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Preparation for Teaching in Rural Schools

Debbie Wright
University of Plymouth (Project Leader)

Judi Osborne
Dorset Teacher Training Partnership

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Institute of Education, University of London, 5-8 September 2007


1. Overview of project: aims
2. Names and Provider Details of those Undertaking the Study
3. Introduction
4. Methodology
5. Analysis of results:

1.0 Subject knowledge per se
…… with pedagogy
1.1 Preparation for evaluating, assessing and ‘next steps’
…. with pupil development
1.2 Planning, subject knowledge and differentiation
1.3 Monitoring and assessment
1.4 Preparation and training by the Provider
1.5 Preparation for planning
…. with pupil development and pedagogy
1.6 Knowledge and understanding
1.7 Training and support from provider based tutors
1.8 Preparation and support from school based staff
2.0 Pedagogy
2.1 School & Resources
2.2 Flexibility – opportunities and challenges
2.3 Complexity of mixed age teaching
2.4 Managing behaviour
2.5 Modelling teaching
3.0 Pupil Development
3.1 Planning for children’s learning - differentiation
4.0 Attitudes
4.1 School & Relationships
4.2 School & Community
4.3 Attitude of trainees
4.4 Rural location
4.5 School’s involvement in partnership
4.6 Experience in a rural school
4.7 Seeking employment in a rural school

6 Key findings and recommendations

6.1 Subject knowledge per se
6.2 Pedagogy & Pupil Development
6.3 Attitudes


Funding from the TDA was used to develop a collaborative project between three Providers involved in initial teacher education in South West England who all have rural school partnerships. The aim was to develop a clearer understanding of the key skills, knowledge and experiences required of trainees in order to teach effectively in small rural schools. Using a semi-structured interview, each researcher interviewed up to 4 rural school-based tutors, 4 provider-based tutors and 4 trainees who had a rural placement.

The findings indicated that there were no significant differences between the three providers. Key benefits included the positive impact on trainees’ pedagogical practices and their emotional well being; good relationships between trainees and staff, children and parents; impact of trainees on school staff‘s own learning. Key challenges included trainees’ managing differentiation and mixed age planning effectively; raising trainee awareness about the nature of working and teaching in small rural schools and raising school awareness about issues of employing newly qualified teachers.

1 Overview of project: aims

  • To develop a clearer understanding of the key skills, knowledge and experiences required of trainees and later, NQTs, in order to teach effectively in small rural schools, over and above those required of other school placements.

  • To develop guidance for trainees, tutors and small schools in rural areas which will support the needs of trainees on rural placements

  • 2 Names and Provider Details of those Undertaking the Study

    Debbie Wright, University of Plymouth (Project Leader)

    Judi Osborne, Dorset Teacher Training Partnership

    Jennie Dowling, University of Gloucestershire

    3 Introduction

    The focus of this TDA funded study is the preparation of trainees to teach in small rural schools. There is no agreed definition of what constitutes a ‘small school’ (Leonard, et al, 2001: 79), or indeed, what constitutes ‘rural’, though Shucksmith’s typology (in Dowling 2005) goes some way to describe types of rural community and Galton, et al (1991) defined a ‘small rural school’ as having up to 120 children on roll and up to four teachers. The school-based partnerships of each of the three ITT providers undertaking this study include a number of small rural schools. The arguments about the advantages and disadvantages of education in small schools are well rehearsed (the Schools Council, 1975; Bell and Sigsworth, 1987). However, Leonard, et al (2001) found that assumptions about what small schools might provide in terms of professional cohesion, greater parental and community involvement should not be taken for granted. Rather, they contend that schools must work to achieve such benefits.

    In accordance with DfES/TTA (2002) requirements for ITT providers, trainees are required to undertake placements in at least two schools or settings. In a recent study by Price and Willett (2006), primary teachers were asked to consider the impact of initial teacher training upon primary schools. Most of the teachers considered that involvement in ITT helped teachers to reflect on their practice, actively considering criteria for teaching and learning, and to keep up with current standard requirements. The observation of trainees enabled teachers to develop skills in observation and monitoring of colleagues’ practice. Additionally, teachers were generally involved in planning jointly with trainees.

