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School Improvement through Partnership in Initial Teacher Education (ITE): Some Developments in Scotland

Jim O'Brien

Vice Principal, Moray House Institute of Education


John MacBeath

Director, QIE Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Paper presented at the Tenth Annual International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement

Area D: Studies of promising Programs and their relationship to more effective schooling: ICSEI, Memphis, 6-8 January 1997.

Draft, not for quotation without prior permission of authors.


Scotland, although a small country, has been a constituent part of the United Kingdom since 1707 when it lost its Parliament but not its character, and retains formally, legally and politically a distinctive and autonomous education system (Greaves and O'Brien, 1996;). Scots are proud of such cultural differences but regret that many commentators refer to educational matters as if the policies adopted in England were universal throughout the British Isles. Scotland, for example, does not follow the National Curriculum because the 1988 Educational Reform Act does not apply north of the border where the nearest equivalent is a set of guidelines which are being released and consulted upon in a gradualist manner (Harlen and Malcolm, 1994), nor does Scotland relate to the Teacher Training Agency which has no powers over Scottish Teacher Education and Scotland does not have "Licensed" or "Articled" teachers schemes (Hellawell, 1994) preferring changes in emphasis in school-based training allied with enhanced partnership between schools and teacher education institutions (TEIs). Concern has been expressed at various times about the threat to the integrity of the Scottish educational system (Grant, 1982, p.49) with fears of being "swamped by a larger neighbour", and views expressed in the light of the educational changes in Scotland of the past decade about the claims of the 'anglicisation' of Scotland's educational system (O'Brien, 1995). Such differences, however, do not prevent approaches developed in England influencing the Scottish approach and vice versa eg the Scottish approach to the use of ethos indicators.

As Echols and Willms (1995) record, Scotland has a more uniform system of schooling than most European countries, enjoying wide acceptance by the Scottish educational community of the comprehensive state system of schooling with a series of national guidelines on curricular matters eg 'Higher Still' (SOED, 1994) in the upper stages of secondary schooling. In addition to curricular guidelines and subsequent development programmes (Boyd, 1994; Goulder, Simpson et al., 1994), guidelines exist at national level for devolved school management (SOED, 1992), staff development and appraisal of teachers (SED, 1990) and for initial teacher education (SOED, 1993).

Initial teacher education

Teachers enter the profession after completing a degree together with an appropriate professional qualification from a teacher education institution (TEI) - Scotland therefore has an all-graduate teaching profession. For Primary teachers, this may mean taking the 4 year BEd degree in Primary Education or an alternative degree followed by a one year Post Graduate Certificate in Education (Primary Education) course in a TEI. Secondary teachers will normally complete a degree then take the PGCE (Secondary Education) course in the TEI. Arrangements for Physical Education teachers involves a 4 year BEd degree (Physical Education), while Technological Education and Music teachers may pursue the PGCE route with an appropriate degree or alternatively take a 4 year specialist BEd. The BEd degree provides a university graduate education concurrently with a teaching qualification. Subsequently, all teachers must be registered with the General Teaching Council (GTC) and there is a 2 year probation period after initial qualification.

The professional training and preparation of teachers has been based on ideas of partnership for some time. The Sneddon Report (1978) was influential and recognised good practice in partnership approaches to teacher training, while the government intervened in the 1980s with a series of "guidelines" for teacher training courses illustrating the degree of political control as all courses continue to require the approval of the Secretary of State in addition to academic validation and professional accreditation by the GTC. Approval and endorsement would not be forthcoming without significant involvement by teacher professionals in initial training and the centrality of school experience which should involve close liaison between school and TEI staff to allow both sets of partners to play a full yet distinctive role in the preparation of new teachers.

Recent developments in ITE

Scotland has been heavily influenced and some might suggest dictated to by the prevailing UK political ideology and the approaches espoused by the New Right with the development of the 'market approach' in education associated with the publication of school examination results in 'league tables' and schools being quality assessed against performance indicators as benchmarks. Humes (1993) reflecting on his influential 1986 analysis considered that Thatcherite ideology characterised by demands for accountability, standards and the quest for quality, 'value for money' approaches, choice and consumerism was a significant influence for reform in Scotland (the perceived wisdom is that Scotland managed to avoid or mediate the extremes of such ideology). He cited the politician, Michael Forsyth, (who returned to the Scottish Office in the summer of 1995 as Secretary of State) as the personification of Thatcherite ideology - the "leading market ideologue" who "was remarkably successful in initiating radical reforms". Forsyth's period as Scottish Office Minister (1987-92) with responsibility for education saw sweeping changes such as School Boards (MacBeath, McCaig et al., 1992; MacBeath, 1994), and prior to taking up another government post the Minister announced in February 1992 his desire to improve teacher training arrangements in Scotland. Kirk, Principal of one of Scotland's foremost TEIs, (Kirk, p.15 1995) suggests that the

... changes that have occurred in teacher education have to be seen as integral to a wider restructuring of education and of curricular renewal, which have made new and increased demands on teachers. ..We are under an obligation, therefore, to ensure that teachers are trained to enable them to discharge effectively the new responsibilities expected of them.

