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We train dogs – we must educate teachers

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In this blog, Catherine considers the importance of ensuring all teachers have an effective education in order to become great teachers.  She highlights the importance of a research and enquiry-based approach to educating teachers and suggests a move to a joined up vision of initial teacher education and the NQT year.

Dog covering its eyes with pawssThe current politically driven directive to move teacher education into an apprenticeship model (DfE 2011) is the cause of deep-seated angst for me.  Since the publication of the government white paper; The Importance of Teaching (2010) followed by Training the Next Generation of Outstanding Teachers (2011) teamed with the Secretary of State’s consistent message categorising teaching as a craft (Gove 2010), the term ‘training’ has engulfed the profession, considering hands-on contact in lessons as being the key to developing future generations of highly effective teachers.

I argue that a move in quite the opposite direction is required.

Effective teaching must be based on the ability of teachers to think critically. Teachers not only need to reconstruct and copy others’ practice, as in an apprenticeship model, but must then be able to deconstruct, critique and reflect upon their practice.  A teacher must have the capacity to do this in order to be able to continuously learn (Schon 1983). Teachers need to understand their own practice and the practice of others in order to explore reasons for their decisions, question their approaches and to critically evaluate the impact they are having on the learning. This reflective capacity is key to student and beginner teachers’ own learning (Tarrant 2013).  These skills do not develop naturally they need to be taught, be read around and discussed.  There would rarely be the space to do this in an apprenticeship model.

I am not arguing for teacher education to return solely to Universities, nor am I putting an argument against school centred teacher education. My argument is two-fold: firstly, that the term ‘initial teacher education’ must replace the idea of ‘training’ and secondly, to see a greater, equal partnership between schools and Universities in the teacher education process by combining the NQT year with that initial phase of teacher education.

You may think that the former is a matter of semantics and that I should let this go.  I would disagree.  Training and education are different.  Training suggests a practice and craft based model of teaching whereby teachers learn by being trained to perform specific actions and tasks.  Education suggests, on the other hand, that teachers undergo a period of investigation, academic reading and exploration of theory in order to develop the skills and critical understanding required to become an effective teacher.

This education affords student teachers the opportunity, over their education period, to develop robust ideas, philosophies and theories to support their own practice, a chance to understand their own practice and the practices of others.   The time in school is vital to enable this ‘practice’ to happen but equally as vital is having the education.  The balance of teaching and research based activity which is important in developing the teacher often only lasts for the duration of their teacher education programme.  This needs to be extended into the NQT year, at least, in order to ensure quality, research-informed teachers are having the best possible impact in school.

How can this short -term education process be extended?

Currently the route to becoming a fully qualified teacher is in two disjointed parts.  Part 1 is the initial teacher education (PGCE, GTP/School Direct or BA Ed) and part 2 the NQT year, with little coherence between each part. To ensure a holistic approach to gaining QTS these parts need to be reconceptualised as a combined teacher education programme.  Universities and schools would work hand in hand, not in competition, to enable beginner teachers to develop effective pedagogy, behaviour for learning approaches and assessment strategies which will form the foundations for their future development.  The current fast and furious teacher education and the political ideology of a ‘training’ approach does not allow for this, leading to a difficult transition from training to being an employed teacher (Bubb 2003 in Williams et al 2005) leaving beginner teachers to flounder in their early years in teaching, from which they may never recover.

The reconceptualisation of a robust education system for teachers is, I believe, key to improving standards within education, raising the professional identity of teaching and will begin to address the leadership shortage which many regions are experiencing. A coherent teacher education programme to achieve full QTS can achieve these goals through the following:

Developing even stronger partnerships between schools (across sectors) and with HEIs: Schools need to develop their work together within a geographical area to afford student teachers a variety of experiences during their education. This would allow for further opportunity for student teachers to move between schools in order to broaden their own skills and understanding of education.  This partnership must also strengthen existing links with HEIs to ensure that student teachers can explore education theory and policy, again supporting their continued development and understanding of education from initial teacher education especially through into the NQT year.

An ideal would be that partner schools contribute further to initial teacher education led by HEIs.  Schools would lead, as they currently do, the NQT provision supported by the HEI. This support could come in a variety of ways from leading NQT sessions, joint planning and/or joint mentoring and coaching of NQTs.

To view the NQT year as part of teacher education: Teachers are not fully qualified until the end of the NQT year – so why are they treated as fully qualified staff before this?  Those involved in teacher education (schools and HEIs) need to consider how to continue to develop their beginner teacher towards the full award of QTS.