    However, not many teachers considered this as part of their own personal professional development. Price and Willett (2006) advocate that the lack of recognition of such benefits is disappointing since this might offer the basis for accredited professional development and portfolio evidence for promotion.

    In a study of perceptions about continuing professional development in three rural primary schools, Burns (2005: 353) concludes too that teachers need a "stronger sense of responsibility for individual professional development, grounded within the context of their role in a professional community".

    These studies indicate that ITT placements in small rural schools may offer benefits for trainees. However, the way in which placements are organised may help to enhance good practice, not only for trainees, but for teachers in schools too.

    Over the past two years the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) engaged in a dialogue with school-based initial teacher trainers to conceptualise the development of subject knowledge for teaching and related pedagogy and to express this in the form of a framework.

    Subject knowledge per se

    The essential knowledge and understanding needed in order to teach a subject effectively

    Pedagogy: subject theory and practice

    An understanding of the teaching skills and strategies needed to teach all pupils effectively

    Pupils’ development

    An understanding of how learning is linked to pupils’ development and their social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and contexts


    Positive attitudes to pupils’ learning that underpin subject knowledge, skills and understanding

    Although there is no explicit link, the elements within the framework broadly relate to Shulman’s (1987) categories of knowledge bases. School-based providers have been encouraged to use the framework and additional materials to review their provision and identify improvements and developments.

    The current study explores the way in which rural school placements may support trainees in developing their practice towards the attainment of QTS, and offers recommendations to providers and to rural schools about ways in which this provision may be enhanced. Analysis and presentation of the results are within the framework currently developed by the TDA.

    4 Methodology

    Representatives from three providers (listed above) worked collaboratively on the research project. All three providers are involved in post-graduate ITT and both universities are also involved in undergraduate ITT.

    A definition of rural school for the South West region was agreed in order to identify an appropriate sample from each provider as ‘having four or fewer classes, in an area that has a population of less than two thousand and is within thirty minutes drive of the nearest town’. The result was that no school had more than 106 pupils. This compares favourably with Galton, et al’s (1991) definition.

    It was agreed early on that the most appropriate methodology would be a semi-structured interview with sets of agreed questions and prompts but interviewees were encouraged to "develop ideas and speak more widely on the issues raised by the researcher" (Denscombe, 1998: 113). Each researcher took responsibility for interviews relating to the provider’s own partnership schools.

    Key factors thought to concern rural school placements were clustered into areas and formed into a series of open and closed questions with a set of supporting prompts as the basis for a semi-structured interview. The Standards for Qualified Teacher Status (2002) influenced the structure of the interview pro-forma and the content of each interview pro-forma was adapted slightly to meet the information required from trainees, school-based tutors and provider-based tutors. For all interviews, the questions grouped around the following areas:

  • Personal details
  • School details and context, where appropriate
  • Professional values and practice
  • Knowledge
  • Planning
  • Assessing
  • Teaching
  • ‘other’
  • assessment of trainees (where appropriate)
  • An ethics policy was agreed, the key element of which was to assure participants of confidentiality and to send copies of interview transcripts to participants to check for inaccuracies.

    A pilot school for each provider was agreed on the basis of the rural school definition and that the trainee placed there had achieved the requirements of the assessment for the placement.

    Following the pilot interviews, the providers adjusted the semi-structured interview questions and a final sample was agreed. For each provider the sample was:

  • four school-based mentors in schools that met with the ‘rural school’ definition and also:

  • four post-graduate (and, where appropriate, undergraduate trainees) who had been placed in one of the selected schools and who had achieved the requirements of the assessment for the placement.

  • to include at least one male and a mix of mature and younger trainees;

  • the programme-based tutors involved in the assessment of the trainee (up to four).