Thus in recent years initial teacher education has had to change and develop in response to the policy changes involved in the development of the school curriculum and school management and governance, and as a result of policy development focused on teacher education itself. In 1992, the Scottish Office Education Department (SOED) required developments in:

partnership approaches

increased school experience for trainee teachers (moving from 50% to 66%)

greater emphasis on developing competences and professional skills of students.

ITE in Scotland has involved a substantial period of school experience allied to course components concerned with curriculum studies and professional studies. Course designers have emphasised consistently the inter-relationship of theory and practice of teaching particularly when linking the higher education based elements with school-based aspects but rhetoric sometimes belied reality. SOED published a clear statement of the competences expected of the beginning teacher; despite criticism of competence models of teaching in general (Carr, 1993), these competences far from reflecting a narrow set of professional skills and abilities encompass the development of students as teachers who are confident in their knowledge of the curriculum and the management of schools and relationships with parents and the community, effective planners, stimulating teachers, theoretically aware and who can draw on insights about children and how they learn, and who share agreed professional values (Adams, 1995).

Revitalising Partnership

The nature of the partnership, however, remains problematic. The developing approach to partnership has attempted to continue to produce high quality teacher training and has avoided the dangers of becoming too out of touch with schools unlike aspects of the American experience (Holmes Group, 1995). In 1991 an SOED study of B.Ed (Primary) courses in Scotland (p. 26, 1991), concluded, that, although TEIs had developed a degree of co-operation and partnership in the training process between school and higher education staffs, there was still "considerable uncertainty across the country about certain aspects of 'the teachers' role' ". As the role was explored and clarified it became clear that much would be expected of schools and teachers particularly in terms of assessment of student teachers. The Scottish Pilot PGCE (Secondary) Course formally introduced 'mentoring', specific partnership arrangements including training and preparation of teachers involved and importantly, paid schools who participated in the experiment. Having considered the evaluations of the Scottish Pilot PGCE (Secondary) Course 1992-93 (Cameron-Jones and O'Hara, 1993), the Scottish Office announced a Framework Document and General Principles in December 1994 which focused on partnership between TEIs, schools and education authorities and set out parameters for a Mentor Teacher Scheme.

Mentoring abandoned, Partnership enhanced?

The mentoring initiative was regarded with great suspicion by many teachers and TEI tutors - it was interpreted as an English import which heralded a potential decline in the influence of higher education and possibly moves towards a predominantly school-based approach to the training of teachers; this was not met with enthusiasm and endorsement by the teaching profession who have resisted the imposition of additional workload (in their terms) despite contractual obligations to engage with student teachers included in the Main Report enquiring into teacher pay and conditions of service (1986), and who have insisted on additional or transfer of resources from higher education TEIs to schools. This resulted in an impasse, delayed introduction of the scheme and finally abandonment in favour of a national working party under the aegis of the GTC which is to report on partnership early in 1997.

The Interactive Training Resource

In 1995, SOEID invited interested parties to tender for the development of a multimedia training resource to support the mentoring initiative. This was to be designed to meet some of the training needs of student teachers, mentor teachers, co-ordinating mentors, and TEI tutors. Initially the focus was to be mentoring skills and approaches in the context of teacher competences and enhanced partnership. The authors of this paper working in conjunction with the Scottish Interactive Technology Centre (SiTC), based in Moray House Institute successfully tendered for this commission which was subsequently to focus more on partnership issues and teacher competences as mentoring became a political liability for the government which decided to abandon its mentoring plans in the face of implacable opposition from teachers and education authorities. A pilot disk focusing on aspects of partnership was developed and its further development awaits the outcome of the GTC consideration of the range of theoretical and practical issues relating to partnership.

The multimedia resource and its relationship to more effective schools

The CDi pilot disk illustrates two scenarios:

discussion of a lesson (pre and post lesson)

dealing with contradictory advice.

