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Learning in school-based teacher education

Alaster Scott Douglas

Teacher education is changing dramatically in England with more student teachers learning on the job as they train through new school-based programmes. Input from higher education and university-based teacher educators is reducing with new teachers spending a greater amount of time in school. Therefore, learning to teach is increasingly reliant on learning in the workplace.

My research explores the learning opportunities available to student teachers in school settings. I worked as a researcher in a large secondary school for a year and observed the work of 15 student teachers on a postgraduate certificate of education course. I also observed their mentors and the teachers whose classes were used in the school teaching practices. I interviewed everyone involved in teacher education in the school including the university tutors who visited the school four times in the year supporting the teacher education work. The study asked how opportunities for teacher learning could be maximised and made available to all teachers in the school.

understanding of teacher learning was opened up for analysis

My research findings indicate that the learning opportunities were greatly affected by the subject department environments and by the social and cultural practices evident within them. The collaborative ethos on teacher learning, often developed through shared work of the school practitioners and university lecturers, impacted on how learning opportunities were created and viewed. Departments where learning opportunities were simply viewed in terms of exposing student teachers to effective practices with them then expected to adopt these once an understanding of their effectiveness was appreciated, offered learning by imitation and enculturation. This type of learning sometimes appeared successful within the learning context but with few alternative viewpoints expressed or choices as to how teaching and learning practices could be varied, the learning context was not fully interpreted or its complexity fully acknowledged. In other departments the student teachers’ own interpretations of practice were expected to influence learning with the university teacher educator, school mentor and teaching staff taking an active role in helping guide the student teachers’ thoughts. Using the university’s teacher education resources, understanding of teacher learning was opened up for analysis. This ensured that student teacher learning was not simply about induction into current school practices but was the kind of learning that could help them work in different contexts.

Acknowledging that learning from existing and expected ways of working in schools may constrain learning opportunities suggests that opening up discussion about learning teaching is important for enabling teachers to work with change, as most teachers will work in a variety of school contexts throughout their career. A follow up research study promoted this way of working by me as the researcher intervening in the teacher education activity by running workshops to discuss research data generated from observations and interviews in the school. The data highlighted tensions noted in the teacher education activity learning opportunities. For example, when debating ideas on pedagogy appeared to negatively impinge on personal support in working relations or when the norms of the school classroom were protected by teaching staff. As a consequence, the learning contexts were highly influential on student teachers’ teaching practices and ideas, often quashing opportunities for debate, experimentation and new learning. The workshops encouraged discussion on teacher education activity and highlighted a number of opinions on the purpose of the work. Negotiating the focus of the work highlighted the kinds of learning that was available to participants and the potential for opening up possibilities for new learning for all staff.

Schools are important settings for teacher learning and my research suggests that it is essential that they are supported in this role. Debates on teaching and learning benefit when ideas come from a broad range of sources (for example, research findings and their implications for day-to-day practice). Such ideas can be accessed through research-informed activities and ways of working often highlighted in current and previous teacher education partnerships between schools and universities. There are growing numbers of student teachers in England in work-based learning that are not taking part in university-led teacher education courses. Ways of analysing alternative experiences recognising the influence of schools in affecting the kinds of learning available to these student teachers are needed in order to increase understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of new and different approaches to teacher education.

Links to Alaster’s personal webpage and a discount flyer for the recent paperback edition of his book (May 2015) are below.