Beginning teachers ‘are not finished product’ at the end of university

Teachers do not emerge from their initial teacher education (ITE) at universities as a ‘finished product,’ a study led at the University of Strathclyde has found.

The MQuITE (Measuring the Quality of Initial Teacher Education) project found that the nature of ITE was of a process of ‘becoming,’ rather than ‘being’ a teacher, in which knowledge, understanding and skills develop and are continually refined over time.

The report also recommended that student teachers be given choice for professional learning in their induction year, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

The study, conducted over six years, reports high and stable levels of confidence and self-efficacy among ITE graduates, with little difference between primary and secondary. It also highlights the importance of the mentoring of student teachers in schools, calling for greater investment in this area.

In addition, international benchmarking using data from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has revealed that ITE outcomes in Scotland are in line with comparable countries, and are slightly above the OECD mean.

MQuITE was designed to offer a contextually appropriate means of measuring quality in ITE in Scotland, engaging with both literature and practice to inform the process. It followed the increase in routes into teaching since the 2011 publication of the Donaldson Report on teacher education in Scotland and the Scottish Government’s 2016 Education Delivery Plan.

The researchers received the views of nearly 950 early career teachers from the 2018 and 2019 cohorts and had more than 1400 individual survey responses. The project involved close collaboration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC Scotland) and all Scottish universities offering ITE; it was funded by the Scottish Government and received support from GTC Scotland and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education.

Aileen Kennedy, Professor of Practice in Strathclyde’s School of Education, co-led the study. She said: “There’s an acknowledgement that, to enhance the quality of ITE, we need to have empirical data, and empirical research ongoing, and MQuITE is part of this.

“The increase in routes into teaching is a response to a perceived need for both more teachers and for better quality teachers, particularly in closing the poverty-related attainment gap. However, there is currently no shared or consistent way of identifying or measuring ITE quality and our project seeks to address this.

“Building a self-audit tool with the MQuITE data as a baseline will enable institutions to maintain the capacity for considering their own provision of ITE. The data we have received also reveal that personal needs in continuing professional development vary across individuals and over time; this suggests a need for much more choice in early-phase professional learning.

“The whole early phase of teacher education relies heavily on mentoring, and so investing in this part of the system would have the potential to build system-wide capacity and enhance the early phase experience.

“A long-term, collaborative, national approach to developing ITE quality has had numerous positive outcomes but it requires a shared focus, and clear leadership.”

The research also revealed that new teachers view themselves on more flexible career paths than might be traditionally expected. This implies a need to understand this perspective when planning for teacher retention.

Dr Mark Carver, Research Associate on the project, said: “Around a quarter of new graduates thought they may teach abroad within the next few years, and we also reported high numbers expecting to return to further study or considering educational careers outside classroom teaching.

“There are relatively few teachers who see themselves staying in teaching roles throughout their working life, so we need to think about what professional learning and recruitment look like in a more flexible, permeable and internationalised profession.”

Issues were identified around the extent to which all partners involved in ITE, including HEI, school and local authority colleagues, share the same understanding of the purpose and approach to ITE programmes, and their respective roles in this work.

There were also concerns expressed about “power imbalances” between HEIs and schools and the potential this created for tension between them, as well as the challenges for schools in working with differing approaches of HEIs towards ITE.

However, there was considerable praise for probationary teachers from probation managers and for the work of mentors. One respondent stated: “I meet many committed, caring teachers who are invested in the growth of the student. They are wise and coach students with a good balance of encouragement and sound advice,” while another said that some mentors “…go above and beyond the call of duty to support their students’ professional learning.”