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Course Organization - Patterns of School Experience


School experience has long been the central aspect of teacher education courses and under the formal partnership arrangements now required (since1995) between HEIs and their partner schools its importance has been even further enhanced. A major issue has been the development of the roles of the school-based mentors and the consequent changes in the roles and responsibilities of HEI tutors. This article provides insights into the structures and processes developing within an institution which are intended not as exemplary practice but as a snapshot of ideas and documentation which others might find informative and useful in their own contexts. (Comments and other exemplars are always welcome.) The documentation provides perspectives on the patterns of school experience in both primary and secondary schools. The major issues in ensuring that partners (tutor, mentor and trainee) are clear about their roles and responsibilities to try to ensure that trainees receive the appropriate entitlement as consistently as possible across the courses are raised.

Key words: School experience, Primary, Secondary, Partnership, Mentors.


1.0 Standards Relevant to this Section
2.0 Patterns of School Experience
3.0 Primary School Experience
4.0 Secondary School Experience
5.0 Paired Placements
6.0 Mentoring
7.0 Partnership Issues
8.0 References/Bibliography

1.0 Standards Relevant to this Section

Below the relevant Standards have been listed in brief. For a more detailed look, they can be found in the Handbook of Guidance
R2.1 Programme design
R2.2 Training Quality
R2.3 Resource Requirement
R2.4 Individual Training Needs Requirement
R2.5 Equality of Access Requirement
R2.6 Induction
R2.7 Age range
R2.8 Time training in schools or settings
R2.9 Two School
R3.1, 3.2 Partnership in ITT
R3.3 Compliance
R3.4 Moderation
R3.5 Monitoring and evaluation

Download C3.0_1.0a ‘TTA Handbook of Guidance Time in School and Partnership’

2.0 Patterns of School Experience

School experience has become increasingly important for student teachers. Currently they are expected to spend between 90 and 160 days in two different schools depending on the type of course they are on (QTS standards, Handbook of Guidance, R2.8 and 2.9). There is the possibility of them doing less time in school provided an individual needs' analysis has been carried out (QTS standards, Handbook of Guidance, R2.4). A Training Entry Profile (TEP) was developed by the TDA and various providers which enabled all potential student teachers to record their experiences and achievements that relate to teaching. The TEP was developed as a result of the 2001- 03 Undergraduate Credit Scheme pilot. The TEP was adapted and made available to potential students for example, those on the Student Associates Scheme. The TEP can be downloaded from the TDA website.

3.0 Primary School Experience

There are several courses at St Martin’s for Primary Students. The patterns of their school placements are shown in the attached document (Download C3.0_3.0a), which also includes what the students should be concentrating on during each placement. There is also a rationale for the PG Primary placement which was based on OfSTED inspection reports, external examiners’ reports and feedback from those involved. See attached document (Download C3.0_3.0b). 

Download C3.0_3.0a 'SMC Schedule of Primary Placements 0405 and briefing meetings'

The PGCE experience is 93 days and follows an A-B-C pattern. In the Autumn term students work in School A, in either KS1 or KS2. Students are placed in pairs in the same class for the whole placement and work together to observe and jointly teach in the core subjects & ICT. For the first 7 weeks the placement is 2 days per week. It finishes with a 2 week block in the same class. In the Spring term students work in School B, in the opposite KS to their Autumn placement. This is a 5 week placement where they work individually and teach core subjects, specialism and some foundation subjects. In the Summer term students work in School C in their preferred KS to complete an 8 week Final Block Placement in which they teach across the curriculum.

The UoC PGCE primary programme incorporates a process of scaffolded progression supported by subject tutors, link tutors and associate tutors. Within placements, the guidance may be interpreted flexibly in that some students will gain confidence and progress more easily than others. There is the option for the supporting tutors to exercise professional judgment and incorporate some adjustments within each placement (for example in the progression from paired to independent teaching in School A; from Specialism observation to Specialism teaching in School B; from lesson to weekly planning and from continuous to selective evaluation of lessons on Final Placement).

Looking at the 4 Year UG Route, the purpose of the first year is to introduce students to the teaching profession and to offer experience within primary schools in Key stages 1 and 2. This is done by providing a series of school visits in which students focus on the teaching of English and Science in the first term, and ICT and Maths in the second. They meet together for approximately ½ hr on a weekly basis with their AT in order to derive support for their school-based work and draw upon professional knowledge developed in University courses. Students should be supported in planning and evaluating and gain an insight into the general professional responsibilities of life in school. They begin, also, to look at how their main subject is organised within the school.

