The Universities and initial teacher education; challenging the discourse of derision. The case of Wales

July, 2019

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 25:5, 574-588

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper aims to describe recent developments in Wales—a part of the UK that has had devolved powers in matters of educational policy for the last 20 years. In 2013 the Welsh government, like its US and Australian counterparts, became concerned about the quality of its existing university led provision (Estyn, 2013; OECD, 2014; Tabberer, 2013).
However, in explicit contrast to developments in other countries, rather than undermine or managerially control the contribution of universities, Wales chose to reaffirm them.
There were however to be important changes for universities; changes that insisted that they put the learning of the student teacher at the heart of their course planning, that they clarify their own distinctive contribution to professional learning and that they work in close collaboration with schools.
It is through the structured coming together of both universities and their partner schools that Wales hopes to address many of the criticisms of university led teacher education of the past.
While the idea of schools and universities working in close partnership for the provision of ITE (initial teacher education) is not new (Tatto, Burn, Menter, Mutton, & Thompson, 2016), what is new is that this is the first time that such a model has been tried within a legislative framework and on a national scale.
This is the framework for the reform of ITE in Wales; reforms that insist that there is still a vitally important contribution to be made by universities, but working, not as they were before, but in close collaboration with those in schools.
Given the radical changes that have overtaken England, Wales’ closest and highly influential neighbour, the author argues that it is only by developing programmes based on these principles that Welsh universities can indeed survive as major contributors.
But as the author argues, none of these principles is new; much of the research pointing to the importance of different forms of professional knowledge involved in learning to teach; much of the research on how we develop effective programmes in ways that support student learning—all of this has been established for many years.
What is new in Wales is that this approach to ITE is based in a clear legislative framework and overseen by a professional body, the Education Workforce Council, that is fully committed to these principles and to seeing them implemented across the country as a whole.
The fact that the same principles will soon be embedded within a revised inspection framework developed by Estyn is also new and likely to be another powerful pressure to support the reform process.
As a result, over the course of the last two years, all of those universities in Wales wishing to continue to offer ITE in the future have undergone the accreditation process.
New courses have been designed in close collaboration with partner schools; new strategies have been piloted to give student teachers the opportunity to engage in both the practical and the intellectual aspects of learning to teach and to interrogate those different forms of professional knowledge one against the other.
There is also a new recognition of the importance of research amongst partnership schools and substantially increased support for research capacity development from local universities.
Substantial investments have been made by universities, transferring funds to schools to support their contribution to ITE and supporting their own staff to ensure that they all have the appropriate qualifications, are fully integrated to the ‘scholarly culture’ of the university and supported to become research active.
Finally, new accountability structures have been established so that partner schools as well as universities accept responsibilities for the quality of provision.
The depth and speed of the reforms the author suggests would have been very unlikely to happen without that legislative framework.
But, the author asks, will this radical transformation actually work?
Will it challenge the overwhelming ‘discourse of derision’ (Ball, 1990) that has been poured on our universities and their contribution to professional education over the last decades?
Of course, it is far too early to say with confidence.
It will depend on whether or not the new school-university partnerships do indeed raise both the quality and the relevance of their courses for new teachers and whether schools and universities understand and appreciate the contribution of the other as an equal partner.
While the international research evidence of individual programmes that have been based on these collaborative principles is largely positive (Burn & Mutton, 2015) as the author has already indicated, no jurisdiction as a whole has embraced such radical reforms before.
The author concludes that in the coming years there are many who will want to have their say in making judgements on the new model’s success: student teachers themselves, head teachers, Estyn and of course the Welsh Government.
But perhaps the best hope for both raised quality and relevance is the very fact that schools and universities are now working so closely together.
As Wales’ schools undergo the wider reform agenda, with a new curriculum, with new assessment procedures, with a new imperative for school-led professional learning, it will be these issues that they will bring to their ITE partnerships.
Schools will insist that programmes closely reflect their own lived realities.
And in terms of quality, the fact that there is now joint accountability with new and different opportunities for both partners to see and to comment on what is offered, this too will itself be a pressure for raised quality.

Ball, S. J. (1990). Politics and policy making in education; explorations in policy sociology. London: Routledge
Burn, K., & Mutton, T. (2015). A review of ‘research-informed clinical practice’ in initial teacher education. Oxford Review of Education, 41(2), 217–233
Estyn. (2013). Annual Report of HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales 2013–14..Cardiff: Author.
OECD. (2014). Improving SCHOOLS in Wales; An OECD perspective. Paris: Author.
Tatto, T., Burn, K., Menter, I., Mutton, T., & Thompson, I. (2016). Learning to teach in England the United States; the evolution of policy and practice. London: Routledge. 

Updated: Aug. 18, 2020