Has teacher training changed much in the UK in the last 30 years? (Part I)
My experience talking to a current PGCE trainee suggests not. Read my interview to spot the piece of advice from his university that horrified me and find out why I think the sector is crying out for better training in EdTech.
With so much going on in education policy and strategy at the moment, I jumped at the chance to interview a student teacher doing their PGCE in an inner-city school with 55% free school meals to see what things look like from their viewpoint. 30 years on from when I was first in the classroom training myself, how have things changed given all the noise in the sector?
Confident and beaming with energy, James* approached me at the café. We shook hands and he sat down. In starting with the customary pleasantries, he acknowledged that he had, “hit the end of term wall”, and that he had the ubiquitous cold that befalls teachers when they take breath and power down in the holidays!
James is on his final PGCE placement and although quick to comment that “the workload is brutal”, he was also spontaneous to follow it up with, “but I’m really enjoying everything and there isn’t anything else that I’d rather be doing”. It seemed like an automatic defense reflex to an impending negative conversation about being in teaching that I think that he is used to. I said that it was great that he was enjoying teaching and we settled down to talk further.
What route did you take into teaching?
“I did a three-year degree in anthropology, then worked in sales a while before deciding that wasn’t for me, and then finally confirmed that it was teaching that I wanted to have a go at, having done volunteer work at a number of schools around sports coaching”.
With so many routes into teaching available, why did you take the Higher Education based approach?
“I wanted to go back to the university that I did my degree at, but at the same time the course offered a variety of different school placements and the coursework was much more research-led than other teacher training courses in the UK, and that interested me greatly. I’m about to start my last piece of coursework, and I’m going to a literature review of effective questioning.”
What feedback have you had on your teaching to date?
“My school mentor spends a lot of time with me, as you would expect, and my University lecturer has been in 3 times to see me teach. My school mentor coaches me on an ongoing basis; noticing certain things and then bringing them up with me. The last thing that they talked to me about before the break was about my positioning in the classroom and how I could perhaps project my voice to all of the class, even though just talking to one student. My university lecturer has seen what they’ve seen really; I’ve known when they are coming in, and tried to have an elaborate lesson going on then, their feedback has been very positive, but I wouldn’t say constructive.”
How do you reflect on your lessons currently?
“Just from memory. I look back at my lesson plans and check on the aims and objectives set compared to the progress achieved before, then consider how I could do things better. The university has suggested that we use tablets or our phones to record our lessons, then review them and delete them, but I haven’t done that yet as I don’t have a tripod or anything to hold my phone.”
What do you think of your teaching experience so far?
“Teaching has been a much greater role than I expected. I didn’t expect to be a social worker and all that entails. There is a lot happening and well-meaning initiatives around ‘mindfulness’, ‘workload’ and ‘well-being’ are everywhere. The truth is that if teachers didn’t have to do so much of the social worker aspects, then we could all concentrate on teaching and the ‘workload’ issue would take care of itself.”
What has been your best teaching experience to date?
“Oh, that’s easy. I was doing a literacy exercise with the students. It felt as though it wasn’t going so well during the lesson but then at the end all of lesson, the class teacher came up to me and asked, ‘how did you get the students to produce so much work and do so well?’ I was really chuffed.”
With so much happening in EdTech at the moment and the recent release of the Government’s Edtech Strategy, how are you using it and what teacher training have you had?
“When you mean EdTech do you mean things like the board at the front of the classroom? [I nodded to confirm] Ah, OK, I understand now. I use the interactive smartboard, not very well I don’t think, but I project the PC onto the screen and use it to show the students things. The school has sets of class iPads which are useful for when the students are doing research. I had some training on the smartboard from the class teacher but not very much, and there was nothing at University either, I guess that we are supposed to just pick it up on the job.”
We could have gone on talking for a long time and it felt like we’d just scratched the surface on the conversation. Here are my four initial reactions.
- From our conversation, it doesn’t feel like teacher training in the UK has moved on that far from my experience 30 years ago – from the pressure of the course and the level of support available to the positive experiences you get when a lesson works!
- In light of the impending Early Career Framework, I think that there is so much opportunity to offer additional coaching support to James and other NQTs to help them develop as quickly as possible so that they enjoy teaching and ultimately stay in the profession.
- Given the importance of safeguarding concerns around video to our partner schools, I was horrified that a university was suggesting that students use their own phones to record lessons, especially given KCSIE guidelines.
- It’s tragic that, given the considerable spend on EdTech by his school, James has had the most minimal of training on it, seemingly no expectations to use it or become proficient in its use. In running an EdTech business, it feels like it’s our sector’s responsibility to reach out and try and inspire the competent young blood coming into the profession in the use of EdTech.
I’m delighted that we are going to meet up again in a few weeks’ time and talk further. I’m looking forward to sharing best practice with James about our work and experiences, and seeing what his reactions are to our Lessonvu 360-degree classroom capture system and the Align Methodology that complements it, to help teachers to review and reflect on their lessons.
In a future post (already available here), I’ll report on my further conversation with James and his thoughts on the possibilities that our technology could offer.
Please have a look at the action-based work that we have achieved to date and please sign up for our newsletter. We are about to publish a number of case studies on the teachers that we have been working with and look forward to sharing that with you.
*not his real name