The purposes of the second year are: to introduce students to the opposite KS to the one they were in for their first year block: to develop their teaching skills; to focus on medium and short term planning, to consider assessment methods and to look at whole class management. During the Spring block placement there is a minimum 50% responsibility for planning and teaching. Additionally students are encouraged to examine how the curriculum is managed in school by observing good practice. In the Summer term the two week placement will be in either the Foundation Stage, Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2. The focus of this placement is small scale action research based on Maths, English and their subject specialism. It is not assessed as pass/fail.

The third year group has a block placement of five weeks in the Autumn Term. Students work individually in classes taking a substantial responsibility for teaching Maths, English, Science, ICT and their main subject. In the summer term, the three week block placement (non-assessed) is to offer experience in different educational settings, including the Foundation, KS1 and KS2 and in special schools. The focus is mainly on the non-core subjects.

This is the students' final block placement where they are working individually in classes taking on the full class teacher role at an early stage in the placement. The preparation week focuses on detailed assessment of children's learning which is used as a foundation for medium term planning.

4.0 Secondary School Experience

At UoC, the PGCE students follow an A-B placement model, with two placements of the same length. The PGs used to follow an A-B-A pattern or variations of it. However, this was changed as it was felt that the students were not benefiting from the final placement as there were too many interruptions and there was the feeling they were plateauing, having arrived back at their first school after a block placement in another school. They had gained a lot during the B placement and there was a tendency to cruise. The current model seems to be working better in that students seem less likely to plateau, though there is still the disadvantage of interruptions.

The school A / University pattern for the autumn term begins with two weeks in University. (The pattern can be found on the UoC Secondary Oartnership Webpage). This is followed by 1 week with 4 days in school and then 5 weeks with two days in school and 5 weeks with four days in school. During these phases of the placement students spend 60% of their time in school in active contact with pupils. By Christmas this includes the equivalent of 30% of an NQT's timetable actual teaching. Students work up to this 30% at a rate suitable for them, judged by the mentor (or mentor and tutor together). At the start of the spring term the student continues in School A for 5 weeks on what we call a Mini Block Placement. During this period students' teaching loads substantially increase to give them a feel for the B placement in an environment with which they are already familiar. Students should teach about 50% of an NQT's teaching timetable during this period (e.g. perhaps 9-10 periods out of a school week of 25 periods). They may additionally be given up to a further 10% in focused observations of classes and teachers if this is necessary and useful.

Students visit School B for at least one day before their placement starts to introduce themselves to their mentors. The first five days in school B are used for induction; the students collect schemes of work, get to learn about the workings of the school and the department and engage in structured observations. The mentors and the students also review the students' individual training needs. The students end up with 60% of an NQT's timetable but this is initially made up of a combination of whole class teaching, 6th form and small Year 11 groups + SEN support. This gives them the opportunity to continue to observe and reflect while at the same time ensuring adequate contact. As they become more confident and competent then they can take on extra classes e.g. splitting large groups (especially after year 11 study leave when there will be rooms available); team teaching etc. This means a staged teaching programme which builds up during School B. The advantages of being ‘creative' with classes is that the pupils benefit considerably, for example being taught in groups of 15 instead of 30 for a period of time.

The students also spend a minimum of 3 days in an A level environment. This may involve visiting an FE College or a school with a sixth form. In previous years, this was dealt with by bringing pupils in from local schools and the students, working as a team in their specialist subject groups, then taught them a full module in 3 days. This worked very well and received positive feedback from mentors, pupils and students. However, it has had to be shelved due to changes in the placement pattern.

Students carry out tasks such as looking at the classroom environment, shadowing KS3 / KS4 pupils, laboratory management and safety, transitions between activities, shadowing a teacher and a technician, looking at the role of the HoD and examining the role of the form tutor. They also have to look at issues such as classroom relationships and control strategies which are discussed in tutorials at University.

This placement requires School B mentors and University tutors to make the final assessment of the students against the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) while they are on a major school placement and just before they move on to becoming NQTs. The timing of this placement will also allow students to become aware of the major summer term agenda items of SATs and external and internal exams.

