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Teacher education: A weapon of mass instruction?

Gerry Czerniawski

Two drivers influence nation states engaging in systemic educational reform: a baffling array of metrics on the subject of learning, performance and effectiveness; and the policy impact of international comparisons of educational achievement (Hargreaves 2014: 10). Teacher education has finally become part of that armoury. Driven by a desire to climb world rankings in educational league tables, changes in teacher training and education can be added to a list of reforms that attempt to secure greater value for money, to make education systems more responsive to the requirements of industry and commerce, and to raise pupil achievement (Livingston and Robertson 2001; OECD 2010). At the supranational level, the European Commission’s recent policy gaze on teacher education has led to the education council adopting and enacting a European agenda for improving the quality of teacher education for all countries within the European Union (European Commission 2015).

However, ‘quality’ is a fuzzy concept. Sahlberg (2012) argues that since the 1980s, five common features of education policies and reform principles have been employed as attempts to improve the quality of public education systems, including those associated with teacher education.

  1. The standardisation of education.
  2. The focus on core subjects in school (literacy, numeracy and science, for example).
  3. The search for low-risk ways to reach learning goals that encourage ‘teaching to the test’ and minimising pedagogic experimentation.
  4. The adoption of corporate management models as a main driver for improvement.
  5. The adoption of test-based accountability for schools.

Convergence has also been said to exist around certain core themes associated with the quality of those entering the teaching profession (Hulme 2016). These core themes include:

  • the quality of entrants
  • the practicum enhancement (that is, the quality of the school placement experience)
  • the imperative of career-long teacher learning
  • school leadership
  • the use of evidence, including research, to inform improvement (ibid: 37).

While the pace of change varies considerably from one context to the next, acknowledging these policy tendencies is vital for those of us debating, conceptualising and developing professional learning opportunities for teacher educators in different national locations at a time of systemic change. This acknowledgement raises questions, in terms of what is meant by ‘quality’ in teaching and learning, the impact current reforms may have on future classroom pedagogic practice, and the extent to which teacher educators are suitably professionally equipped and armed for service.

‘Uncertainty and incoherence in teacher education can create spaces into which overly simplistic definitions of teaching as “craft”, teacher knowledge as “practical” and teacher education as an “apprenticeship” can and do emerge.’

While I am no fan of conservative approaches to education in general, uncertainty and incoherence in teacher education can create spaces into which overly simplistic definitions of teaching as ‘craft’, teacher knowledge as ‘practical’ and teacher education as an ‘apprenticeship’ can and do emerge. The report from the British Educational Research Association in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (BERA and RSA 2014) highlights the importance of ‘research engagement’ – that is, the involvement of teachers and educational leaders in carrying out research and ‘research literacy’. What is meant by the latter is that teachers should be:


‘familiar with a range of research methods, with the latest research findings and with the implications of this research for day-to-day practice, and for education policy and practice more broadly.’  (Ibid: 40)

It is regrettable that teacher education has become part of the armory that I referred to at the start of this article. Experiential knowledge is knowledge forged within the immediate professional context. For teachers and teacher educators, this is valuable in its own right, but learning from context alone is a process that is inherently conservative. In considering the quality of professional learning and professional development of both teachers and teacher educators in that context, it is worth remembering that the sorcerer’s apprentice found himself in deep water through mimicking the actions of his master [sic] without the requisite skills, knowledge and attributes developed over time with rigour, scholarship and practice.

Acknowledgment: The text used for this blog draws on work just published (Czerniawski 2018), which is cited in the references below.


British Educational Research Association [BERA] and Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce [RSA] (2014) Research and the Teaching Profession: Building the capacity for a self-improving education system: Final report of the BERA-RSA inquiry into the role of research in teacher education, London.

Czerniawski G (2018) Teacher educators in the twenty-first century: Identity, knowledge and research, St Albans: Critical Publishing

European Commission (2015) ‘Strengthening Teaching in Europe: New Evidence from Teachers compiled by Eurydice and CRELL, June 2015’, Brussels and Luxembourg.

Hargreaves A (2014) ‘Foreword: Six Sources of Change in Professional Development’, in Martin L, Kragler S, Quatroche D J and Basuerman K L (eds) Handbook of Professional Development in Education, New York: Teachers College Press: x–xix

Hulme M (2016) ‘Analysing teacher education policy: comparative and historical approaches’, in Beauchamp G, Clarke L, Hulme M, Jephcote M, Kennedy A, Magennis G, Menter I, Murray J, Mutton T, O’Doherty T and Peiser G (eds) Teacher Education in Times of Change, Bristol: Policy Press

Livingston K and Robertson J (2001) ‘The Coherent and the Empowered Individual: Continuing Professional Development for Teachers in Scotland’, European Journal of Teacher Education 24(2): 184–194

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] (2010), The High Cost of Low Educational Performance, Paris

Sahlberg P (2012) ‘Global Educational Reform Movement is Here’, blog.