  • Initial contact with interviewees was made by telephone, loosely using a transcript, when a visit or meeting was not already arranged. This was followed by a letter of confirmation which outlined the purpose of the interview, together with a consent form. At the start of each interview the purposes of the research and details of those involved were reiterated and consent was again confirmed. Anonymity was assured both in writing and at the start of each interview. All interviews were on a one-to-one basis and were audio-taped and transcribed.

    The method of analysis of the transcripts evolved from discussion of key impressions gained from the interviews. This influenced the agreed methodology for analysing the transcribed interviews. Each transcription was coded by letters and particular features identified in the interviews that fitted into a grouping were noted. Nisbet (2005: 36) recognises this open-ended approach where "from the interview transcripts, the researcher derives interpretative categories". A trial analysis was conducted on a sample of transcripts.

    Pseudonyms for each participant and each school were agreed to be used in the report:

    5 Analysis of Results

    1.0 Subject knowledge per se …

    … with pedagogy

    1.1 Preparation for evaluating, assessing and ‘next steps’

    Many of the recommendations were generic to all placements, rural or not, and included:

  • Recognising the purpose and value of evaluations.

  • More practice using lesson evaluations to plan for ‘next steps’ in teaching and in children’s learning.

  • More examples and opportunities to try out suggested assessment techniques.

  • Examples of records of monitoring and assessment and input on keeping a file for monitoring and assessing.

  • Week-by-week expectations.

  • Jan felt the provider should update itself with changing practices in assessing children.

  • Some schools should be more aware of formative assessment "some of them hadn’t heard of Shirley Clark" and the school had few "ideas of different types of formative assessment" (Neil).

  • …. with pupil development

    1.2 Planning, subject knowledge and differentiation

    Planning is acknowledged to be a major challenge for all engaged with education in small rural schools. Angela neatly summed this up; "The main challenge [of our school] is a mixed age of teaching and planning, because the documentation is not built for mixed ages. In a class where there is Foundation, Year 1 and Year 2 in one class, […] an experienced teacher finds it challenging. And that does mean that differentiation, level of task, progression through that task, classroom management, discipline – all of those are stretched when you are [asking three year groups to do different things]." Planning, then, cannot be viewed in isolation. It has an influence on all aspects of classroom practice.

    1.3 Monitoring and assessment

    Marion commented that this was an area that trainees found difficult. She felt that providers could do more to prepare trainees for this area of practice. However, Pam suggested that when trainees were offered a good model for assessment, they should use it.

    At Violet School, Hilary saw how class teachers collated files of children’s work, so that these could be passed on to the next class as evidence for attainment and progression. Her monitoring of children developed as she became keenly aware of the small steps in individuals’ learning.

    George at Oak School identified smaller class size as a potential benefit in terms of "getting to know your individual children. In terms of building up portraits and things like that, you get to know the personality very, very quickly, not only in the one class, but in the whole school." He identified the value of using assessment information so that trainees learn how to adapt their planning. He noted that trainees were able to try different assessment techniques and recognised that some approaches suited particular children. However, some trainees were slow to appreciate the purpose and value of assessments.

    1.4 Preparation and training by the Provider

    Most tutors felt that trainees (undergraduate and postgraduate) were well prepared for their placements. Trainees were well informed about the particular school as well as rural schools in general. Thus provider’s tutors need to be knowledgeable about particular schools which can be problematic for large providers with many tutors.

    Some school-based tutors, particularly those with the small provider, emphasised the value of the trainee already being familiar with rural communities.

    Trainees and tutors recommended specific improvements to preparation, including ensuring that trainees experience a full range of curriculum expertise by making arrangements with other local schools. However some favoured the experience of learning on placement above preparation.

    The importance of debriefing back at the university, after a rural placement, was emphasised, for first year undergraduate students in particular.

    1.5 Preparation for planning

    Among recommendations by trainees and tutors was:

  • Support for mixed-age planning. This could be in the form of a planning scenario for a mixed age class or case studies for planning mixed age or cross-phase classes and could replace current trainee assessments where medium term planning is required for a single age class.

