Changes are afoot in how schools and teacher education institutions interact with one another. The changes are set out in the Teaching Council’s document on Initial Teacher Education: Criteria and Guidelines for Programme Providers and they are intended to benefit schools, student teachers and colleges. Highlights of the required changes are as follows:
- The term “school placement” will replace “teaching practice”
- TP supervisors will be known as “HEI (Higher Education Institution) placement tutors”
- HEIs and schools will collaborate on the organisation of school placement
- Teachers will be invited to provide structured support – mentoring, supervision and constructive feedback – for student teachers
- HEIs will facilitate continuing professional development (CPD) with accreditation for cooperating teachers and CPD for other members of school staff
- Schools will be asked to accommodate HEI personnel who wish to update their teaching experience
- The school placement will last for 30 weeks on concurrent (degree) programmes (up from 20 weeks at present in some colleges) and for 24 weeks on the consecutive (diploma) programmes.
- At least one school placement (in the second half of the programme) will be of 10 weeks duration in one school.
Although the details of these changes still have to be worked out in consultation between schools and HEIs, the prospect of such cooperation seems promising for developing teaching in the country. The proposals are the first system-wide attempt for many years to help student teachers integrate their school and college experiences.
The term school placement indicates that students will get the opportunity to experience school activities other than teaching. Such activities might include observing teaching, volunteering for yard duty, sitting in on staff meetings, and learning how to fill out the roll book.
Involving cooperating teachers more in supervising student teachers makes sense. Over the placement period class teachers can engage in more sustained monitoring of student teachers than the “placement tutor” can, and involving teachers in mentoring and supervising prospective teachers will allow for more immediate and sustained feedback for the apprentice teachers.
Personally, I look forward to having the opportunity to gain more school teaching experience. At present once you leave a classroom to become a fulltime, HEI-based teacher educator, it is difficult to get substantial blocks of school teaching experience. As far as I know medical educators, on the other hand, often combine surgical work with their teaching duties. Practically, teaching experience for HEI personnel could be organised on a job-share model over a school term or longer.
If college-based teacher educators, are teaching in schools, cooperating teachers and other members of school staffs could be freed up to participate in CPD offered by HEIs. Colleges will have to listen carefully to teachers in order to elicit and respond to their CPD needs.
Just one question to finish: A hospital where student doctors and nurses are apprenticed to experienced doctors and nurses is called a “teaching hospital.” Under these new arrangements, what can we call schools where student teachers are apprenticed to experienced teachers? “Teaching schools” doesn’t seem sufficiently distinctive because that term should apply to all schools. Perhaps we need to bring back the old term “model school”?