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Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Professional Resource Networks (IPRNs) - rationale and development: using research and evidence to improve teaching and learning

Marilyn Leask and Cherry White
Teacher Training Agency

Revised paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16-18 September 2004


This paper addresses one of the major challenges to those wishing to improve the quality of education, in the twenty-first century: the embedding in educational practices of new professional knowledge validated through research and evidence. Increasingly professionals are asked how do they know what works and what research and evidence is there to support practice. Twenty-first century professionals in health and medicine can expect to be asked increasingly to justify the basis on which they make decisions. The review of the evidence base for ITT practice being undertaken in the USA (AERA 2003) reveals that there is considerable scope for building the evidence base supporting ITT practice.

Research, experts, and centres of excellence and are the means by which knowledge has traditionally been created but unless research is coupled with effective processes for embedding new knowledge in professional practice, funds provided for research yield limited value for money and little impact.

In any case professional knowledge is not static. Recognition of this need for the professional knowledge base to be continually updated has been reflected in the Teacher Training Agency’s (TTA) support and development of new and existing networks of experts such as the IPRNs and similar, but more small scale, subject networks. These expert networks are collaborating to identify the knowledge base in ITT and induct less expert or new colleagues, through a recurring cycle of professional knowledge development, dissemination, evaluation and renewal. These networks are collectively called ITT Professional Resource Networks (IPRNs) and subject induction pack and programme developments.

This paper introduces the IPRN concept. A series of accompanying papers presented at BERA 2003 provided the rationale for this approach in terms of theories of professional learning.


Early in 2002 the TTA created a new directorate, the Teaching Training Support directorate with a remit which included developing, with ITT providers, the professional knowledge base in the area of ITT. From the beginning it was decided work in this area had to be appropriately targeted to build ownership and, therefore, support sustainability within the sector.

The Effective Practices and Research Dissemination (EPRD) Team is one of eight teams within this directorate. The specific remit of the EPRD team is to work with providers to build the professional knowledge base in ITT through:

- identifying, systematically, effective practices and relevant research (nationally and internationally);
- disseminating this information to stakeholders;
- commissioning research and development where gaps in knowledge and practice are identified; and
- using ICT to support the dissemination of effective practices in ITT.

The IPRN strategy is one of the strategies used by the team to support ITT experts to critique the evidence base in specific areas, to identify effective practices and to develop the knowledge base in ITT. The focus of the work is providing a research and evidence base for what initial teacher trainers need to know about and be able to do in order to train trainee teachers effectively. Several other papers covering specific areas of the EPRD team’s work were presented at the British Educational Research Association 2003 conference. One outlined the learning theories which underpin the approaches used and others provided an overview of the whole programme, the outcomes of pilot initiatives and an outline of supporting web developments (Leask (2003a,b), Arthur and Davidson 2003, Gough 2003a). These papers should be referred to for the theoretical framework supporting the approach to professional learning underpinning the IPRN strategy.

Other complementary strategies employed by the team include developing subject specific networks covering all major subject areas and systematic review teams focusing of synthesizing the evidence base in particular key areas. eg:

Previous groups funded by the TTA focused on partnership, induction, primary MFL, English, Science, behaviour, diversity.

Taken together these strategies provide coverage of a number of the major areas of professional knowledge underpinning initial teacher training. The work undertaken by the EPRD team draws on understandings, research and evidence from a range of sources many of which are referred in the attached bibliography. For example: Ball 1990, Calderhead 1988, Chitty and Simon 1993, Darling-Hammond et al 2003, Eraut 1994, Heightman 2003, Hirst 1963, Hoyle and John 1995, Simon 1994, Stenhouse 1975, Wilkin 1996 and the outcomes of the ESRC Modes of Teacher Education study. As well as these, mentioned in the text are others who have been specifically consulted to establish and critique the theoretical base for the work of the EPRD team.

As these various strategies have been implemented further priority areas are emerging. Materials developed through the strategies will be available in a web-based ITT theory and practice resource bank probably on the TTA’s web site. There are of course many other sources of evidence for ITT practice and the EPRD team in collaboration with a group of interested organisations and other non-departmental public bodies is scoping the development of a web-based search mechanism which searches web sites with high-quality materials which would support evidence informed practice. Such a development may facilitate access to the evidence base for practice.

Networking, theories of learning and the creation of new professional knowledge

The EPRD team developed these strategies following consultation with ITT providers, experts and other organizations, such as the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), General Teaching Council in England (GTCE), Department for Education and Science (DFES), and Office for Standards in Education (OfSTED). Evidence from the TTA newly qualified teacher survey was also used.

