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Let's talk about School Direct

Where are we now? The HEI perspective

This event was the first event of the TEAN ‘Let’s talk about …’ series. It took place at the University of Cumbria, Lancaster campus on Friday, 5 December 2014 and brought together colleagues from HEIs across England to reflect on where we are now, a year and a half after TEAN’s first events on School Direct. This debate gave the opportunity to look back, look now and then look forward to work together to produce positive outcomes from the day.

TEAN was delighted to accept papers from six colleagues who shared their experiences with the group.

Louise O’Sullivan

Louise O’Sullivan from Canterbury Christ Church University presented a paper entitled: ‘Authority vs Accountability: How do we develop the QA aspect of the university tutor role in School Direct Partnerships?’ She spoke of the nature of ‘school-led’ teacher training and shared her findings that ‘bespoke packages’ from the university for the schools had not been altogether successful. What, she asked, is the role of the university tutor?

Louise O’Sullivan, Canterbury Christ Church University
Authority vs Accountability: How do we develop the QA aspect of the university tutor role in School Direct Partnerships

How do we work in partnership to balance the issues that arise when strong teaching school alliances are allocated student numbers for School Direct and have clear ideas on how they want to develop their training programme, whilst the HEI partner bears the accountability for the School Direct partnership through its Ofsted Inspection? The university tutor role is key to the Quality Assurance of School Direct Partnerships, so how do we develop this role and those people who undertake it to ensure we have high quality partnerships as we move forward. This presentation poses some questions and shares the challenges? There is, it seems, as yet, no ‘golden answer’ to this conundrum.

Read Louise O’Sullivan’s Powerpoint

Rachel Lofthouse

Rachel Lofthouse from Newcastle University focussed on mentors, suggesting that mentoring is critical, but vulnerable as a component of work-placed learning. The schools’ core’ is quite rightly the children and young people. If the mentor has other responsibilities, they will need to take precedence. Her core argument was that School Direct needs to be recognised as workplace learning and this requires a renewed focus on the quality of mentoring.

Rachel Lofthouse, Newcastle University
Core argument; School direct needs to be recognised as workplace learning and this requires a renewed focus on quality of mentoring. Research evidence indicates that mentoring can be compromised by the urgent and growing demands of the workplace. This is a situation that needs addressing.

As the role of universities in initial teacher education is diminishing schools are expected to take more direct responsibility for the selection of prospective teachers, their training and support. For the last two decades students have been mentored in their school placements, but the new policies place an increasing burden on teachers and their senior leaders engaged in this role as student teachers become more dependent on members of the school community to fulfil functions previously shared with university colleagues. At the same time fewer students will have the experience of being in a university cohort, with the potential loss of peer support. This may increase the tendency for experiences of mentoring to vary significantly, and may mean that stake-holders, in a more dissociated ecology, overlook the common constraints and affordances in developing positively perceived outcomes.

Given these developments there is evidence from research that mentoring of student teachers in workplaces is a vulnerable practice. For example the desired outcomes of mentoring may become more narrowly defined by the stakeholders, who are pre-occupied by the demands to meet the performance targets for both pupil achievement and compliance with teacher standards. This is not to deny the importance of the quality of new teachers' classroom practice, but this technical view may lead participants in teacher education to overlook the complex, iterative and relatively fragile processes which underpin initial teacher development.

Download Rachel Lofthouse's PowerPoint

Lisa Murtagh and Karen Kilkenny

Lisa Murtagh and Karen Kilkenny from Manchester University and Sarah Misra from Staffordshire University brought us: ‘The dualistic nature of ITE.’ They spoke of the Janus effect looking in the direction of school and university at the same time and introduced us to a triangle, containing school, university and not forgetting the third crucial element – the trainee. This triangle they suggested to us needs to be stable and well-balanced and they presented us with case studies to underline their point.

Lisa Murtagh, Manchester University and Sarah Misra, Staffordshire University
The dualistic nature of ITE

ITE has long been characterised by its dualistic nature –looking towards the school in one direction and the university in the other. Such a janus-faced approach presents challenges for ITE partnerships, as all too often, trainees perceive the school to be where the practice ‘is done’ and likewise the university to be where the theory ‘is done’. As we navigate through changing times, with school-led provision becoming increasingly ‘bespoke’ do we need to exert caution? To what extent does a bespoke programme challenge or perhaps reinforce the Janus-faced dichotomy of ITE?

Download Lisa Murtagh, Karen Kilkenny and Sarah Misra's PowerPoint

Andrew Read

Andrew Read from the University of East London completed the range of excellent input with his presentation: ‘Teacher educators’ perceptions of their work in the changing landscape of School Direct’, research he has been undertaking in collaboration with Caroline Brennan and Jean Murray from UEL. Andrew noted how teacher educators' skills in teacher education are often undervalued and suggested a selection of ‘vignettes’ for us to consider.

Andrew Read, University of East London
Teacher educators’ perceptions of their work in the changing landscape of School Direct

Widespread alarm has been expressed about the large-scale and rapid implementation of the School Direct programme and its effects on the universities and teacher educators within them as traditional providers of pre-service teacher education. This paper aims to contribute to the growing literature on the effects of School Direct. It reports on a small-scale research study which aimed to investigate teacher educators’ perceptions of their work in these fast changing educational contexts.

