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Study calls for research-led approach to teacher training

Countries with the most successful school systems favour research-led teacher training rather than centrally-controlled school-based models, according to a study.

An interim report by the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) points out that while the UK has recently seen a move towards school-based teacher training, the opposite is true internationally.

And it argues that the UK needs to do more to include the development of research skills in teacher training.

The report follows concerns raised by universities over a shift in funding in recent allocations for teacher training from universities to School Direct, which puts schools in charge of managing training.

In contrast, the report points out that over the last three decades, there has been an international shift away from training in schools and “low-status training colleges” towards higher education institutions with high entrance standards and status.

The education systems of Singapore and Finland, which scored highly in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment study, are given as examples of successful approaches.

Both countries favour “decentralised” teacher training with emphasis on autonomy and research, in contrast to the “scripted instructions” issued to schools and teachers in poorer performing education systems.

In Finland, newly trained teachers are required to have a Master’s degree. Teaching practice occurs either in Teacher Training Schools, supervised by universities, or through the network of selected Field Schools.

“This close partnership within and between faculties and schools means that students are supported to develop and bring together knowledge from different sources in a coherent and integrated way,” the report says.

The report notes that Finnish student teachers are expected to become “teachers-as-researchers”, undertaking their own research and writing a research-based thesis to complete their Masters’ degree.

In contrast, the report states that each of the UK countries –despite having widely differing approaches to teacher training - need to do more work to promote research as part of training process.

“In each of the four nations there is not yet a coherent and systematic approach to professional learning from the beginning of teacher training and sustained throughout teachers’ working lives,” the report says.

“Although there has been a strong focus on the use of data to inform teaching and instruction over the past 20 years, there now needs to be a sustained emphasis on creating ‘research-rich’ and ‘evidence-rich’ (rather than simply ‘data-rich’) schools and classrooms.”

Since 2012, the UK Government has increased the number of training places available in schools in England through the School Direct programme and cut those funded through universities.

The report says there are concerns that the shift away from university-led teacher training programmes in the UK will seriously decrease the amount of research involved in teacher training.

It cites criticisms of the Government’s assumption that more time spent in schools inevitably leads to better and “more relevant” learning.

Critics say this frames teaching as “essentially a craft rather than an intellectual activity” and “an apprenticeship model of teacher training that can be located entirely in the workplace”.

But the reports also stresses that there is no one correct place where teacher training should take place. The Government, universities, schools and teachers should ensure that “research-informed clinical practice” is put into place regardless of the institution type, it says

BERA and RSA’s interim report is a precursor to a full report on their Inquiry into Research and Teacher Education, expected in March.