About a year ago, the Head of our School of Teacher Education, Juliet Fern, wrote an article in the Guardian, suggesting that Universities should take a more advanced role in the way that teachers get trained later on in their career, as a way of helping stop some of the problems that we have with teacher retention in this country. What was most revealing to us as a group of academics were the “below the line” comments concerning what Juliet had written.
In between the widespread apathy and general derision towards the idea of Universities playing any kind of role in teacher education, there was a huge amount of misunderstanding and a significant lack of knowledge about what it is that teams like the one we belong to here at UOB are trying to do. Like the character of Arthur Seaton, (from Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, whose words above were subsequently appropriated by the Arctic Monkeys) we felt the need to address what people think they know about us.
Currently, we’re considering in some detail about what our PGCE should really be like. This is because we’re involved in one of those review processes that Universities conduct on a semi-regular basis. However, instead of seeing this as a box-ticking exercise, we’ve taken the opportunity, as a team, to think very carefully about what it is we believe in. A close look at the comments below Juliet’s article would suggest that we don’t believe in (or know) very much, but this is a public narrative that we would want to challenge. The fine detail can be found in our PGCE Rationale Document but perhaps more succinctly, the kind of teacher education we pursue here at UoB is about three things
- A pluralistic approach to teaching and learning
- Creating a mobile, but sustainable workforce
- Developing teachers who can think for themselves
That first one is from an academic point of view, the most important. At the heart of the PGCE course is the notion that trainees need to recognise that there are many ways of teaching the young people that we work with and that this recognition requires that they think about how they view things like knowledge, skills, pedagogy and evidence. For us as academics, it means exposing them to as many different perspectives on teaching and learning as possible, but also acknowledging that this exposure needs to happen in philosophical and theoretical terms as well as practical ones. Consequently, we are unapologetic about teaching a range of philosophical and theoretical ideas about education alongside practical strategies that trainees need in the classroom. Recent work by Steve Courtney from the University of Manchester makes this argument better than we can, but suffice to say this first principle of teacher education is tied into a belief that teacher education must be, at least, partly located in the University, and not wholly in schools.
From a professional point of view, the second principle is most important. More than ever, we need a mobile workforce, who can work in a range of different environments. We are fortunate that we have a diverse school partnership here at UoB, from the neo-traditional to the progressive and also those who reject this dichotomy. Our trainees need to be able to work in these environments and everywhere in between, and our PGCE must prepare them for this, even if the trainees don’t personally concur with the educational philosophy of a particular setting. This level of preparedness is essential in a time of massive teacher shortages.
Finally, we would conjecture that those teacher shortages have occurred because of an inability to get teachers to do the third thing on our list. We are interested in developing teachers who stay in the profession for the long term, mainly by encouraging them to think beyond their immediate environment, and to think about the bigger picture; so not asking just, “How can I contribute to this school?” but also, “How can I contribute to the wider profession through my work in a number of schools?” . Not just “Can I get a job?” but “Can I get the right job for me?”. Not just “What do I need to know to pass this course?”, but ” What do I need to know to make a successful go of the profession?” This kind of sustainable thinking about teacher education is what Juliet Fern was hinting about in her original article. It is the kind of approach to teacher education we have seen in the Netherlands, which has, historically at least, seen much better teacher retention rates.
It is also, as Viv Ellis has pointed out, similar to the approach of the Norwegians – an education system refreshingly free of some of the simplistic debate about teacher education seen on social media. We believe that this approach will produce a more resilient, more professional, more academically engaged and more effective teaching profession. Interestingly, a number of colleagues from other institutions agree with us and we particularly welcome Teacher Education Exchange’s comments on Subject Knowledge, which are in sharp contrast to some other developments in this area (It is worth noting, that many items on the Brierly Price Prior (BPP)PGCE reading list are also on ours – pluralism has advantages for everyone!) We also believe that we will make mistakes along the way, but like all education, these are the things we learn from.