Stefanie Sullivan & Rupert Knight

Developing a framework for initial teacher education and beyond: Phases and strands

Stefanie Sullivan & Rupert Knight School of Education, University of Nottingham Thursday 9 May 2019

England’s Department for Education recently launched the Early Career Framework (ECF) for the first two years of a teacher’s career (DfE 2019). This initiative, welcome though it is, emphasises the challenges facing the beginning teacher and the necessity that induction into the profession extends beyond initial teacher education (ITE) programmes. The complexity of this journey inspired us to create a framework for ITE, and investigating students’ perceptions of the value of this is the subject of a small-scale research project being carried out this year. Our framework – still a work in progress – consists of strands of content intersected by phases of development, and draws on a number of theoretical perspectives.

Teacher knowledge is a multi-faceted entity, notoriously hard to define. One of the seminal models is Shulman’s (1987) characterisation of teacher knowledge, comprising dimensions such as knowledge of learners and curricula. This has been much debated since the 1980s, with particular attention paid to the influential concept of pedagogical content knowledge. Inspired by this work, and the more pragmatic requirements of current teaching standards, we identified seven strands of knowledge that can be traced through the ITE year and beyond. Each strand contains detailed content under the following headings:

  • teacher as professional
  • teacher as thinker
  • subject knowledge for teaching
  • pedagogies
  • progressing learning for all
  • curriculum
  • building positive relationships.

Of course, an individual’s engagement with each of these strands is mediated greatly by which stage of the journey they have reached. The journey of the beginning teacher has been charted in seminal models (see for example Fuller & Bown, 1975) that have remained largely consistent with more recent studies. Common to these models are features such as early survival concerns and a shift from teaching to learning. To this, the large-scale ‘Becoming a Teacher’ project (Hobson et al, 2008) notably adds a preoccupation with the perceived relevance of different aspects of training, and with emerging teacher identity. This work informed our mapping of the period from before ITE into the first years of teaching into seven phases. Detailed descriptors of a teacher’s likely progression within each strand of knowledge in any given phase are introduced by an inquiry question, giving a primary focus for the phase. For example, an early phase is encapsulated by the question, ‘How can you develop an understanding of the specialised knowledge a teacher needs?’, and a later one by, ‘Is teaching more complex than you thought?’. These questions inform our approach to teaching and support at any given period of the course, enabling all stakeholders to have a common starting point for professional dialogue.

‘Our work aims to establish a common language for all those involved in delivering initial teacher education, and provide beginning teachers with a ‘route map’, signposting achievable staging points.’

Meshing the strands and phases creates a taut, coherent framework for beginning teachers, showing how content is experienced differently as the journey progresses. We hope this serves two key purposes. Firstly, a common language is established for all those involved in delivering ITE: both university and school colleagues share an awareness of how taught sessions or weekly mentor meetings fit into the wider ongoing conversation, thereby helping to bridge this commonly identified gap (Korthagen, 2016). Secondly, beginning teachers themselves are provided with a ‘route map’, signposting achievable staging points and offering a measure of reassurance about expected progress at different stages, thus tempering anxieties and articulating the rationale for experiences encountered. As we investigate and embed the framework, an additional source of inspiration is the work of Meyer & Land (2003) on threshold concepts; we hope to refine our understanding of the beginning teacher’s journey by identifying and articulating transformative, but also potentially troublesome, concepts.

Alongside our implementation of the framework, a longitudinal research project is using a series of questionnaires and focus groups, involving primary and secondary PGCE cohorts, to chart beginning teachers’ developing understanding over time of the journey of learning to teach and their perceptions of the role of the phases and strands framework in this process. Tentative indications so far are that beginning teachers find it valuable in mapping the complexity of the teacher’s role and in moderating their own expectations of early performance. The research is supporting our belief that the framework offers a holistic ITE curriculum which embraces and celebrates the complexities of teaching while offering a coherent and reassuring support structure to beginning teachers.

Our choice of terminology in this blog is significant: ‘beginning teachers’ suggests to us a journey that extends beyond a single ITE year. Returning to the recently-launched ECF, we see future potential for mapping our framework and its seventh phase onto this model of an induction period, thereby offering a smoother transition from ITE into early career teaching.


Department for Education [DfE] (2019). Early career framework. London.

Fuller, F. & Bown, O. (1975). Becoming a teacher. In Ryan (Ed.) Teacher Education: 74th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hobson, A., Malderez, A., Tracey, L., Giannakaki, M., Pell, G. & Tomlinson, P. (2008). Student teachers’ experiences of initial teacher preparation in England: Core themes and variations. Research Papers in education, 23(4): 407–433.

Korthagen, F. (2016). Inconvenient truths about teacher learning: Towards professional development 3.0. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 23(4): 387–405.

Meyer, J. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. Edinburgh: Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses.

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1): 1–22.

Stefanie Sullivan has been involved in education for the last 31 years, first as a teacher and then a teacher educator. She is now associate professor of mathematics education and director of initial teacher education at the University of Nottingham, overseeing all the ITE provision for primary and secondary beginning teachers. Stef has taught across the primary and secondary age range and led teacher professional development programmes in the UK and overseas. She has authored several publications for teachers, regularly presents at national conferences and has been a contributing author to journal papers. Stef has developed, and leads, a postgraduate certificate in mentoring and coaching teachers. Stef has a particular interest in the learning journey of beginning teachers and how this can be best articulated; beginning teacher identity and resilience; mentoring beginning teachers; developing mathematical subject knowledge for teaching.

Rupert Knight has a background in primary teaching, working in schools in London and Nottingham, and at two HEIs. He is currently assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham, teaching on primary ITE programme and a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, including the PGCE (international) in the Middle East. Rupert’s research interests include the role of theory and practice in learning to teach, teachers as professionals, classroom talk and primary classroom pedagogies. He has authored a number of journal articles including, on the theme of this blog, ‘Postgraduate student teachers’ developing conceptions of the place of theory in learning to teach: “more important to me now than when I started”’ (Journal of Education for Teaching, 41(2): 1-16).