Teaching is an intellectual profession and, as such, its knowledge bases are underpinned by research, one definition of which could be new knowledge made public. However, within the education community, the concept of research is used in a variety of what might be thought of as loose ways, including, for example, reports of innovative practice, as a component of CPD, exchange of knowledge and the theory-practice nexus. This has important implications for teacher education (TE), both initial and continuing.
The parts played by universities in designing, supporting and sustaining new models of ITE are many and varied. Understanding how research underpins, enhances and enriches ITE is a unique and crucial contribution that universities make towards securing high-quality ITE.
Recognising the unique role of the University Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET), the BERA-RSA review ‘Research and the teaching profession: Building the capacity for a self-improving system’ (BERA, 2014) recommended that UCET should ‘work with its members and partners to… produce a sector-wide plan to strengthen research informed practice wherever this is required’ (p. 29). This paper responds directly to BERA’s challenge and sets out a practical, dynamic framework that will support the development of high-quality, research-informed practice wherever initial teacher education occurs.
UCET believes that teaching is a scholarly, evidence-based activity and that ‘Where possible, teacher educators should introduce new teachers to pedagogies grounded in a firm evidence base’ (Royal Society and British Academy, 2018, p. 56), thus equipping them both to undertake their own high-quality research and to ‘understand how to interpret educational theory and research in a critical way, so they are able to deal with contested issues’ (Carter, 2015, p. 8).
This paper builds on the BERA-RSA (2014) review and BERA’s more recent report on the ‘Close-to-practice’ research project (Wise et al., 2018), to set out the position of UCET, which is to affirm teaching as an intellectual activity, in which research and researching enhance teachers’ capacity to make a positive and enduring difference to the lives of the children and young people with whom they work.
The BERA/RSA (2014) report identified four specific dimensions of the contribution that research makes to TE:
- research-informed content of teacher education programmes, drawing on a range of disciplines
- research-informed design of teacher education programmes and activities
- teachers and teacher educators being equipped to engage with and be consumers of research
- teachers and teacher educators being equipped to conduct their own research, individually and collectively.
Research-informed content of TE programmes
UCET believes that initial and continuing TE courses should be informed by scholarship and provide an evidenced basis of knowledge and understanding, which is derived from research that has its origin in a range of academic disciplines and epistemological traditions. Central to this is the notion of university–school partnership in TE. As John Furlong has argued (Furlong, 2013, p. 8),
Educationalists urgently need to develop collaborative partnerships with teachers, schools and others; partnerships that are institutionalised and based on the genuine recognition that however important the university’s contribution, it is always only part of the story… it is their commitment to the ‘contestability of knowledge’ that marks universities out as unique in society; and it is this commitment that goes to the very heart of what the university-based study of Education can contribute.
Research-informed design of TE programmes
The development of pedagogical reasoning (Shulman, 1987) is a fundamental element of all good ITE courses. Far from being a simple ‘pot-filling’ exercise, learning to teach is complex and involves an appreciation of the problematic milieu of the classroom, described by Schon (1983, p. 42) as ‘the swampy lowlands’ of practice, where important but messy issues arise that cannot simply be resolved by technical management. Loughran et al. (2016) argue that understanding the development of pedagogical reasoning and how it influences practice is a challenge for all ITE programmes. UCET contends that this is central to any ITE curriculum and, further, that teacher educators’ own research should continue to inform this corpus of educational knowledge.
Teachers and teacher educators as consumers of research
UCET thus corroborates the assertion in the BERA/RSA report (2014) that;
“…to be at their most effective, teachers and teacher educators need to engage with research and enquiry – this means keeping up to date with the latest developments in their academic subject or subjects and with developments in the discipline of education.”
This continuous informing and updating of the knowledge bases of teaching enables an upward spiral of increased understanding that characterises successful pedagogies (la Velle and Flores, 2018).
Teachers and teacher educators-as-researchers
Teachers researching their own practice can generate unique ‘insider knowledge’ that provides valuable new insights and conceptualisations of educational processes and practices (Burke and Kirton, 2006). BERA, careful to characterise high quality in this close-to-practice (CtP) research, have defined it as ‘… research that focusses on aspects defined by practitioners as relevant to their practice, and often involves collaborative work between practitioners and researchers’ (Wise et al. 2018, p. 1). In terms of quality indicators for CtP research, they go on to state: ‘High quality in CtP research requires the robust use of research design, theory and methods to address clearly defined research questions, through an iterative process of research and application that includes reflections on practice, research and context.’ (Wise et al., p. 2)
The UCET research-informed TE framework
Structured around BERA-RSA’s four dimensions of research engagement, the ‘UCET research-informed TE framework’ (see Figure 1) provides a structured ‘thinking tool’ for use in a practical way to spur development and change in local contexts. By working through the framework, users are prompted to interrogate and develop aspects of existing practice that research has identified as having a significant bearing on successful practice. The framework supports users to:
- explore existing attitudes and approaches to research production and usage in their own context
- engage and collaborate with the institutional community (university, college, school, Early Years setting) to develop better understandings of using and producing research in their own contexts
- create new meanings, identities and roles in relation to research
- drive innovation and implement change
- improve quality and outcomes for teachers and the schools, colleges and Early Years settings in which they work.
The framework design is underpinned by enquiry, encouraging inclusive, collaborative and co-constructionist approaches to institutional growth and development in relation to research engagement. The process is context-sensitive and starts with reflexive engagement with the everyday experiences of participants in the specific TE community or context. Teacher educators are enabled to ‘work towards change’ that is distinctive, highly differentiated and tailored very precisely to the needs and aspirations of their particular institution and the communities they serve.
The framework is designed to support research-led development of teacher education in any mode (pre-service or in-service) and any setting (university, school, college, private provider), and aims to enable:
- strategic ITE leaders to be bolder about their expectations of the role that research engagement can play in securing high-quality ITE learning cultures/communities that secure more socially just outcomes for young people in education
- ITE operational leaders to identify practical steps to building a research-informed community
- teacher educators to become more ambitious in the way in which they engage with research (as both users and producers)
- all participants in teacher education to make greater and better use of research (as content and process) towards the achievement of more ambitious classroom impacts/outcomes for learners.
The framework may be particularly useful for teacher educators working in contexts without established research traditions, as a means of opening up institution-wide conversations about the role, value and importance of research to successful and meaningful teacher education. Hand in hand with this comes the imperative adequately to resource opportunities for teacher educators and participants in teacher education to engage with and in research.
0 – currently no evidence of this feature , 1 – poor inclusion of feature, 2 – partial inclusion, 3 – adequate inclusion, 4 – optimal inclusion
This tool is not intended as an audit. Use of this measure is entirely at the discretion of users.
Our thanks is due to members of the UCET working group on this position paper: Professor Hazel Bryan (University of Worcestershire), Professor Mark Boylan (Sheffield Hallam University), Professor Pete Boyd (University of Cumbria), Professor Moira Hulme (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Roger Levy (University of Hertfordshire), Professor Rachel Lofthouse (Leeds Beckett University), John Thornby (University of Warwick) and also to James Noble-Rogers, Executive Director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.
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