Teacher educators’ perspectives on preparing student teachers to work with pupils who speak languages beyond English

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Published: 
April, 2021

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 47:2, 220-233

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The views of teacher educators responsible for the training of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in the UK context have not been adequately considered to date.
This paper contributes to addressing that gap as it is important to seek the current perspectives of teacher educators before giving serious consideration to what changes could or should be made to the Initial Teacher Training/Education (ITT/ITE) curriculum.
The authors’ research endeavours to add to the currently limited research on the role of the teacher educator in initial teacher training to explore the links between the teacher educators’ perspectives and that of student teachers, and NQTs based on prior research (Murakami 2008; Starbuck 2018).

Research design
Against a picture of limited resources and support for EAL in schools and consistent reports from NQTs about feeling ill-prepared, and Franson et al.’s (2002) argument that there is a need to further understand how EAL training is provided on teacher training courses to best identify how it can be improved, this study aims to explore the under-researched area of teacher educators’ views on training teachers to work in linguistically diverse classrooms by posing the following research question:
How do teacher educators view current provision in Initial Teacher Training in the UK, with a specific focus on student teacher preparedness to teach children classified as EAL?
A mixed-methods approach was taken with data gathered using an online questionnaire and a series of follow-up interviews.

Questionnaire participants
The participants are 62 lecturers from higher education institutions in the UK that provide primary or secondary education courses to student teachers (STs).
The Universities and College Admissions Service website was used to do a search of all the ITT courses offered at institutions in the UK to find relevant participants.
This list was then used to search the institutions’ websites for relevant staff profiles, i.e. staff involved in teaching modules on ITT relating to teaching STs about EAL.
Upon finding relevant staff profiles, a list was made of their names and contact email addresses.
The questionnaire was then sent to 204 ITT trainers across the UK, 62 of whom responded (30% response rate).

Questionnaire participant characteristics
Questionnaire participants were invited to leave their email address if they were happy to be contacted regarding a Skype or phone call interview.
Following the survey, the researcher (first author) undertook eight semi-structured interviews.
Seven of these participants had completed the questionnaire, and the final one was an additional participant interview.
After the interviews were conducted the data was transcribed and the questionnaire and interview responses were thematically analysed initially by examining word frequency to establish the key themes enabling a quantitative analysis into the word frequency whilst revealing the key themes within the data.
As the interview data was essentially an extension of the initial questionnaire data and as such served as an additional commentary which corroborated and supported the initial data set, the authors subsequently analysed the data as one complementary, interlinked data set.

Findings and discussion
This study has revealed a disparity between how TEs perceive the training for STs on linguistic diversity and EAL during ITT courses and how STs and in-service teachers viewed their ITT on EAL (Murakami 2008; Foley, Sangster, and Anderson. 2013; Starbuck 2018; Ginnis et al. 2018).
TEs reported feeling that they felt they had sufficiently prepared their teachers, contrary to findings from researchers (Franson 1999; Ginnis et al. 2018) who have reported that teachers have expressed that they felt inadequately trained in the teaching of EAL.
They acknowledged that this confidence in their provision does not necessarily equate to STs and NQTs feeling confident or 100% comfortable as this is something, they argue, comes with experience.
However, this study has suggested that there is a disparity between how STs, NQTs and TEs define ‘preparedness’, ‘comfortable’ and ‘confident’.
Consequently, further research would be valuable to unravel precisely what these concepts mean to the groups in question and whether they are indeed attainable at the point when surveys of new teachers aim to assess these feelings.
It must be acknowledged that the questions asked undeniably influenced the answers given as it is impossible to separate questions from their responses as they inevitably affect the answers (Mann 2011).
As such, it is important to acknowledge the word choice in the questions because ‘comfortable’ and ‘confident’ could be perceived differently to ‘prepared’, thus leading to a potential different response.
This, therefore, reinforces the need for future research to establish what is meant by these terms in the data.
However, the word choice in the questions did serve to yield interesting results regarding what TEs feel is required for STs to feel prepared to teach EAL.
All interviewee participants and 24 questionnaire data extracts argue that the opportunity for practical placement experiences with EAL pupils correlates with STs leaving ITT feeling more prepared and confident.
Consequently, there is a distinct need expressed for more placement opportunities with EAL pupils and more specialist training from experienced practitioners, who could provide STs with practical techniques and guidance to create and alter resources based on the individual needs of pupils, including students for whom English is an additional language.
This study suggests that there is a clear disparity between what STs feel they need and what TEs believe STs require to be prepared to help EAL learners to succeed in accessing the curriculum in mainstream schools.
Research elsewhere also indicates there is a further disparity between what many argue schools require to support such learners and the amount of appropriate funding schools receive as well as the policies that schools are expected to conform to (Nowlan 2008; Demie 2018). As such, it is vital that while future research seeks to define and identify what STs, teachers and TEs define as being ‘prepared’, it is also important for improvements to be made and successfully implemented, that TEs, researchers and practitioners continue to critically evaluate the current situation and engage with those in policymaking in an attempt to make beneficial changes for all (Conteh 2012; Schneider and Arnot 2018).
Finally, as it seems that current priorities in the education sector consists of tests, performativity and results according to numerous interview participants, it seems that ITT courses need to equip STs to deal with the challenge of getting all students through such regimented tests, whilst also differentiating materials to best support learners, whilst simultaneously creating an inclusive environment where students’ home languages are welcomed in the classroom; a task that may be increasingly challenging but also increasingly necessary as the EAL population continues to increase and funding seems likely to remain low.

References
Conteh, J. 2012. Teaching Bilingual and EAL Learners in Primary Schools. London: SAGE.
Demie, F. 2018. “English as an Additional Language and Attainment in Primary Schools in England.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 39 (3): 210–223.
Franson, C., A. Brown, L. Cameron, and H. South. 2002. The EAL Teacher: Descriptors of Good Practice. London: NALDIC.
Foley, Y., P. Sangster, and C. Anderson. 2013. “Examining EAL Policy and Practice in Mainstream Schools.” Language and Education 27 (3): 191–207
Ginnis, S., G. Pestell, E. Mason, S. Knibbs, and M. O. R. I. Ipsos. 2018. Newly Qualified Teachers: Annual Survey 2017. London: Department for Education. Accessed 17 November 2020.
Mann, S. 2011. “A Critical Review of Qualitative Interviews in Applied Linguistics.” Applied Linguistics [Internet] 32 (1): 6–24
Murakami, C. 2008. “‘Everybody Is Just Fumbling Along’: An Investigation of Views regarding EAL Training and Support Provisions in a Rural Area.” Language and Education [Internet] 22 (4): 265–283
Nowlan, E. 2008. “Underneath the Band-Aid: Supporting Bilingual Students in Irish Schools.” Irish Educational Studies [Internet] 27 (3): 253–266.
Schneider, C., and M. Arnot. 2018. “An Exploration of School Communication Approaches for Newly Arrived EAL Students: Applying Three Dimensions of Organisational Communication Theory.” Cambridge Journal of Education 48 (2): 245–262.
Starbuck, E. 2018. “How Well Prepared to Teach EAL Learners Do Teachers Feel?” EAL Journal [Internet]. Accessed 27 April 2018.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2021
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