Sector report: Initial teacher education 2021-2022
There are seven partnerships (comprising universities and their partner schools) of initial teacher education (ITE) in Wales. The partnerships provide undergraduate and post-graduate routes into teaching. A part-time PGCE and an employment-based route are provided by the Open University Partnership.
This year, we also undertook the first inspection of the new cycle in ITE. This was a pilot inspection, which enabled us to test our new inspection guidance and approaches.
In collaboration with the sector, we undertook two further ‘try-out’ activities virtually, to test out different inspection methodologies. In October, we published a report that summarised the main messages from the try-outs.
In September 2021, 1,402 students were recruited onto full-time ITE programmes.
Seven-hundred and eighty-five joined primary programmes and 617 began secondary programmes. In addition, 162 students (48 secondary and 114 primary) were recruited to the Open University’s routes.
After several years of poor recruitment, there was an overall increase in the number of students recruited to ITE programmes in 2019-2020. However, this year, there has been a slight decrease in recruitment. Primary numbers decreased by nearly 3%, and secondary by nearly 11%. However, this trend varied from partnership to partnership. The number of students training in secondary shortage subjects remains a concern. The recruitment of students to teach through the medium of Welsh continues to be a significant problem, particularly on secondary programmes.
Learning and well-being
Most students displayed positive attitudes towards entering the teaching profession. They particularly enjoyed their school experiences and developed good working relationships with pupils and school staff. Partnership staff felt that students developed specific qualities such as resilience and adaptability by working within the COVID-19 restrictions.
As COVID-19 restrictions eased and pupils returned to the classroom, students benefited from a renewed emphasis on well-being and behaviour in their placement schools. They learned helpful routines to organise pupils, spaces, and materials, and developed their confidence in classroom management.
Throughout the year, partnerships maintained valuable strategies to support students’ well-being that they had enhanced during the pandemic. Regular ‘check-ins’ with university tutors and peers helped students to discuss any issues and to focus on their progress. As COVID-19 restrictions lessened, students valued the opportunity to meet tutors and their peers face-to-face. This helped them to develop positive professional relationships.
Overall, partnerships made helpful use of their tracking systems to identify students who were falling behind in their progress. They implemented robust procedures to support these students. However, a minority of students occasionally struggled to manage their workload, especially when balancing the demands of assignments and preparing for teaching.
Students worked well with one another and collaborated productively on developing their teaching. They engaged well with assignments that were linked purposefully to their school experiences. However, some students regarded their academic assignments as a necessity to pass the programme, rather than a way to enhance their skills, knowledge and understanding of teaching. There was significant variability in the quality and effectiveness of students’ lesson planning.
Teaching and learning experiences
All partnerships have designed ITE programmes with a clear rationale based on education reform in Wales. As a result, students developed their knowledge and understanding of the key features of the Curriculum for Wales well. There were valuable opportunities for primary and secondary students to work across phases to explore cross-curricular work and to explore teaching and learning approaches. In a few partnerships, students, particularly those on secondary programmes, did not have a good enough understanding of effective planning to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum.
Overall, students’ exposure to effective curriculum design and delivery was too variable. This partly due to the pandemic. Students’ school experiences have been limited, and schools’ progress in curriculum development differs from school to school in pace and understanding. Furthermore, partnerships’ procedures to quality assure students’ experiences have also been affected negatively by the restrictions, resulting in a lack of unity in learning experiences.
In the best examples, there was coherence between the taught programme in school and university. There was clear communication across the partnership and the different components of the programme were aligned well to make effective links between theory and practice.
Mentors demonstrated a strong commitment to supporting their students and help them to develop teaching strategies. They used their experience well to support students, particularly with their classroom management. However, too many mentors did not engage students routinely in linking theory to practice or help them to think creatively about their teaching.
All partnerships have developed helpful electronic systems to track students’ progress and to help students take ownership of their own development. Work to ensure that tutors and mentors evaluate students’ progress in school accurately, consistently and holistically was at an early stage of development. This resource provides self-reflection questions to support the evaluation of the quality of learning experiences in initial teacher education.
All partnerships demonstrated a commitment to collaboration and a genuine desire to support the reform of ITE in Wales. All partnerships had clear leadership structures and ensured that there was representation from across the partnership at each level of leadership. Most partnerships had developed beneficial leadership sub-groups to drive the development of important areas of the partnership’s work, such as approaches to research or Welsh language development. Partnerships had begun to develop lines of accountability through their leadership structures, although, in a few instances, roles and responsibilities were not sufficiently clear.
All partnerships planned regular opportunities to reflect on the quality of the programmes and student outcomes based on data and first-hand evidence, including the views of students. However, the restrictions of the pandemic meant that partnerships had not undertaken quality assurance procedures and individual mentor development as planned. As a result, students had significantly variable experiences in their school experiences. This resource provides self-reflection questions to support the evaluation of the quality of mentoring in initial teacher education.
Although all partnerships collected a wealth of information on the views of students, they did not triangulate this well enough with other sources of evidence. Overall, self-evaluation and planning for improvement processes were not sharp enough, particularly at identifying what needs to improve in teaching and learning experiences.
All partnerships had a clear strategy to develop research and inquiry across the partnership. They were increasingly involved in national and international research. In the most effective instances, tutors and mentors drew on their own research to support students’ learning. This clear focus on developing research and inquiry represents a ‘culture shift’ in ITE in Wales and is already having a positive impact in practice in both university and schools.