Experts in the field of professional learning and knowledge management in education and in organisations more generally were commissioned to write briefing papers presenting theories of change and professional knowledge development. These were presented and discussed at seminars. Others were commissioned to report independently on TTA consultations and evaluations of pilots. See for example Furlong (2003), Edwards (2003), Albury (2003), Murray (2003), Constable (2002), Bourne and Flewitt (2002, 2003), Gilpin (2003), Terrell and Millwood, (2002), Heightman (2003), Ellis (2003).

Others were individually consulted:

- Veronica Fraser on the National Electronic Library of Health
- colleagues from the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP- http:// Andrew Pollard, Mary Jane, Peter John
- Dick Weindling and Michael Eraut about models of professional learning.
- Judy Sebba from the DfES on systematic reviewing and on national initiatives to bring coherence to educational research -

Research and evidence drawn from previous initiatives and related to professional knowledge building and knowledge management practices have also informed the EPRD approach. See for example the work of von Krogh et al (1998), Amidon and Skyrme (1997), Chang and Kelly (1995), Davies et al (2000), Rogers (1995), Gough (2003 a,b), Gough and Elbourne (2002), Brown and Duguid (1999) and Bassey et. al. (1994).

The EPRD team’s experience includes research on various LEA, national and international initiatives undertaken over the last twenty years around national models for embedding change in professional practices and this work informed the design on the IPRN initiative. See for example: Goddard and Leask (1992), Leask (1988, 1998, 2000 a,b, 2002 a,b), Hargreaves and Hopkins (1991), TTA (1998, 1999). The value to professional learning of professional networking and the co-construction of new knowledge by expert groups working together is a recurring theme in change initiatives. See for example: Dawes 2002, Holmes et al 2001, Scrimshaw 2002, Leask and Younie 2002, Veen et al 1998, Wegerif 1998, Williams and McKeown 1996. Berieter and Scardamalia (1993) see supporting the creativity of leading and emerging thinkers as critical to professional knowledge development. Many learning theories assume the availability of an expert who can guide the learner. In the case of those who are already leaders in their fields, different theories of learning apply.

Mary James from the UK Teaching and Learning Programme (, suggests that learning theories can be divided usefully into two types – those to do with passive knowledge acquisition and those to do with active involvement in the learning process.

Learning theories encompassed within the concept of activity theory include:

- communities of practice
- situated learning
- social-constructivist theory
- co-operative/collaborative learning
- acquisition theory
- inquiry based development
- transformative learning
- active cognitive processing.

One proposition shaping the processes required in a number of contracts by the EPRD team is that for new ITT trainers, inquiry based professional development within an expert knowledge framework i.e. active learning within a social constructivist framework is more likely to lead to the embedding of new understandings realised through the inquiry into the individual’s professional practice. Bradshaw et al (2002) Russel and Thompson (2003) report a similar approach to the National College of School Leadership on-line community.

The creation of a situation where an individual experiences cognitive dissonance i.e. a situation of conflict between what they currently understand and new knowledge, is considered to provide a powerful tool for embedding new learning in an individual’s understanding and practice. One proposition underpinning the EPRD strategy is that if a professional has come to be convinced through experiential learning that particular professional knowledge and practices are valid they are considered to be more likely to change their practice than if the new knowledge is passively acquired i.e. the gap between theory and practice is likely to be less where the new learning has been internalised through active engagement with the material.

These understandings underpin the EPRD team’s proposition that active learning is usually the preferred learning model for activities which are intended to create, disseminate and embed new knowledge about effective ITT practice.

The communities of practice research (e.g. Lave and Wegner 1991, Scardamalia 1996, Wegerif 1998, Cordingley 2003, Selinger 1998, McNamara et al 2001, TTA 1998 1999, Watson et al 1998) stresses the value of professional networking (Cordingley 2003). Latterly research has identified the contributions to professional learning that electronic networks can provide in supporting professionals collaborate to create new professional knowledge (Holmes et al 2001, Scrimshaw 2003, Leask and Younie 2002) and there are now numerous examples of effective practice in the area of using electronic networks to provide opportunities for collaborative knowledge building (eg Berieter and Scardamalia and their Knowledge Forum work in Canada, Pea and colleagues at Standford and colleagues in Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University. The National College of School Leadership programmes (, the Open University ( and the British Education Communications Technology Agency (BECTa) ( can all provide examples of the use of electronic networks managed by organisations.

