In recent years, England’s approach to initial teacher training has shifted towards a school-led system. However, this evolution has significantly challenged the traditional role of universities, particularly regarding their contribution to the theoretical education of new teachers. This article proposes a renewed perspective on teacher education, emphasizing the need for a dual-phase initial teacher training approach involving both schools and universities.
Teachers as Professionals, Not Technicians
The move towards a school-led system has led to a reduced conception of teachers as mere technicians and craft workers. However, teaching is a far more complex profession requiring a wide range of skills beyond technical know-how. Teachers should be understood and trained as professionals with a profound understanding of their field, an ability to engage with empirical research, and a developed capacity for ethical deliberation.
The Theory Teachers Need
In addition to subject knowledge and technical skills, teachers require a firm theoretical foundation, which includes:
- Conceptual Understanding: Teachers must understand key educational concepts and the major debates about aims, curriculum, and pedagogy that shape practice in schools.
- Knowledge of Empirical Research: Teachers should be able to engage with empirical educational research and assess its quality and relevance to their practice.
- Ethical Deliberation: Teachers must think through the ethics of teaching and the challenges of ethical decision-making in the classroom.
Universities, with their expertise and resources, are well-positioned to provide this theoretical grounding.
A Proposed Dual-Phase Approach
Considering the complexity and demands of the teaching profession, this article proposes a two-phase approach to initial teacher education, with universities playing a key role in both phases:
- Initial Licensure: New entrants to the profession should first complete a nine-month Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or a three-year Bachelor of Arts with Qualified Teacher Status (BA with QTS) programme. This phase would provide them with the initial licensure necessary to begin teaching.
- Higher-grade Apprenticeship: Following initial licensure, teachers should complete a two-year, higher-grade apprenticeship. This phase would involve employment in a school but also participation in a university-based programme of study, culminating in full licensure at the Masters level.
This dual-phase approach ensures that new teachers receive both the practical experience of the school-led system and the rigorous theoretical grounding provided by universities. It acknowledges teaching as a profession that requires a combination of practice, theory, and ethical understanding.
In conclusion, the role of universities in teacher education is fundamental and irreplaceable. A shift back towards their involvement can help to foster a more comprehensive and professional understanding of teaching, thereby enhancing the quality of education in our schools.