Various questions and activities are built around the scenarios to allow exploration and consideration of issues, themes, skills and attitudes portrayed. Importantly, the materials are accessible by all participants in the teacher education partnership thus enabling different partners to understand, a little more, the different perspectives on the same issue. The scenes were filmed using real students and teachers working to a brief but not a script. The dialogue and its rich potential for interpretation, challenge of assumptions and evaluation and assessment of common practices both by students and the participating professionals offers professional development opportunities linked to ideas about best practice and approaches not only to student teacher development but also to school improvement. How?

Students coming to any school for experience will arrive with no pre-conceived institutional agenda and can be encouraged, if appropriately supported, to engage in relevant 'evaluation' of the school/department and its practices. Teachers at various 'management' levels within a school are seen reflecting together on how their school has presented itself to students in terms of the process of communication and approaches to teaching and learning. In other words, the presence of the students in the school is a catalyst for reflection and, given the impetus and direction, for a more sustained and systematic self-evaluation. One of the purposes of the CDi programme is to give the school that impetus and to provide it with some tools to learn along with its students, indeed to become a genuine learning organisation.

We might define the learning organisation as a place in which there is an infectious desire to learn, to talk, to share problems, to exchange good practice, to open doors, to question the most deeply held prejudices. The term 'the unlearning organisation' is enjoying a greater currency because, it is argued (Stringfield, 1996), the pre-eminent characteristic of the improving school, is its ability to challenge conventional wisdom and practice. School improvement is, says Robert Bollen (1994) a process of 'deprogramming'. It is a risk-taking business in a context where schools are often programmed into anti-risk.

While there is growing belief among policy-makers in the United Kingdom that school quality and standards can be levered up from the outside by more rigorous inspection and accountability it is not a view which is supported by research. Nor is there evidence in the literature to suggest that schools can turn themselves around without some external catalysts for change. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that professional and organisational development comes not through dictat but when it speaks to teachers about something that is of concern to them. (Joyce, 1991; Fullan and Hargreaves, 1992).

Policy-makers and administrators are often poor at understanding what motivates teachers, what kind of purposes drive them in their work. Introducing merit pay for excellent classroom teachers and linking pay to teacher appraisal, for instance, have been widely proposed in Britain as ways of motivating and monitoring classroom teachers... Neither of these measures really comes to grips with what are the main motivators for teachers: the quality of work and the working environment itself. (pp.32-33)

It is in this respect that student teachers can be a powerful lever for change from the inside. Their explicit focus is on learning and teaching in the classroom. They bring with them no change agenda and are surprised that they could be seen in that light. Yet they almost invariably return to university from their school experience with three words of counsel from teachers:- 1. Forget everything you learned 'up there'. 2. Don't go into teaching. 3. Tell us what the latest ideas are.

There is a widespread ambivalence among teachers, in many respects disillusioned by what they see as the political undermining of the profession, diminishing resources and facile arrogance on the part of those who do not teach but are keen to tell teachers what to do. Yet within their own classrooms they are, as Fullan and Hargreaves argue, motivated to do work of high quality. It should not be surprising, therefore, to discover that student teachers have a passport into schools which is not easily available to other 'school improvers' - inspectors, quality assurance teams, advisers, university tutors or researchers. Student teachers are, in many respects, the most potent of levers for change. They have many of the key attributes of effective change agents:

they have no hidden agenda to change teachers in school

they are in schools to learn

they have a passion for learning and improvement

they have an enthusiasm for teaching

they have time to plan, to read and to integrate theory and practice

they are receptive to, even eager for, feedback

they model good teaching implicitly rather than explicitly

they see things with new eyes

they stimulate change from the bottom up.

A school which is alive to the possibilities that students bring, can use them in a strategic way in school improvement. There is strong evidence to suggest that effective change is bottom up not top-down (Stoll and Fink, 1996; Macbeath and Mortimore, 1997). In other words, the small shoots of renewal at classroom level need to be nurtured within an improvement framework and endorsed by effective leadership.

One of the scenarios in the CDi resource is a meeting at which the head teacher has called together a student, a teacher, a departmental head, the university tutor, to look at the student's perspective on the school and what can be learned from that. The head teacher who chairs the meeting illustrates the skills of a listening head, and although at times resistant to suggestions from the student, tutor and staff creates an ethos in which they are free to challenge his authority and to persist with their challenge so the meeting becomes a genuine learning experience.

Even within the seven-layered hierarchy of Scottish secondary schools change can come from a student teacher breathing new life into a tired department, but such bottom-up change is unlikely to work in the longer term, however, without opportunities to reflect and evaluate, without building strong institutional coalitions, by groups gaining some institutional leverage and shared leadership.


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This document was added to the Education-line database on 19 December 2000