A pilot of the IPRN concept was tested in 2002-03 in developing the ITT professional knowledge base in Citizenship – a new subject area for teacher trainers and schools (Arthur and Davison 2003). This provided a number of lessons from which the later IPRNs are benefiting.

At the BERA conference in 2002, Professor Michael Eraut, drawing on decades of experience as a researcher in the area of professional learning, asked how the provisionality of professional knowledge would be managed by the EPRD team. His comment "professional knowledge has a half-life" and Peddiwell’s’ well known comment that if the curriculum didn’t develop, teachers would still be preparing pupils to deal with sabre-toothed tigers, are reminders that any knowledge building strategy should support cycles of review and renewal (Pediwell 1939, Eraut 1994). IPRNs have the potential for supporting these cycles of review and of being specialist think-tanks, looking to the future and building on the past.

The IPRN Concept

Thus the IPRN strategy is intended to support the management of the provisionality of the professional knowledge base through networking experts in aspects of ITT theory and practice who have a professional interest in keeping the published body of knowledge up to date and in inducting new and inexperienced teacher trainers. The web is invaluable in supporting the management of this provisionality of professional knowledge, providing a medium which can support universal access to materials as well as the rapid publication and dissemination of material and its updating in a relatively cost effective way.

One of the lessons from the national New Opportunities Fund programme training teachers in the use of ICT for pedagogical purposes (Leask 2002) was that for many teachers, personal contact is an essential part of programmes of professional development which use e-learning strategies. This is not an uncommon finding in research into network learning, hence the IPRN concept includes face to face elements supported by electronic networking.

But the IPRN concept has one markedly different feature to many existing networks. IPRNs are created to support teacher trainers to share and develop the ITT knowledge base. Staff linked into the IPRN may be involved in the creation of new professional knowledge in ITT pedagogy and content through research in their subject area or they may be involved in systematic review groups synthesising the evidence base in their area. Their work is expected to extend the boundaries of knowledge. They are in effect developers and recorders of the national knowledge base for their chosen area. Whilst new professional knowledge about educational practice will be created by experts and researchers who are not involved in ITT, it is the teacher trainers who turn this content into learning opportunities for trainee teachers. The IPRN concept focuses on supporting teacher trainers in this role.

Why not use traditional forms of research to build the ITT knowledge base?

Research reports and articles are normally used to publish new knowledge which is built on a firm evidence base. But for research to make a deep impact the dissemination phase is as important we would argue as the research phase and should attract substantial attention and funding. Yet in spite of concerns about the lack of impact of educational research and the need for strategies for improving relevance and impact (see for example: Stenhouse 1975, Bassey 1995, Cope and Gray 1979, Deem 1996, Eraut 1995, Hargreaves 1996, McIntryre 1997, McNamara 2001, Oakley 2003, Simons 1995) being widely recognised, researchers and contractors of research do not tend to see ensuring research impact as part of the research process.

Researchers within higher education are likely to get more recognition and funding from moving on to the next project. Equally researchers in independent organisations are unlikely to undertake active dissemination unless this is part of their contract.

The following figures sharply illustrate the differences between more usual research projects and the IPRN concept which emphasises reviewing research and evidence, involvement of teacher trainers and embedding of new knowledge in practice.

Figure 1: Traditional Research Process

The traditional research process forms only part of the cycle necessary to support embedding new practices suggested by research evidence.

The IPRN process aims to complete the cycle from review of the evidence base identification of gaps in knowledge and commissioning of research to embedding new knowledge in practice and reviewing the evidence for the knowledge base regularly.

Figure 2 provides an illustration of the process.

The remainder of this paper is a description, in detail, of the specification of the IPRNs and specifically the way this work is likely to be taken forward in one area.

The specification of the IPRN focused on Raising the Achievement of Pupils from Diverse Backgrounds.

The TTA NQT survey 2002 showed that many newly qualified teachers felt that their initial teacher training had not equipped them sufficiently well to teach effectively pupils from diverse backgrounds. Identifying this as a priority area for the Agency, the TTA held a consultation meeting with national experts in a variety of relevant fields in November 2002. Those present were asked to consider what trainee teachers need to know and do, what trainees need to have available to support their learning and what the TTA could do to support work in this area.

The record of the meeting (Bourne and Flewitt report 2002) clearly indicated an agreement that:

"any support mechanisms developed for ITT needed to involve the full range of stakeholders as well as drawing on expert advice within the field. Ideally, it was suggested that this would involve not simply the development of a national resource bank, but would enable the setting up of a long term, ongoing network of researchers, training providers and partner schools to share expertise and knowledge" (Bourne and Flewitt 2002).