How can schools work innovatively with HEIs and each other to continue to develop beginner teachers throughout their NQT year? 

Theory based, HEI-supported NQT sessions would work in tandem alongside the school-based input allowing student teachers to continue to develop a strong knowledge and understanding of key educational issues through critical engagement with theory and practice. An enquiry-based module would be an ideal accompaniment to the NQT programme.  To enable this to happen it is essential that the NQT remains part of the HEI community and has access to the resources and support that this offers in addition to the support and guidance received within their schools.

To support beginner teachers in the development of their classroom practice a specific observation programme could be set up allowing beginner teachers to spend time learning from others, and in other school settings e.g. special schools, primary schools or secondary schools.

These are relatively simplistic measures that can be developed with ease yet have the potential to transform the quality of future generations of teachers, entering their teaching career as fully qualified professionals confident, knowledgeable and skilled.  The importance of viewing the process of learning to teach as an education is more than a tweaking of current government, preferred terminology, but a return to what is important and that is to ensure that teachers are given the best possible education, development and support through their initial teacher education and NQT year. The potential impact must be explored.


DfE (2010): The Importance of Teaching: the schools white paper 2010.
DfE (2011): Training Our Next Generation of Outstanding Teachers: Implementation Plan.
Schon.D (1983): The reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books
Williams.A et al (2005): Smoothing the Ride: Making the NQT Year A Positive Experience. Education 3-13. 33:2 p37-40

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6 Responses to We train dogs – we must educate teachers

  1. Phil Wood
    Phil Wood Thursday, 9 May 2013 at 19:45 #

    A very interesting post, and one I very much agree with. In terms of the changes we are seeing, might it be the case that a further move to ‘training’ in a school-based system is preferred as it can be more easily managed by politicians? It is obvious that the current SoS believes the HE sector to be a power base that cannot be controlled and therefore must be diminished. This can be seen not only in the changing terms of reference for ITE but also by an assault on the apparent lack of utility and rigour in ‘educational research’. Qualitative methodologies, small-scale research, and anything which doesn’t result in an effect size are all deemed to be of little, if any, use. It occurs to me that whilst the changes which are underway are sold as giving freedom, in reality there is alignment of the various elements of education for commercialisation and privatisation.

    • Adrian Copping Monday, 12 May 2014 at 12:03 #

      I agree very much with this. I also think that ‘training’ is much more easily quality assured and so much more easily quantifiable in terms of results. Mr. Gove has oft used the analogy of training to teach being like training a brain surgeon. On the job training, one approach, you learn a method and it can be applied to a context. However, we know that a classroom is not like the human brain, there are many different contexts. For example Mr. Gove’s approach would suggest that there is such a thing as a great Yr 2 lesson on poetry, however he forgets that we need to know the children, the area they come from, what has gone beofre, their learning styles, their needs, their likes, dislikes and whether they have just had wet play before we can decide. Education is therefore vital, education to make professional judgements not training in one method.

      • Catherine Carden
        Catherine Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 07:49 #

        Adrian, Yes we can ‘control’ training and therefore control trained teachers. Educated teachers are far too dangerous! Though it is the latter that are equipped to make change happen, offer high quality experiences for our children. Let’s hope there are teachers out there that are thinking and challenging…

  2. Vanessa Young Wednesday, 15 May 2013 at 10:57 #

    A really important argument here. The placing of it in the strategic and practical context of working with schools adds to its power. Echoes of Lawrence Stenhouse (remember him?) and his notion of ‘induction’ as opposed to simply ‘training’, ‘instruction’ and ‘initiation’.

  3. Lizzie Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 11:43 #

    As my time on the BA Primary Education course comes to a close, I couldn’t agree with you more. I remember one of the first lectures in Year 1, being asked whether we were trainee teachers or student teachers? Were we to be trained or educated?

    I can’t deny I’m looking forward to leaving university and getting started in the classroom but seeing some of the recent developments in teacher education, I am pleased that I have had the time and opportunities to gain a strong understanding of a range of theories and practices. I feel that I can enter a school or classroom and give reasoned opinions on what I observe, something that I am not sure new teachers who learn on the job in one school setting will feel confident or able to do.

    • Catherine Carden
      Catherine Saturday, 8 June 2013 at 21:30 #

      Perhaps consider ways in which you could aid development of this approach to a joined up PGCE/NQT year.
      How could you drive this relationship as a student teacher/NQT?
      You have taken the first step and that is to engage in educational discussion through mechanisms such as the Faculty Blog – well done!