We investigate the following questions:What kinds of work are HE-based teacher educators doing now?Is this new/different work or a continuation/adaptation of existing work?What are the knowledge bases and skills being deployed by teacher educators?Are there accompanying shifts in identities?

The paper draws on constructions of teacher educators’ work as a particular form of low-status academic labour and on theorised definitions of the knowledge and identity of the occupational group. We also draw on national policies and existing national/international literature to inform the literature review, identifying the work of teacher educators in university-led programmes prior to the implementation of School Direct. This review also feeds into the interpretive and qualitative research design. Here data collection followed two stages: first the use of informal, semi-structured interviews with HE-based teacher educators during the first year of School Direct. Second, in year 2 the implementation of questionnaires and the on-going use of a similar open-ended interview process with a more extensive, purposive sample group.

Findings show some HE staff, particularly team leaders, investing time in ‘securing’ trainees and teaching schools alliances for their HEIs and co-creating with school-based teacher educators either extensions/adaptations of existing partnerships or new ones. Teacher educators are also involved in marketing and negotiating pricing. This often involves the physical relocation of work into schools. It also involves new forms of recruitment which in turn bring shifts in gate-keeping responsibilities. Teacher educators are also negotiating new pedagogical structures e.g. revised curriculum and revised assessment procedures. This new work means forming new relationships amidst a changed economic bargain between schools and universities and shifting forms of trust. Teacher educators are then creating ‘new’ structures and relationships in action as the landscape of teacher education shifts around them, but they are also engaged in attempting to maintain some ‘old’ models of pre-service. Identities and knowledge claims change for both HE-based and school-based teacher educators as they co-create and work between and across ‘old’ and the ‘new’ structures.

Download Andrew Read's PowerPoint

Let’s talk about School Direct – Where are we now? The HEI perspective

The group debates at the event led to inspirations in presentations at the end of the day.


The groups started by considering questions which are still causing difficulties. Where is the power? One could suggest that the problem was that before School Direct, there wasn’t a problem. What exactly is School Direct? There seem to be differing views on this and it is difficult to pin down. What is it that schools want from School Direct that is different from the conventional model? QA of school-led continues to be a concern. There was a feeling that QA mentoring is the biggest inconsistency for us to try to iron out, when we have no power and don’t hold the funding as in GTP. There is a question of the essential nature of the quality mentor and how we struggle to help develop them as we are involved with QA.

There is the question of the role of the HEI in teacher formation; one could question why HEIs are involved in the process at all and wonder what exactly it is that HEIs provide. If we are looking to show a shared philosophy of Education, how does an HEI still maintain an individual identity? How can we develop sustainable, long term relationships to develop a shared vision based on trust and respect through co-construction? The question is ‘Can we?’ or ‘Can we?’ That is, is it universities or universities and schools? We are not against School Direct but simply want to work to produce quality teachers

Solutions /moving forward

In general, the groups looked for solutions or ways forward. It is our moral and ethical imperative to support the intellectual capacity of the nation, thereby securing the future of the nation. The HEI provides: critique; the lens of research; breadth; time; a depth of knowledge. This is where we need to target our arguments.

Regarding QA, we need a steering group for this. We need to be more confident to work with lead schools, shaping programmes, but also supporting better internal communications across alliances. We need to work with schools on a shared understanding of School Direct. It is however also important that we make sure that schools take responsibility for compliance issues. We need a steering group for QA and we need to discuss compliance issues right at the beginning. We need to encourage school participation in meetings by saying that decisions will be made there; minute the decisions which have been made, but make sure the alliances don’t gang up on the HEI. Speak to the schools openly, making it clear what we are bringing to the partnership, sharing data on recruitment and retention etc. Discuss making School Direct better. Accept that partnership does not have to be equal, but flexible.

How can we build relationships and form true collaboration between school and university colleagues? This necessitates regular meetings, discussions about administration, the ITT criteria, questioning one another about what we bring to the table. We need to support one another as well as cooperating, we need to broker relationships; we are stronger together. We also need to develop relationships between HEIs by having a set of principles, a particular set of agreements. Mentoring could be most powerful; the ontological glue.

We live in an age of shifting roles and we need to clarify what ours is. We need to reiterate our role and our importance. We need to train our own staff, bring practice and theory together to have the best of both. Tutors need support, new school leaders need support. Further to this, we need to ensure that trainees sign up for a programme which meets their needs. All of us share the same concerns; it is powerfully reassuring to realise this and be inspired by coming together to talk about this. We are really caught up with procedures and mechanisms and lose sight of the deeper values which should underpin them so do not let this happen. We need to make international comparisons and strive for the best we can.

Move from diversification to subversion. We have learned the neoliberal lessons of the last 30 years. The universities should set up a Professional Body (not GTC) and Produce Articles of the Profession – ‘lead ourselves out of the wilderness’, so we work in partnership with schools but in a more stable climate – take control of Teacher Education. Create something along the lines of The British Universities Teacher Training Scheme. What makes a good teacher education course – feeding into teaching standards.

We need to consider the next step – How will we work with SCITTs?

Ideas for collaborative projects

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