Initial expressions of interest from collaborations of ITT providers and other organisations to develop and manage a Diversity ITT Professional Resource Network (IPRN) were invited in December 2002. In this case, the IPRN is intended to support teacher trainers to equip trainees with the skills they will need to maximise the achievement of pupils from diverse backgrounds. Those who were successful at this initial stage were invited to submit full proposals, including costs, to the TTA.

The purpose of the IPRN was set out in the full tender specification (TTA 2003) an extract from which follows and highlights the different kinds of knowledge criteria and engagement taking place within the networks:

The Diversity IPRN will act as an essential resource for developing and improving the knowledge base available to ITT trainers and ensuring its accessibility in this area.

Over the 3 years of funding the network will be expected to:


The Diversity IPRN should aim to:

The network will be expected to achieve these aims through the delivery of the above across a range of specific strands of work. Those identified in the initial tender document for expressions of interest included i) information about cultural diversity; ii) involvement with parents and the classroom; iii) ITT pedagogy; iv) mentoring; v) English as an additional language (EAL); vi) pupil self esteem and motivation; and vii) classroom practice (including interrogation of data to track individual pupil achievement). The Bourne and Flewitt report (2002) provides an indication of some of the additional strands that would be considered.


Thus the models of change, professional learning and knowledge management underpinning the IPRN concept support collaborative knowledge building, social constructivist approaches and cycles of review of the ITT professional knowledge base. Whilst the strategies employed are likely to result in the embedding of new practice and increased understanding of staff who are actively involved, a significant factor in the success of the networks will be the proportion of teacher trainers who feel the issues are important enough for them to review, develop and change practices following the advice and guidance from peers about effective practices, which will flow from the network. The involvement of less active staff will depend on the commitment of the individual institution and the understanding of senior managers about how to manage change process and the diffusion of innovation taking account of the experiences and attitudes of the staff in their institution. Rogers (1993, 1995) work on innovation diffusion in schools may be relevant here:

Watson (2000, p. 5) cites the work of Rogers (1983) in giving percentages for teachers falling into different categories related to interest in adopting change:

‘In the vanguard of change are the innovators who represent about 2.5% of the population. These people are eager for change and have a desire for the rash, hazardous and risky. Often they are socially ostracised for their attitudes. The next group is the early adopters (13.5%) who have more social acceptability than the innovators and are leaders of social opinion. This group serves as role models. The factors which seem to contribute towards a person being an early adopter include longer education, wider networks, higher levels of literacy, more contact with change agents, greater exposure to mass communication channels, active seeking of information about innovations and greater degrees of opinion leadership. The third group, the early majority (34%), follow the early adopters with deliberate willingness. The fourth group is the late majority (34%) who are more sceptical and often only take on the particular innovation as a result of economic or network pressures. The final group is the laggards (16%) who hold traditional views and may in fact adopt after the innovation has been superseded.’

This theory was tested across many countries in the recent OECD study (2002) on ICT and whole school improvement which examined the way ICT as an innovation became embedded in practice in schools. The theory was found to apply to this new situation but does it apply to change and innovation in Initial Teacher Training?

Bibliography and References

This list contains both the references in the papers presented by the EPRD team at the BERA conference 2003 and 2004 and a brief bibliography showing the variety of texts influencing the development of the strategies guiding the work of the EPRD team. The work draws on four major bodies of work which are reflected in the titles below:

- learning theories and particularly professional learning
- systemic change and diffusion of innovations
- the role of information and communications technologies particularly in supporting professional learning including through networking
- Institutional management and effectiveness including knowledge management and transfer.

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Website Links

Campbell Collaboration Steering Committee, Guidelines for the Preparation of Review Protocols (Version 1.0: January 1, 2001)

BBC History, James Lind (1716 - 1794) -

The James Lind Library -

British Medical Journal Archive -  - find website

The Cochrane Collaboration -

The Campbell Collaboration - 

EPPI Centre -


  1. N.B. audio visual materials will be separately commissioned.

  2. The TTA has commissioned the undertaking of a systematic literature review in the area of diversity.  This initial review will be completed by September 2003. The results of the review will be fed into the IPRN network and it is expected that the network will build on and development the knowledge base further with literature reviews in other aspects of ITT and diversity.

  3. The TTA has separately commissioned subject associations\organisations to develop induction packs in subject areas. Those awarded contracts are expected to ensure issues of diversity are included in the materials developed.

This document was added to the Education-line database on 23 September 2004