One of the controversies to arise from the discussions about the government’s ITT market review is the role and place of a government mandated ITT curriculum. In 2019 the government introduced their ITT Core Content Framework (CCF), which they promoted as a minimum entitlement for trainees, and as representing the best evidence for what teacher training programmes should contain. The claim that it is based on the “best evidence” is highly refutable, but not the focus of this paper. This paper seeks to address the issue about the value of a mandated curriculum for teacher education: and in particular the important distinction between a framework for ITE content and an ITE curriculum.
What a new teacher needs to know
Firstly, let’s begin with what a new teacher needs to know. Teaching is particularly complex as teachers require a combination of practical knowledge sometimes referred to as skills, and also conceptual or research-based knowledge, for example about how children learn. There is much debate about how and why these two knowledges work together and the best way for new teachers to be inducted into them: often referred to as the theory and practice divide – the challenge to bridge this divide has dominated the literature for decades.
One of the challenges here is the way in which we commonly think about theory and practice. Theory is often perceived as abstract and disconnected; practice as tacit, behavioural and observable. We see a scientist as living in the theoretical realm, the sports person or musician operating in the practical realm. In reality of course, in most occupations, theory and practice mesh together: with the practice dimension as the most observable part and therefore, to the layperson the one that is easiest to see that would require amendment, adaptation or improvement. It is also the one that often laypeople refer to as they distinguish between new or novice practitioners and those that are more experienced.
Teaching is often seen as highly practice-based, with the theoretical part of a teacher’s knowledge relatively hidden. When teachers do make reference to their theoretical knowledge concerns are often raised as to its validity and evidential base, and when knowledge stems from conceptual argument it is often criticised as ideological.
Repertoire and reservoir
When thinking about what teachers need to know and the relationship between theory and practice, I prefer to use Bernstein’s terms of repertoire and reservoir. A new teacher requires a repertoire of strategies, techniques and behaviours to enable them to operate effectively. This repertoire might reach from the mundane (how to get students to enter a room in an orderly manner) through to the complex setting up and execution of an assessed performance, for example. All teachers need a repertoire from which they draw their teaching practice.
However, repertoires alone are not sufficient. At times, old tricks stop working, classes change and circumstances demand a new approach. It is here that teachers need their reservoir: a pool of ideas and knowledge which might come from experience, theory or research which helps them to understand and engage with what is going on in their practice. Their reservoir might help them to understand why one of their students has started behaving or engaging with their work differently; why a favourite strategy no longer seems to have the impact it had; how to support the learning of an area which appears to be blocked for some students. The reservoir is the knowledge, understanding and expertise of the teacher that informs their choices from their repertoire. And it is not generated by experience alone.
Now someone might look at the distinction above and consider these to be aligned with the Core Content Framework of “Learn how to”, and “Learn that” statements. This is a misunderstanding of these terms, as it belies the important connections between them that distinguishes the technician from the professional (see the discussion by Orchard and Winch (2015)). Take for example, the lack of distinction between the Core Content Framework and the Early Career Framework (the content of the “Learn that” column and reference list is identical) – which suggests that there is no development expected in what teachers should know between the pre-qualification year and the years that succeed it. Using the repertoire and reservoir distinction we can easily suggest that a teacher in their post qualification would broaden their repertoire, and deepen their reservoir, particularly as they encounter new practice- based situations and engage with wider networks and colleagues. Part of this distinction is the development of situated judgement. Both the terms repertoire and reservoir have an implicit element of choice: the use of judgement on behalf of the teacher: “Learn how to” and “Learn that” do not. One must select from a repertoire and draw upon a reservoir – as and when needed. It is the process of developing an adequate and sizeable repertoire and reservoir, and knowing when and how to draw upon it that marks out the new professional from the unthinking technician.
Implications for teacher education – where does the knowledge come from?
But this does not help to answer the question: how does a teacher education programme seek to support new teachers to develop their repertoire and reservoir? Let us remind ourselves that this is not a new problem, and one that has been the source of much debate often referred to as the theory/practice divide. John Furlong (2013), in his account of the development of initial teacher education in England, reminds us that there was a time when teacher education was seen as part of the liberal tradition, where teachers were inducted into the foundational disciplines of education (history, psychology, philosophy and sociology), and their limited experience of practice was kept quite separate and disconnected. Furlong argues that this approach is grounded in a personal liberal education with an emphasis on scientific and other disciplinary-based procedures to educational phenomena; and practical and moral knowledge and indeed the “disposition to behave in the right way”.