The Undergraduates follow a slightly different pattern. They have the opportunity in the first year to spend five days in a primary school and do a 10 day attachment in a school looking at KS3. In the second year they visit their block placement school for 2 days in the first semester followed by a 25 day block placement (at the start of the second semester) and a 10 day block (at the end). Their placement in the third year is at the same time as the B placement of the PGCE students. During the placements, they have to carry out various observation tasks. See (Download C3.0_4.0c and Download C3.0_4.0d). These documents also contain some of the rationale. Students also complete a series of tasks for a qualificatory module. See (Download C3.0_4.0e). A rationale for PGCE Placements is attached below (see Download C3.0_4.0f). 

Download C3.0_4.0c ‘SMC UG Secondary Year 2 School Experience’
Download C3.0_4.0d ‘SMC UG Secondary final placement’
Download C3.0_4.0e ‘SMC UG QED201 Year 2 Science’
Download C3.0_4.0f ‘SMC Sec PG Rationale placement’

5.0 Paired Placements

During the 2003 – 2004 academic year SMC carried out a pilot project using paired placements with the blessing of the TTA. The rationale for this was based on the experience of the MFL department which has used this pattern since 1994 (see Download C3.0_5.0a).   The rationale was presented to the Professional mentors in May 2003 (see Download C3.0_5.0b).

Download C3.0_5.0a ‘SMC Paired Placements Pilot Project Rationale’
Download C3.0_5.0b ‘SMC Paired Placement Professional Mentors briefing paper May 2003’

The above two documents contained the following:

Students start off with a reduced teaching commitment which essentially means that two students’ impact on the timetable is equivalent to one student under the conventional system in School A.

Ways of doing this: each student has an ‘adopted’ KS3 class and a shared KS4 class (with the other trainee) until Christmas. This is staged so that they pick up the KS3 class first and then gradually take on the KS4 class. They observe / assist each other at all times as well as observing other teachers and working with small groups of year 11 pupils / SEN pupils. In January they pick up another class (so that their timetable increases in preparation for their B placement) by splitting a large set in half (another alternative would be to team teach this large group). 
There are many benefits of this system. From the students’ perspective the benefits of being placed in pairs are unquantifiable and include mutual support, peer observation and discussion, sharing of ideas and learning from each other, the opportunity to work collaboratively / team teach, more support and training from both mentors and tutors (trainees co-observe their partner with their mentor/tutor and take part in all the feedback) and quicker progress and development.

From the schools’ perspective the benefits are - the professional development agenda (not just within the department but across the school), the extra help brought in by having more than one trainee within the department, greater contact with college and therefore greater feeling of partnership, joint observation of classes – more feedback for the trainees – steeper learning curve which is more beneficial to pupils, trainees settle in to the department more quickly and are able to make more contribution to the department and less reliance on teachers for ideas etc. – greater mutual support. There will also the added benefit of legitimately training up multiple mentors within departments. This helps to a) spread the load; b) provide good professional development across the departments and c) ensures better quality and consistency across the department.

The mentor and trainees were sent evaluation forms and the results were analysed (see Download C3.0_5.0c).  Both the mentors and trainees were overwhelmingly positive about the experience, highlighting some of what was said in the rationale. A few issues were raised such as high workload, insufficient teaching, incompatibility of pairings and a lack of clarity on the parts trainees and mentors as to what was expected. These will be addressed during the next year. There were also a very small number of mentors did not want to repeat the experience.  Please look at the booklet provided by Roger Lock (see Download C3.0_5.0d ).  This is for Secondary Science Biology Trainees and includes details the role of the mentor through the placement and the activities that the trainees should be carrying out. Students are paired and the placements follow an A-B-A pattern. The Institute of Education also has a paired placement system for Secondary trainees and the rationale is available on their website.

Download C3.0_5.0c ‘SMC Paired Placement EVALUATION RESPONSES - A schools 2003-4’
Download C3.0_5.0d ‘Roger Lock Mentor Handbook 03-04’

6.0 Mentoring

A lot has been written about the role of the mentor and its importance. A mentor can make or break a placement. The role of the mentor is multifaceted and complex. It also depends on the stage reached by the trainee. Furlong and Maynard (1995) have identified what they consider to be five ‘Stages of Learning’ in trainee teachers’ development. They describe these as:

Mentoring needs to be developmental in order to support the trainee’s needs at the different stages. Furlong et al outline a number of stages of mentoring . At each stage there are different learning priorities for the trainee and a different role for the mentor. Pollard develops this further and suggests that these stages need to be considered flexibly as the development of any one student is more complex than a simple stage model implies.

