualification.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan says that, even though the teaching union generally supports current ITE arrangements, “an ongoing review of ITE programmes is essential”.

He adds: “There are concerns about universities transferring too much of assessment and teaching of students on to schools, without schools being resourced to provide this, and, in secondary, a lack of subject specialism emerging in university provision.”

A Scottish government spokesman says the project will provide more detailed insight and understanding of how effectively ITE prepares newly qualified teachers for the classroom.

Paul Adams will be speaking at the Scottish Learning Festival on 19 September. For more details, see bit.ly/LearningFestivalprogramme


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