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Since the recent removal of the expectation of prior school experience for initial teacher education (ITE) applicants in England, there has been an emerging need for ITE providers to support trainees prior to the start of school placements. The University of Birmingham has a programme of Introductory Practice (IP): three days spent in school during the initial university-based weeks of the Postgraduate Diploma in Education. We argue that IP takes trainees into the ‘borderland’ between school and university (see Lofthouse & Wright, 2012, p. 99), supporting them in ‘dealing with the “reality shock” of being a new teacher’ (see Grossman et al., 2009, p. 177).

There are significant changes to ITE provision in England following the recent Market Review of ITT, including the introduction of Intensive Teaching and Practice (ITAP) components which are integrated school and university experiences. IP supports trainees as they engage in low-stakes ‘approximations of practice’ (Schutz et al., 2018) in supported, scaffolded environments with expert practitioners across both settings.

Research model

Our sample comprised 70 trainees and 8 teachers from the schools that hosted IP. Data were gathered through questionnaires and focus groups. This blog post focuses on responses to two questions. The first was asked of both groups: What were the benefits of IP for trainee teachers?; the second to trainees: Which aspects of IP helped you feel most prepared for starting your school placement?

Addressing ‘reality shock’

Respondents overwhelmingly felt that IP had a beneficial impact on how prepared trainees felt for starting their placements, indicating that IP has a role in mitigating ‘reality shock’. Anxiety reduction and confidence growth recurred frequently in trainees’ and teachers’ comments. One trainee commented that ‘being in a tougher school on [IP] helped show how tough it can be, so when it came to actual placement it was less of a shock’. Another observed that IP ‘helps the transition from university to placement be less daunting’. A teacher highlighted the significance of this for trainees with no school experience, as IP provides ‘a boost in their confidence … reminding them what school is like and the professional behaviours that they need to show’.

Approximations of practice: professionalism

Trainees on IP benefitted from gaining experience in the role of a teacher, an approximation of the practice of being a professional. In this borderland space, trainees gained understanding of ‘the dynamics and professionalism’ of a school and ‘getting familiar with the pattern of a school day’. They identified experiences such as: ‘it was helpful to check that my plan for how I would dress as a teacher was appropriate’; ‘allowed me to practise introducing myself as a teacher’, ‘staying on my feet all day’ and ‘managing equipment within a lesson’. A teacher supporting IP commented that ‘little things like facial jewellery caused a longer conversation than I was anticipating’.

‘In this borderland space, trainees gained understanding of “the dynamics and professionalism” of a school and “getting familiar with the pattern of a school day”.’

The low-stakes borderland environment provided a safe but authentic space to rehearse basic aspects of being a teacher, supporting trainees to be more informed and ready for placements. As one teacher stated, ‘it can be a chance to talk to pupils and stand up in front of a class for the first time without the pressure of having to see those pupils again’. A trainee observed that team teaching ‘was a nice way to just have a supportive environment, not to feel judged or uncomfortable’. Another described the feeling of teaching a lesson from start to finish that ‘was just a big barrier to overcome, quite early on’.

Trainees had an early opportunity to apply their university learning practically. A teacher commented: ‘it’s one thing to be in university and sit down and plan a lesson that you are never going to teach. I think it’s quite useful … they actually go and then deliver that activity.’ Another observed that IP ‘gives student teachers a chance to go from learning about the theory of education … to seeing it in context’.

Conclusions and implications

This blog post has argued the case for making use of the borderland between school and university in IP to build school readiness and preparedness in trainees so that they begin their first extended school placement from a stronger place. As one trainee stated, IP ‘meant we weren’t going in blind [to placement 1]’. The integrated model of university, school and placement experiences is analogous to those planned for ITAPs.

Further analysis of the particularly impactful components of IP is under way. We are seeking to inform our pedagogical approaches by improving our understanding of student experiences in the borderland. This model demonstrates the potential for learning transfer from the borderlands of both IP and ITAP. There are further questions that arise about the potential for IP to impact competencies and confidence in trainee teachers for a wider range of key practices, as well as benefitting their professionalism.


Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., & McDonald, M. (2009). Redefining teaching, re‐imagining teacher education. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15(2), 273–289,

Lofthouse, R., & Wright, D. (2012). ‘Teacher education lesson observation as boundary crossing’. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 1(2), 89–103.

Schutz, K. M., Grossman, P., & Shaughnessy, M. (2018). Approximations of practice in teacher education. In P. Grossman (ed.) Teaching core practices in teacher education (pp. 57–83). Harvard Education Press.