Recognising that this outmoded view of ITE programmes (as being organised around the foundational disciplines) has not been the practice for many decades (despite the rhetoric sometimes which suggests that it is current practice). Furlong and Whitty (2017) also view how this distinction between different knowledges has lent itself to different knowledge traditions internationally. They argue that education (and to some extent teacher education and how it relates to the academic field) can now be found in three knowledge traditions:
The ways in which teacher education programmes (both as initial and post-qualification) in these different knowledge traditions bring together the repertoire and reservoir depends on how they understand education to sit as a form of knowledge – i.e. how the knowledge base for teaching stems from both practice and theory. In other words, this relationship is more about cultural and historical traditions of how education is viewed than a primacy of one being more important or “right” than the other. Furlong and Whitty do not pass judgment on the various knowledge traditions. There is not an implied hierarchy between them. But they do illustrate that each present challenges particularly for teacher education. In Furlong and Whitty’s analysis they situate the government’s 2010 White paper, The Importance of Teaching, firmly in the practice knowledge tradition, because of its emphasis on what I would describe as repertoire over reservoir.
What of ITE curriculum and pedagogy?
The key aspect to recognise here is the difference between curriculum and pedagogy in how teacher education programmes are designed. Hammerness and Klette (2015) identify that even if you produce indicators for each aspect of the ITE curriculum these merely represent opportunities to learn, and do not indicate either the quality of those opportunities or the transformative potential they have for the trainees. In other words, for a practice based professional learning experience, such as teacher education, curriculum cannot take primacy over pedagogy. Taking the two in tandem, the interesting question is what transformative processes (or pedagogy) underpins the teacher education programme – how are they designed to help people learn to be teachers?
Mentoring and learning from others is a key pedagogy within models of teacher learning. A key difference between the ECF and the CCF is the recognition of different groups of people supporting new teachers: the CCF makes extensive reference to expert practitioners as well as mentors. This is in contrast with the ECF which makes only three references to mentors : two of which are in relation to Implementing the Framework where the allocation of funding is indicated both for the time for mentors to support early career teachers and also the funding for mentor training. The third is in the section on Professional Behaviours (related to Standard 8) where the early career teacher is encouraged to develop through:
Seeking challenge, feedback and critique from mentors and other colleagues in an open and trusting working environment.
With regards to experts: in each section, the Learn how to… section contains statements which:
“are drawn from the wider evidence base including both academic research and additional guidance from expert practitioners.“
The CCF however has a much stronger emphasis on the role of others in the support and development of a new teacher. Within the CCF, there are 23 mentions of mentors or mentoring, and 107 mentions of the word expert and its derivatives. Across the whole framework, the labelling and positioning of the expert is reflective of an apprenticeship model: as the Learn How to column requires new teachers to interact with experts in particular ways. Aside from the developmental statement (which appears 28 times):
And - following expert input - by taking opportunities to practise, receive feedback and improve at:
New teachers are also encouraged to interact through:
There is one incidence of where teachers are encouraged to directly use expert colleagues’ materials:
But collegiate working, and opportunities for the new teacher to take the lead are minimal. Working with expert colleagues is mentioned twice, and there is one incidence of student teachers offering something back to the school:
Contributing positively to the wider school culture and developing a feeling of shared responsibility for improving the lives of all pupils within the school (e.g. by supporting expert colleagues with their pastoral responsibilities, such as careers advice). (1)
The CCF therefore situates nascent teachers within the apprenticeship role learning from experienced (or to use their vernacular ‘expert’) colleagues. The framing of the document suggests a clear relationship; with the nascent teachers intended learning from more expert colleagues.
Within the CCF, the term reflection, in its various forms, is mentioned 5 times. Where it does appear, its presence is aligned with the substantive knowledge column of “Learn that …” positioned as content rather than as propositional knowledge: this is taken from the section on Professional Behaviours: Learn that …
Reflective practice, supported by feedback from and observation of experienced colleagues, professional debate, and learning from educational research, is also likely to support improvement.