  • Schools should also give examples of lesson plans. However, Tamsin does not think it is realistic to add to an already full (PGCE) timetable when the majority of trainees may not experience mixed age teaching.

  • Julie felt that there should be a deeper awareness of special needs and differentiation earlier in a programme.

  • More help for trainees to think of creative teaching ideas

  • More help in planning systematically for teaching assistants

  • A general point was the need to ensure that trainees are aware of expectations and their progress is monitored.

  • …. with pupil development and pedagogy

    1.6 Knowledge and understanding

    Many in the sample highlighted the scope of subject knowledge required by trainees. Christine flagged the difficulties of acquiring this, emphasising the process, "they assimilate their knowledge of National Curriculum strategies gradually, don’t they? If they’re thrown into a rural school with a mixed age, especially if they have Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 all in the same class, there’s a huge knowledge based to get to grips with."

    Angela felt that, because a wider knowledge of the curriculum was important in rural schools, rural placements were useful later in a trainee’s experience. At a later stage, trainees were developing better knowledge of at least two year groups in intensive detail and an enhanced emphasis on cross-curricular work in the school was helpful for trainees. This is in contrast to Bell and Sigsworth’s description of an HEI in the late 1960s who placed their first year students in rural schools because "small rural schools were good places for beginning students to take their first steps as practitioners".(1987, p.1)

    In her discussion about planning for progression in mathematics, Josie believed that since the new frameworks will be online, it will be possible to electronically link backwards and forwards and this should aid planning for progression and differentiation.

    1.7 Training and support from provider based tutors

    Peter felt that the provider had done little to prepare trainees in knowing how to differentiate for planning in small schools, but acknowledged the support of the provider-based tutor. "What they did have was a link tutor who had a lot of experience of rural schools as she had done all of her teaching in small rural schools. So that was side of it was really good, she understood the problems and the advantages." However Neil, at Warbler believed nothing can easily prepare a trainee; "it’s something you have to go through."

    1.8 Preparation and support from school based staff

    All trainees praised the support they had received in their schools with planning, differentiation and assessment. Alice had weekly planning meetings as well as frequent meetings to review teaching and "how I could improve on it and things. And also how she felt the children … were developing and things, so that is really good."

    The school can do much to ease the trainee’s induction to the placement. One school provided an ’induction pack’, which is in contrast to another school, which had not had trainees before, were not fully prepared or fully aware of their responsibilities and this created tensions.

    More initial contact with teachers, particularly when more than one part-time teacher is responsible for a class, was proposed. Mark felt that the school should direct him to the wealth of available resources during the preliminary visit since he found out about these rather late.

    Janine wanted access to examples of the class teacher’s individual lesson plans in order to see how the plan is interpreted by the teacher. Laura identified the challenge of ensuring trainees are aware of continuity in planning when the placement is during a part of a term. However, she also emphasised that students need the confidence to ask for information.

    Further, there should be opportunities for trainees to undertake focussed observations and to engage in structured discussions to help them analyse the challenges of a rural school placement and make comparisons with other school settings.

    Many schools were aware of the need for particular support, such as a gradual build from teaching two year groups to teaching all three "so you’re sort of buffered at the beginning" (Linda) or keeping the Reception-aged children separate at the beginning in a mixed FS/KS1 class.

    2.0 Pedagogy

    2.1 School & Resources

    The schools sampled varied in the age of the main building and the number of additional temporary buildings although most schools had a separate hall. Small, cramped classrooms, particularly for those with mixed year groups, were viewed by some as a challenge, necessitating good classroom management skills. "Tiny classrooms aren’t they? Even with the small ones, sitting on the carpet is a logistical impossibility" (Julie). Multi-purpose rooms was another challenge that required forward planning.

    On the whole the schools were well equipped and one school-based tutor felt it was an advantage to be in a small school as resources did not have to be shared by as many teachers. Some trainees however felt that they had not been sufficiently directed to stored resources and two trainees commented on the lack of resources for foundation subjects. The school based tutor at Goldfinch described the need for good forward planning and Josie, a provider based tutor, emphasised the need to share information with the trainees prior to the placement, so that they were prepared for issues such as limited classroom space.

