I first heard the news via a BBC News article. I was shocked, in a state of disbelief. I had been so certain of the outcome that I hadn’t even properly considered the impact this news would have.
“Changes to where student teachers will be able to train in future have been announced” the article began, “bids from Swansea University and the USW, which currently offers teacher training at its Newport campus, were unsuccessful.”
The EWC, Education Workforce Council, were responsible for considering the proposals and deciding on which institutions to accredit. They announced their decision in a press release on 29th June.
I was a small part of the process at University of South Wales (USW). Acting on behalf of the students currently undertaking the BA Primary Studies course, I was invited to join two of the discussions in order to offer a student’s perspective and opinion on the proposal being submitted by the University.
I sat around the table with academics, headteachers, former students and fellow-current students, and I have to say in all honesty I came away somewhat confused. Disenchanted, even. There appeared to be a real lack of understanding of the innovation and vision from the Accreditation Board when considering the University’s proposal.
As an example, during my time as a student, and no doubt for countless cohorts of the past, we have been crying out for shorter, more frequent stints in the classroom. The course currently offers ‘block placements’ of 6 weeks in years one and two, and 8 weeks in year three. This creates a huge amount of pressure, as it requires students to assemble a toolkit of behaviour management strategies, lesson ideas, an understanding of the curriculum, knowledge of current research and a bank of assessment for learning techniques through a series of lectures across the year. As well as this, students must ensure their own literacy, numeracy and digital competence skills are up to scratch ahead of placement. Then they have just 5 teaching weeks (less one observation week to begin) to put all of this knowledge into practice.
This is too much pressure for many students to really learn and perfect each strategy and technique.
The proposal was to have shorter stints in the classroom following each series of lectures, so that they can put their new knowledge to the test while it’s still fresh in their minds. The panel did not appear to appreciate the many benefits of this, which is very disappointing in my view.
Also, the University have long developed action enquirers who now actually get their work published and shared across the globe. How many Universities will publish students’ research as eBooks? According to the BBC, “the new criteria has asked for a greater emphasis on research and more collaboration with schools”. USW are already doing it. Search ‘University of South Wales’ on iBooks and you’ll find a wealth of material.
One such book is entitled ‘Bringing Digital Competence to Life‘. This is a case study conducted in the Summer of 2017 by myself and others on the BA Primary course. Over a four week period we planned and delivered a sequence of lessons that aimed to develop digital skills in a cross curricular way. I thoroughly recommend you take a look. A similar case study is currently being completed as I write this, and the eBook will be available shortly.
Is this not the sort of research and collaboration with schools so desired by the Accreditation Board?
One of the more troubling issues I have with the process is with regards to their understanding of what teachers of the future look like. Digital Competence in Wales sits with equal importance alongside Literacy and Numeracy. However, the Board showed a worrying lack of knowledge of even very basic technology currently being used in schools. For example, during a discussion around how the University encourages students to develop their confidence in using technology, a green screen was shown as an example. Students can use such facilities to enhance presentations, create ‘hook’ videos and many more strategies that enhance learning in the classroom. Yet, only one member of the Board really appeared to understand this. Granted, not understanding technology yourself is perfectly understandable. But not valuing the importance of how technology can enhance learning, that is inadmissible.
How can one make a decision about the future of teacher training with so little understanding of what modern teaching is?
The press release included a quote from Professor John Furlong, Chair of the ITE Accreditation Board. He claims the process of awarding accreditation “has been
conducted in an open, fair and rigorous way”.
I question the fairness of this process. My overriding feeling is the institutions receiving accreditation have won this right based on promises made, not results proven. USW prove that they have done, and can continue to do the fantastic work they are known for every single day.
The loss of this provision will be of huge detriment to the teaching profession in Wales, particularly in the South East of the country. I have so much praise for everybody in the Primary Studies team at USW, but as it currently stands others won’t get the chance to benefit from the expertise, experience, facilities and relationships USW have built with schools over so many years.
It is a huge loss, and one which many feel passionately about. A petition is currently active at change.org which urges the EWC and Welsh Government to reconsider this decision. If you feel the same, I urge you to please sign the petition too.