The use of the moniker “likely” suggests only a half-hearted commitment to this approach, and indeed a degree of scepticism in its efficacy. However, in the same section, a stronger encouragement is offered, when new teachers are encouraged that Learn that …
Reflecting on progress made, recognising strengths and weaknesses and identifying next steps for further improvement
The other three mentions of reflection and reflecting are in the preamble to the CCF.
In contrast to the active verb of reflection, other more passive verbs are given higher prominence. There are:
The CCF was developed from the ECF, and by the same group of “experts”, and drawing on the same (narrow) evidence base. One area where it is distinctively different is in the references to mentoring. Mentoring is indeed a highly appropriate form of learning for an in-service professional. Processes of learning for a new professional is however very different – new professionals require induction: they need to develop (rather than build on) their repertoire and reservoir. Moreover, as former students, they also need to understand and deconstruct their images of teaching derived from their apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975). This is one of the reasons why employment-based routes into teaching are sequenced differently to non-employment-based route:
In all of these programmes mentoring is an important feature, but it is not the only form of pedagogy used. Teach First relies on a pedagogy of deliberate practice as a way of extending repertoire and focussing on successful teacher behaviours. The research-based pedagogies related to clinical practice, often used on PGCE programmes, are widely regarded as key in this initial stage of a teacher’s development according to the international research (ATCEE, 2010; Burn & Mutton, 2015; Conroy, Hulme, & Menter, 2013; McKnight & Morgan, 2019). Many programmes also rely on reflection-based activities as a way of supporting new teachers to connect what they see in practice with the body of knowledge associated with teaching (described by Korthagen (2001) as a realistic approach to teacher education). A pedagogical approach is then central to the organisation and sequencing of the ITE curriculum and must go way beyond that of the mentoring role outlined in the CCF.
Curriculum Policy and Curriculum Practice
Finally, would a mandated curriculum even be possible for teacher education? It is important to recognise that curriculum policy is distinct and quite different to curriculum practice. Mark Priestley, drawing on his recent book with colleagues on curriculum making across Europe (2021), gives a useful distinction between the different dimensions of activity around curriculum making, and in particular the difference between the macro level (“development of curriculum policy frameworks; legislation to establish agencies and infrastructure”) and the meso level (“production of guidance; leadership of and support for curriculum making; production of resources”) and from the micro level (“school level curriculum making: programme design and lesson planning”) and the nano level of the individual classroom. He emphasises the importance of the meso level in providing the support for local curriculum making and as taking place away from externally imposed accountability, arguing that this is distinctively different to the oversight and development of the curriculum at a practice level:
"Attempts to micro-manage policy implementation, for example through over-specified teacher proof curricula (so-called input regulation), have been shown to be ineffective. Fidelity from policy to practice is a pipe dream, rendered impossible by the inevitable processes of interpretation, mediation, and translation that occur as professionals operationalize curriculum policy across widely different settings.” (https://mrpriestley.wordpress.com/2021/02/28/remaking-curriculum-making-how-should-we-support-curriculum-development/)
As I have indicated above, the different types of teacher education programmes that make up the current provision across England, all require and deploy different pedagogical approaches. As such they require a different kind of curriculum infrastructure. Any attempt to prescribe the teacher education curriculum, will, as Priestley indicates be nothing more than a “pipe dream”.
ATCEE. (2010). The Clinical Preparation of Teachers: A Policy Brief. Retrieved from Washington DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
Burn, K., & Mutton, T. (2015). A review of ‘research-informed clinical practice’ in Initial Teacher Education. Oxford Review of Education, 41(2), 217-233. doi:10.1080/03054985.2015.1020104
Conroy, J., Hulme, M., & Menter, I. (2013). Developing a ‘clinical’ model for teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 39(5), 557-573. doi:10.1080/02607476.2013.836339
Furlong, J. (2013). Education - An Anatomy of the Discipline : Rescuing the University Project. Abingdon: Routledge.
Furlong, J., & Whitty, G. (2017). Knowledge traditions in the study of education. In G. Whitty & J. Furlong (Eds.), Knowledge and the study of education: An international exploration (pp. 13-57). Oxford: Symposium.
Hammerness, K., & Klette, K. (2015). Indicators of Quality in Teacher Education: Looking at Features of Teacher Education from an International Perspective. In G. K. LeTendre & A. W. Wiseman (Eds.), Promoting and Sustaining a Quality Teacher Workforce (pp. 239-277). Bingley: Emerald Publishing.