    2.2 Flexibility – opportunities and challenges

    Greg at Goldfinch was pleased to be offered freedom with his planning. The Literacy Co-ordinator offered suggestions for activities taken from the medium term planning, but offered him flexibility in what he undertook. Greg reflected that, because there were no parallel classes, there was potentially more freedom in planning, and fewer constraints on the use of resources. Neil, at Warbler, welcomed the flexibility of the small school timetable which he felt reflected a rural school ethos.

    However Peter was concerned that, "if you’re in a larger school with two or three class entry, you can join in with the class planning and all the rest of it, and…you can talk to a more experienced teacher who’s doing the same planning as you are. You can get more ideas."

    Flexibility was recognised by Bell and Sigsworth (1987:161) "Organizational informality in small rural schools and the curriculum flexibility that this permits does give more scope to their teachers to design a more integrated curriculum."

    2.3 Complexity of mixed age teaching

    The complexity of teaching a mixed age class impacted on the teaching strategies adopted as well as on planning and assessment. There was a need for trainees to consider a wider range of teaching strategies that would be of interest and challenge to a mixed range of ages. Angela commented; " you have to juggle all of those while maintaining your transitions, your pace and all the rest of it." However, many teachers were able to model teaching and learning strategies for mixed age classes. Many of the trainees were flexible and rose to the challenge of complex organisation and felt positive about the rural experience as an opportunity to quickly learn how to "manage mixed age classes and how to differentiate, to teach mixed age classes and to be flexible enough to change the programme … to incorporate whatever happens." (Tamsin)

    2.4 Managing behaviour

    Many commented that managing the behaviour of children in a rural school was less demanding than in a large urban school but this overlooked the underlying complexity "the teachers do everything by osmosis in the sense that it just kind of happens" (Nathan). For many, it was because:

  • Classes were smaller in size, the setting more intimate and so individuals were more noticeable.

  • Trainees were able to build up good relationships with the children because they were able to get to know the children better

  • In a small school teachers are also aware of children who are not in their class

  • The teachers often had the same children in their class for a number of years and so knew them very well. The children also know the teachers both professionally and personally.

  • Some attributed the better behaviour to the relative naivety of the children. Galton, et al (1991: 74) also noted that in rural areas "children were often described as not streetwise, unlike their city counterparts."

  • Some identified the ethos, "family environment … helps with the behaviour issues" (Angela). It was felt by some tutors that trainees absorb the school’s ethos simply by being there.

  • This confirms the Schools Council’s (1975) key asset of rural schools, the close relationship between teacher and child in which the child is known more intimately. Bell and Sigsworth (1987:157) also mention "the relationships which exist between teachers and pupils are more intimate, more personal and less governed by formal rules regulating behaviour than are typical of larger urban schools."

    However tutors needed to be aware of the need to make explicit their tacit management approaches, their body language and hand signals. Angela commented, "They think it’s easy and that’s my fault … they see no behaviour management from me and no classroom management, because the children know what I expect."

    2.5 Modelling teaching

    A number of tutors identified the good opportunities to observe a range of good practice and teaching styles because of the size, flexibility and friendliness of the staff. Many trainees were positive about the opportunities to apply what they had observed and to teach more because of fewer staff.

    As well as teaching strategies, teachers were modelling how to work with a teaching assistant and maintain good rapport with a wide age range. However, there was less opportunity to see models of policies, particularly if they were being rewritten, nor of records of assessment or written examples of mixed-age planning. Further with fewer teachers, the knowledge base could be more limited and finding expertise, particularly in the non-cCore subjects was a challenge for some trainees. Sometimes the expertise could be found in another nearby school.

    The staff room was usually small enough for trainees to engage with staff talking about their practice. Neil felt that "in a small school you could access the knowledge base very easily", identifying particular teachers with certain subject expertise although this could result in some teachers having too much demanded of them.

