The Different Learning Opportunities Afforded Student Teachers in Four Secondary School Subject Departments in an Initial Teacher Education School–University Partnership in England

Feb. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 37, No. 1, February 2011, 93–106.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present paper highlights how different types of learning opportunities are available in school subject departments for student teachers even when they are working in the same school and within the same PGCE partnership scheme.

This article derives from a year-long doctoral ethnographic study (2006–2007) exploring initial teacher education (ITE) work with 15 student teachers in four subject departments (geography, history, modern foreign languages (MFL) and science) in one secondary school (for 11- to 18-year-old pupils) in the south of England.

The two research questions addressed in this study were:
(1) What are the opportunities for student teacher learning as constructed in different departments in one school?
(2) To what extent and why are these learning opportunities constructed differently?


The discussion concentrates on three different types of learning were identified in relation to ITE in the subject departments: Learning by imitation, Learning by enculturation and Learning by innovation.
Furthermore, the article also analyzes how ITE within the in order to work the learning of the student teachers.

Innovation was encouraged in the ITE work in the history department, where the head of department acknowledged different ways of teaching history and spurred the student teacher on to experiment.
The emphasis on experimentation and debate in department practices, modelled by the head of department and the mentor, promoted learning as a means of development.
The enthusiasm with which teachers discussed positive benefits of new teaching strategies opened up possible collaborative and innovative working practices for the student teacher, and the HEI’s ITE resources were used as a means for debating aspects of teaching and learning.

In contrast, learning opportunities in the geography, MFL and science departments were viewed in terms of exposing student teachers to effective practices with them then expected to adopt these once an understanding of their effectiveness was appreciated.

The mentor in the geography department adopted the learning by imitation style, where skills were outlined, discussed and displayed in anticipation of them being copied and mastered by the students.
Therefore, a lack of debate on teaching and learning in ITE prevented change in the geography department ITE practices with a consequent lack of development in the student teachers’ learning opportunities.

The form of learning by enculturation was evident in both the MFL and science departments. Curriculum coverage tended to take priority with little discussion on teaching and learning in the department ITE work. However, there were differences noted in the department practices.
In the MFL department, the focus in ITE was often not on pedagogical matters, which meant that student teachers were not automatically exposed to debates on teaching and learning.
Alternatively, department working practices strongly influenced by collective debates on teaching and learning were seen in the science department, but these were not a priority in ITE and therefore were not readily apparent to student teachers.


This research highlights that where all participants were open to learning, and open to allowing space for agency in order for learning to happen, possibilities for learning by innovation were evident.

The author concludes that it is desirable for the university and the school to help student teachers critically engage with the social practices of school departments, in order to develop teachers who are able to work with change, as they will go on to work in other school departments throughout their career.

Updated: May. 21, 2012