Korthagen, F. (2001). Linking practice and theory: The pedagogy of realistic teacher education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.
McKnight, L., & Morgan, A. (2019). Why ‘clinical teaching’? An interdisciplinary analysis of metaphor in initial teacher preparation. Journal of Education for Teaching, 46(1), 87-98. doi:10.1080/02607476.2019.1708629
Orchard, J., & Winch, C. (2015). What training do teachers need? Why theory is necessary to good teaching. PESGB: Salisbury.
Priestley, M., Alvunger, D., Philippou, S. & Soini, T. (2021). Curriculum making in Europe: policy and practice within and across diverse contexts. Bingley: Emerald.
 Note the government vernacular is for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and “trainees”. I prefer the terms Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and “student” or “new” teachers.
In this short paper I outline some perspectives in answering the above question. It is not intended to present an argument either for or against large scale ITT provision, but to summarise some of the perspectives generated from research in this area.
Supply and demand. The mechanics of population distribution and density are reflected in the distribution of large-scale ITT providers, which tend to locate in area of high population density (such as urban areas). This is due to a number of factors:
According to the ITT Census data 2020/21:
HEIs are also more likely to attract trainees with an Upper Second degree: total 13,253 – average of 192, across 69 providers (in comparison SCITTs: total of 5,025 and on average of 31 across 164 providers).
However, the geographical distribution of providers shows that focussing on the scale of provision does centralise around urban areas. The four largest providers University College London, Sheffield Hallam University, Birmingham City University, The Manchester Metropolitan University, Edge Hill University (near Liverpool) are all based in major urban conurbations. Large urban areas also have more choice with more than one provider.
Research into the costs and benefits of ITE (Allen et al 2014) was unable to draw any conclusions about the long-term costs and benefits of different routes, such as varying retention rates, due to a lack of the necessary data. They were also unable to consider lower economies of scale in advertising, recruitment and training or the possible shortfall in supply of newly qualified teachers that may result from less centralised (typically university-based) training.
Preferences and assumptions of applicants. Across ITT, there is an assumption about quality and scale. For example, across Australia, the highest quality programmes are assumed to be those described as boutique (Fraser & Lefty, 2018). This is based on assumption that high quality ITT requires high levels of personalisation which is best achieved on small programmes, with a smaller range of dedicated partners and one-to-one supervision. Applicants are often concerned that larger programmes will be “anonymous”, with poor levels of tutor interaction and without high quality personalised mentoring and support.
Labaree (2006), in his review of teacher education programmes across the US, highlights a paradoxical relationship between perceptions of prestige and professionalism and scale: that small scale elite programmes are viewed as more prestigious which makes teaching more attractive to better qualified graduates; large scale programmes could be seen as being easier to get into and so could be less likely to attract high achieving academic applicants.
Increased size = increased complexity. West (2017) highlights the “power laws” connected with scale: that scaling up is not a linear process, and that large scale includes super-linear advantages (eg, large cities have more services than a linear scale would suggest) there are also sub-linear disadvantages (but there is also increased crime rate, but the increase in crime is lower than the increase in services).
Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2006, 2017; 2013) have highlighted that high-quality programmes require a shared vision and consistent implementation of that vision across all aspects of the programme and across all partners. Increased student numbers make this more challenging with the corresponding increases in the number of mentors, schools, and tutors.
Opportunities of large-scale provision Research into the practices of large-scale university-based provision internationally (Brooks, 2021) has highlighted that scale can provide certain opportunities:
Brooks, C. (2021). Initial Teacher Education at Scale: Quality Conundrums. London: Routledge.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Powerful Teacher Education.: Lessons from Exemplary Programs. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Teacher education around the world: What can we learn from international practice? European Journal of Teacher Education, 40(3), 291-309. doi:10.1080/02619768.2017.1315399
Darling-Hammond, L., & Lieberman, A. (2013). Teacher education around the world: Changing policies and practices. Abingdon: Routledge.
Fraser, J. W., & Lefty, L. (2018). Teaching teachers: Changing paths and enduring debates: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Labaree, D. F. (2006). The trouble with ed schools. New Haven: Yale University Press.
West, G. (2017). Scale. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Worth, J., De Lazzari, G., & Hillary, J. (2017). Teacher Retention and Turnover Research: Interim Report. Slough: NFER.
What should teachers be prepared for when young children return after lockdown: lessons from China and elsewhere