    However, some trainees found that some teachers were unwilling to be observed or that the timetable limited opportunities. Further, some schools, replaced staff with a newly qualified teacher or with a number of supply teachers and thus reduced an already limited resource. A further issue is that a supply teacher will not necessarily be accustomed to working with trainees and making her teaching strategies explicit to the trainee.

    3.0 Pupil Development

    3.1 Planning for children’s learning - differentiation

    Opportunities to raise awareness of children’s progression and develop expertise in differentiation are very evident in rural schools with relatively small mixed-age classes.

    At Warbler School, Marion considered that it was helpful for trainees to teach mixed age classes because they became familiar with the National Curriculum and differentiation. Even prior to the National Ccurriculum Bell and Sigsworth (1987:142) noted that teachers’ planning in rural schools was within a clear timescale using "schemes which took account of the extended age range of their class" and including "planned frameworks of books and equipment to ensure progress and continuity." Thematic weeks in school offered trainees opportunities to see cross-curricular events in which the whole school was involved. Marion did not see mixed age classes as problematic. However, Neil, the trainee felt that differentiation was "the hardest thing" he had ever done in his life, "in my head, I had six different tasks to do."

    Greg agreed that differentiation was the most complicated part of the planning process, but it was an area of practice that developed through experience and was not intrinsically different from that undertaken in a larger school.

    George considered that a mixed age group helps to challenge trainees’ perceptions of a child’s limitations and move beyond age-related national planning documents. Peter, the trainee in that class agreed. "An appreciation of differentiation was so important there… What I found interesting was that you can’t just go on their year to determine their level, because our year 4s were the brightest of the three year groups. In maths they sailed away; we could do year 7 work with them … it was seeing how much difference there was between some of the year 5s and some of the year 4s. So you think, well ok, each child is an individual."

    Christine mentioned the likelihood of more schools having mixed age range classes because of the falling birth rate.

    3.2 English as an additional language (EAL) and other inclusion matters

    For Marion the lack of opportunity to teach children with EAL was an issue in many schools, urban and rural. Some of the trainees had children in their class with EAL (in all cases, other European languages) but most spoke English fluently.

    However, a number of children had poorly developed language skills, as is found in city and town schools. One Headteacher thought the poor language development was a result of children on farms not talking with others "they were sat on the back of dad’s tractor with the sound of the tractor and they didn’t talk to them, and they spent the first four years of their lives not talking to people … not interacting with little groups of friends in the way others had" (Nathan).

    Janine felt that the providers’ courses should provide even more clear opportunities for knowing about working with children with EAL and from other cultures, including an expectation that trainees share their experiences.

    Some of the rural schools had traveller children and there was some opportunity to gain an understanding of the culture, for example one school organised a traveller work shop.

    4.0 Attitudes

    4.1 School & Relationships

    The overriding benefit of working in a small school appears to be the opportunity to develop good relationships with all those involved in the school and, in many cases, the community. All trainees in the sample expressed positive comments about the welcome they had received from teachers and support staff and how this had enabled them to feel part of the team. Earlier, Bell and Sigsworth (1987:156) noted that "foremost among the advantages that can reasonably be claimed for the rural school … is what is frequently referred to as its ‘family atmosphere’." They went on, "the relationships which exist between teachers and pupils are more intimate, more personal and less governed by formal rules regulating behaviour than are typical of larger urban schools" (157). They also noted the commonly heard comment about ‘everyone knowing everyone else’ and the family atmosphere.

    In some instances the ease of building relationships was favourably compared with trainees’ experiences in larger schools where it had not been possible to meet all the staff. However, despite some very positive benefits there were concerns raised. For example, a male trainee in a school mainly staffed by females complained of the lack of interesting conversations. For some schools there are split sites and in a number of small schools it is relatively common for a class to be shared between part-time teachers, which can make communication difficult.

    4.2 School & Community

    Involvement in the community also emerged as a benefit for most trainees in the study. This involvement ranged from regular visits by school governors and the vicar to other members of the community using the facilities after school hours; yoga, evening classes, church and parish council meetings were all mentioned. Bell and Sigsworth (1987:1) distinguished rural schools from larger urban schools "in the ways they worked, the social relationships within and around them, and in their community contexts."