Stage of Student Development Focus of student learning Mentoring Role Key mentoring strategies
Beginning teaching Rules, rituals & routines
Establishing authority
Model Student observation and collaborative teaching focused on rules and routines
Supervised teaching Teaching competences Coach Observation by student; systematic observation and feedback from mentor on student’s ‘performance’; Mentor facilitates reflection –on –action.
From teaching to learning Understanding pupil learning; developing effective teaching Critical friend Student observation; re-examining of lesson planning
Autonomous teaching Investigating the grounds for practice Co-enquirer Partnership

(Furlong et al, 1995)

A mentor needs to be an effective and experienced practitioner. S/he needs to be an excellent communicator who is able to empathise with the trainee and counsel her / him. The mentor is also a facilitator and acts as a link between the trainee and college and the trainee and other teachers. S/he will apprise the trainee of ‘hidden curriculum’ of the school. 

The role of the mentor is critical in the latter stages of the development of students. Even the best trainees reach a plateau and require planned intervention to move them. Some mentors are content to let a student who is doing reasonably well and not having major problems to carry on. Other mentors may not recognise students requiring additional support to fully extend them. Mentors need to recognize coasting’ trainees and then help them through active intervention. Identifying appropriate interventionist strategies for this type of trainee might provide a focus for the sharing of best practice within initial teacher training partnerships (Kieran McGrane).

Many schools seem unwilling to participate in teacher training as they argue it is too time consuming and onerous. Also when schools have to nominate mentors, they may choose not to use the most effective practitioners as this would be seen as a ‘loss’ of their most experienced teachers and their replacement by novices. Mentoring needs to be a sustained effort from the whole school and should not just be an added bolt-on extra. Its positive side (such as access to a supply of NQTs, enhanced professional and curriculum development for schools, the opportunity to network and share good practice, and professional development for experienced teachers) should be clearly outlined to schools. Many institutions now also offer accreditation for mentor training and experience. This can be used towards a Certificate or an MA. 

For the pros and cons, have a look at the following papers by Pete Boyd and Alan Child and Stephen Merrill.  An enthusiastic thumbs-up to mentoring was given by one of our professional and science mentors Lesley McKenzie in EIS April 2001(see Download C3.0_6.0a ).  

The selection and training of mentors is very important though for a variety of reasons it is often out of our hands. As Jerry Wellington comments: 

Some are born mentors, some develop into good mentors while  those who have mentoring thrust upon them are often the worst. 
(Wellington, 2000, P. 30)

One of the ways round this is to use ‘home-grown’ mentors – your own trainees who have been through the system and know what the task entails. They often make the best mentors. 

Mentor training is very important and UoC like many other institutions has a 3 day programme for training new mentors. Unfortunately it is not always possible for all new mentors to attend this even though money is made available for supply cover, so often an intensive half day session with a small group of mentors has to suffice. In the UoC Secondary Partnership Handbook (see Download C3.0_6.0b ) there are details of the three days and the expected outcomes, though each department is free to adapt these to suit their needs. Those mentors that do attend find the sessions useful and at the very least they get to know their roles and familiarise themselves with the Standards. During the sessions, there are opportunities to see videos of trainees in action and to standardise assessment against the Standards. It is essential to have a set of descriptors for the standards which you can share with the mentors. The UoC Science Department has its own videos; trainees are observed teaching and then being feedback by one of the tutors. There are opportunities for updates and for mentors to discuss their experiences of working with trainees and examples of effective written observation and feedback comments. A critical issue to discuss is how to challenge trainees and move them on, especially towards the end of their placements when they may be coasting. 

A file with the roles of the subject mentors (secondary) term by term is attached below (see Download C3.0_6.0c  ).  The UoC Primary Partnership contains brief details of mentor training days – 2 generic and one subject specific. Again use is made of video to standardise assessment.

The TDA had developed materials for this purpose. When these materials were used with some of our groups the mentors were unhappy with the artificial nature of the setting. You may find it useful to develop your own or if that’s not possible, to beg, borrow or steal from a colleague. (On a slight aside, it’s also useful to video your students during micro-teaching sessions in College to prepare them for teaching practice). SCIcentre also produce a very useful video and mentoring handbook available for purchase on their website. 

Details of a mentor training half day that was organised for a small group of mentors who could not attend the three days are attached (see Download C3.0_6.0d ).  An evaluation form is also attached (see Download C3.0_6.0e).

