Tony Brown, Professor of mathematics education, Manchester Metropolitan University
What have you been working on?
I started with a couple of colleagues about five years ago who were researching a new course called the Graduate Teacher Programme where there was a very small amount of time spent in university. They were wondering what happened to the traditional university content, given the students only have nine or ten days in university.
We were trying to get a sense of what happened to theory and subject knowledge as a consequence of the university element being squeezed so much. We did that for about three years and had various articles published as a consequence.
Following that work, the university agreed to provide us with a research assistant so we could do a bit more of a wider study. For the past two and half years, we carried out more than 100 interviews to try to get a sense of how different people, differently positioned across the landscape, were experiencing the changes.
What do the findings show?
In terms of the report there has definitely been a change in how teacher education is experienced by trainees, and educators.
The big thing for me is the non-alignment with Europe; at the same time as England has gone through school-based or school-led provision, most European countries have increased training up to five years at university followed by two years in school; five years as opposed to 30 days. Does that have consequences for teachers getting jobs in other countries? There’s a European teacher network whereby you are able to get jobs in different countries if you have that sort of backing, but English teachers are not actually getting that same sort of training.
What is interesting about it?
Quite a few things, like the actual nature of the subjects taught changing because of the compression in the time at university. So, for example, if you have someone coming in from a chemistry degree they would talk in relatively sophisticated language. Traditionally the role of a PGCE would be to enable them to get that into the style of language that is more accessible to children. That side of training is much reduced now.
There’s quite a lot of other issues, but the fact the changes have been so fast has meant it’s quite difficult for long-term contracts for various people to be put in place.
There’s a sense of ongoing turbulence at university because they are never sure what their job is going to be the next year. There was one particular case where they had a relatively poor Ofsted judgment and, as a result, lost a sizeable part of their allocation and had to lay staff off.
But they were then allowed to recruit more students again, on condition they were School Direct students. So, basically, they had the same number of students two years later as they did before, but schools had a much stronger say in terms of what that student’s experience was.
What do you hope its impact will be?
There’s definitely a positive dimension to having school practice linked to teacher education provision. I don’t think theory is the main purpose of university – it is actually about enabling people to move from specialist academic areas into working with children in those areas at an appropriate level, and trying to make that development of professional capability the most important thing.
It also means some subjects such as art, drama and music are effectively squeezed out; if you are a primary generalist teacher, you might be getting two hours on art in university. On the Continent you have much more time to develop those skills.