    A strong theme highlighted by many trainees and school based tutors was the involvement of parents and the daily opportunities for meeting them at the school gate. A number of those in the sample also described a high level of parental support both in and beyond the classroom. This included support in art activities, trips, an ‘environment’ week and PPA time. The Schools Council (1975: 14) mentioned "the easy and friendly relationships which a small school staff were able to establish with parents."

    However, not all trainees had good opportunities to meet parents and some also saw the closeness of the community as a possible drawback. Neil described an incident where a teacher punished a boy in a way that did not have the support of his parents. The mother apparently "rallied support amongst the parents" some of whom were governors. Neil felt this was more likely to be an issue in a smaller school and that "if I was involved in anything like that I’d be very worried".

    4.3 Attitude of trainees

    The attitude of the trainees also emerged as an important factor. Some tutors felt that trainees were well prepared for the rural school placement as they already lived in the local community or had experienced small rural schools during their own education. The majority of trainees, whether or not they had previous experience, were positive about their experiences and keen to take part in the whole school life.

    The importance of open-mindedness was emphasised by both trainees and tutors. Trainees learned quickly how to manage a mixed age class in terms of planning, differentiating and teaching, but trainees also recognised the need to be flexible. Comments were related to the small school’s greater level of flexibility compared with a larger school. When a trainee is less flexible, the impact can be greater on a small school

    4.4 Rural location

    For most trainees remoteness was not an issue provided they had their own transport. However, one trainee relied on lifts and public transport. As a result, Jenny said that she needed to get up at 5.30 and would not return until after 7pm. In spite of this she thoroughly enjoyed teaching her class and would be "willing to do supply, even living so far away, because I do feel welcome in the school."

    4.5 School’s involvement in partnership

    Support for trainees was most effective where the school had been involved in partnership for a number of years and the school-based tutor(s) regularly attended training. Schools also valued the support of provider-based tutors who worked regularly with their school and/or other rural schools.

    It was felt that some teachers, who had been teaching in rural schools for many years could be ‘set in their ways’. Galton, et al (1991) proposed a number of ways to reduce the isolation of children and teachers in rural schools but the suggestions did not include involvement in ITE. Receiving trainees in schools can reduce professional isolation because there are opportunities to observe new strategies and approaches in practice and to make explicit to trainees one’s own tacit practices. Bell and Sigsworth (1987) had earlier questioned the stereotype of rural teacher isolation which seemed to assume, incorrectly, that teaching in a large urban school automatically removed isolation.

    School based staff in the study recognised the potential positive impact of trainees on their own practice and the opportunities for professional dialogue and continuing professional development. One Headteacher commented that that she included the school in ITT because she wanted to improve the standards of teaching and learning in the school. Trainees also recognised the value of well-prepared school-based tutors and confirmed that lack of preparation could put them at a disadvantage.

    It was also felt that within a small school it is easier to share knowledge. Most trainees had attended staff meetings and some had also been included in INSET days, such as Child Protection training. Responses highlighted the opportunities to observe and communicate with the teachers in other classes and the ways in which class teachers and school based tutors adapted the timetable to suit the needs of the trainee.

    Although some schools had previous bad experiences, this was the minority experience. Jan spoke for many when she claimed that she has had some very good trainees and was impressed with the quality.

    4.6 Experience in a rural school

    As far back as the Hadow Report (1931) young teachers were recommended to begin their ‘apprenticeship’ in small rural schools for the "opportunities for gaining valuable knowledge of individual and group methods" (in p.33 in Bell and Sigsworth, 1987: 33). In the study most trainees and many tutors also recommended that all trainees should have at least some experience (perhaps a few days) in a rural school setting, as well as some experience in a large primary school.

    Many trainees particularly valued the rural setting, the safety, quiet and the physical environment. Both trainees and school based tutors highlighted the positive educational benefits of using the local environment. Not only did trainees appreciate the village location but it was possible for them to become involved in visits to local attractions such as the pond, watercress beds, an organic farm and a stately home.