Useful ways of improving mentor training and communication are to encourage mentors in Cluster Groups to meet regularly and exchange ideas on good practice and information. It is also a good idea to have paired schools / mentors and setting up a ‘mentor swap’ where a mentor from school B observes his / her student in school A and vice versa, as at the University of Gloucester (see Download C3.0_6.0f).  This allows mentor training (they both watch a lesson and write a critique, so they can compare their techniques) and it also helps continuity from one school to the next. Communication can also be improved by using a virtual learning environment such as Blackboard or setting up a web discussion forum.
On the UoC Secondary Partnership webpage, the Science team have set out a suggested plan for the mentors to follow, week-by-week. There is also feedback from previous year's students as to what they found useful and what was not so useful.

Download C3.0_6.0a ‘MENTORING Lesley Mckenzie’
Download C3.0_6.0b ‘SMC File 2 Secondary Partnership Handbook main file’
Download C3.0_6.0c ‘SMC File 27 Apx G Mentor Checklists Secondary’
Download C3.0_6.0d ‘SMC Mentor training Half day’
Download C3.0_6.0e ‘SMC Mentor Training Day Evaluation Form’
Download C3.0_6.0f ‘The Mentor Swap Process’ 

7.0 Partnership Issues

For teacher training to be effective, there must be a strong partnership between the schools and HEIs. All the roles need to be clearly defined and understood. In the bibliography there are links to several sites showing typical partnership agreements.

One of the issues we all have to consider carefully is whether to de-select schools. Unfortunately because of a dearth of places we have to continue using unsuitable schools or school with unsuitable mentors. Partnership managers and tutors seem to be wary of de-selection. Usually schools or mentors tutors do not wish to use are placed at the bottom of the list rather than de-selected. It can be very frustrating to be offered the same schools which you rejected over and over again. Often the difficulties are readily resolvable but there is inertia or perhaps just a lack of time to sort things out.

UCET produced a paper in 1994 which emphasised the importance of partnerships for the development of student teachers. Issues such as the need for greater stability in forward planning, difficulties in securing school placements, the need for flexibility in defining partnership responsibilities, the need for funding to recognise the real costs of ITE partnership and the importance of monitoring quality across the system were considered. Some of these issues are still alive and kicking.

A review was carried out by the Partnership in ITE Review Group supported by the TTA to look at "Which school-based elements of partnership in initial teacher training in the UK support student teachers' professional development?" This concluded either, there has been no in- depth research into what it is the schools actually do; or, the reality is that schools do little in the organisation and management of the partnership, apart from to provide a classroom and a supervising teacher. The latter may go some way to explaining the plethora of studies concerning supervising teachers. The implication is that partnership -even where it includes the many facets in the original Government Circulars - still may not achieve a level of depth and quality to support students as future teachers. The reality of the schools' role within partnerships in the UK is not apparent from the studies reviewed. A possible reason for any inequality in the roles of the HEIs and schools, could be due to the unbalanced nature of partnerships whereby HEIs are required to involve schools in ITE, but schools do not have a reciprocal duty to be involved in ITE.

The number of school placements is obviously a thorny issue for the TDA. Recently at a meeting with Ralph Taberer, I commented on the fact that we were having difficulties finding suitable placements for our students as there were so many students from different establishments competing for places. His reply was to ask me whether he should reduce the numbers at our institution. He was joking - I think! - and went on to talk about how the TDA were trying to get more schools involved. The TDA set up Regional partnerships whose objectives were to increase the involvement of schools in ITE and to strengthen partnerships. Though this project has ended, there are now 12 Provider link advisers (PLAs) in post. They are regional consultants who work with initial teacher training (ITE) providers on the areas of recruitment, funding and development.
Download C3.0_7.0a ‘SMC Primary Partnership Handbook 03-04 main file’
Download C3.0_7.0b ‘SMC File 2 Secondary Partnership Handbook main file’

8.0 References/Bibliography

As the list is rather long, it is attached as a word document.
Download C3.0_8.0a ‘References/Bibliography’

This section was authored by:
Aftab Gujral, University of Cumbria, Lancaster

The UoC Resources have been kindly supplied by: 
James Burch (Secondary PGCE Program Leader)
David Midwinter (UG Primary)
David Mason (Secondary Science PGCE)
Anna Bartrum (Secondary MFL PGCE)
the University of Cumbria Partnership Office. 

Additional material and support was supplied by: 
Roger Lock (University of Birmingham)

Published: 28 May 2005, Last Updated: 28 Sep 2008