    One trainee found the area around her school to be "very picturesque", with a pond, church, canal and small general shop; "I think how nice to come to school and just feed the ducks in the morning."

    4.7 Seeking employment in a rural school

    A number of the trainees were interested in applying for a post in a rural school and some had succeeded. However others decided that there were drawbacks which would prevent them applying to a rural school for their first post e.g. older teachers, more female staff, less competition for sport related activities, greater responsibility, becoming ‘stuck’ in a smaller school.

    Some school based staff felt that their schools would employ a newly qualified teacher. However, there were expectations that the NQT would have some understanding of teaching in a small school in a village.

    6.0 Key findings and recommendations

    The outcomes of interviews showed there were no significant differences between the three providers.

    6.1 Subject knowledge per se

  • Mixed age planning was a key issue, particularly across key stages. Schools should provide exemplar material and guidance to be used by providers to enable trainees to practice mixed age planning.

  • In order to differentiate effectively in complex settings e.g. mixed Foundation Stage/Key Stage 1 classes, trainees need to be confident in pedagogic subject knowledge and knowledge of progression across a wide age range. Schools and providers should give explicit training.

  • 6.2 Pedagogy & Pupil Development

  • The local rural environment had a positive impact on both the trainees’ pedagogical practices and on their emotional well being.

  • School-based tutors, particularly in schools with a very stable staff, saw benefits in terms of their own learning about recent practices and through reflecting with the trainee.

  • 6.3 Attitudes

  • Good relationships between trainees and staff, children and parents were a key positive feature of all rural placements.

  • Trainees were so positive about being in a rural school that they recommended that all trainees would benefit from some experience of teaching in a rural setting even if this was for just a few days.

  • Providers need to raise trainee awareness about the nature of working and teaching in different types of schools, including small rural schools. This should include preparation time in the school prior to the assessed placement.

  • Rural schools that employ newly qualified teachers should be sensitive and responsive to the wider pressures and levels of responsibility held by individuals, feelings of isolation as a younger NQT amongst older staff and as a man in all female schools.

  • References

    Bell, A. & Sigsworth, A. (1987) The small rural primary school: A matter of quality, London, The Falmer Press.

    Burns, C. (2005) Tension between National, School and Teacher Development Needs: a survey of teachers’ views about continuing professional development within a group of rural primary schools, Journal of Inservice Education, 31, 2, 353-372.

    Denscombe, M. (1998) The Good Research Guide: for small-scale social research projects, Buckingham, Open University Press.

    DfES (2002) Qualifying to teach: Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial teacher Training, London, Teacher Training Agency.

    Dowling, J. (2005) Changes and challenges: key issues for Scottish rural schools and communities, (in press)

    Galton M., Fogelman, K., Hargreaves, L. & Cavendish, S. (1991) The Rural Schools Curriculum Enhancement National Evaluation (SCENE) Project: Final Report, London, DES.

    Hadow Report (1931) Report of the Consultative Committee on the Primary School, London, HMSO.

    Leonard, L., Leonard, P. and Sackney, L. (2001) Confronting assumptions about the benefits of small schools, Education Management & Administration, 29, 1, 79-96

    Nisbet, J. (2005) What is educational research? Changing perspectives through the 20th century, Research Papers in Education, 20, 1, 25-44.

    Price, A. and Willett, J. (2006) Primary teachers’ perception of the impact of initial teacher training upon primary schools, Journal of Inservice Education, 32, 1, 33-45.

    Schools council (1975) Small Schools Study, unpublished field officers’ team report in Bell, A. & Sigsworth, A. (1987) The small rural primary school: A matter of quality, London, The Falmer Press.

    Shulman, L.S. (1987) Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform, Harvard Educational Review, 57,1, 1-22.

    TDA (2007) Developing subject knowledge for teaching. Working document for use by school-based ITT training managers.

    This document was added to the Education-Line database on 13 August 2007