Gathering views on probationer teachers' readiness to teach

The broad aim of the project is to explore the views and perceptions of whether probationer teachers are ready to teach.


The broad aim of the report is to explore the views and perceptions of probationer teachers, probationer supporters and local authority probation managers on the impact of ITE on the preparedness of probationer teachers to:

  • effectively and confidently deliver literacy and numeracy
  • effectively and confidently contribute to HWB
  • support all aspects of equality
  • use data literacy to inform professional judgement

Although probationer teachers were confident in most key aspects, their supporters and probationer managers felt less confident in the probation teachers' abilities to deliver the whole range of learning experiences to meet the needs of all pupils. It was recognised that probationer teachers have a limited time (one year during TIS) to develop the full range of skills, abilities and disposition demonstrated by highly skilled teachers, and thus it was acknowledged by all groups that probationer teachers are at the start of their journey of 'becoming a teacher' and as such still have a lot of learning to develop expertise and accomplish the craft and expertise of teaching.

There were some questions raised around the academic knowledge and ability of probationer teachers on entering ITE and TIS placement. It was suggested both in this study and in the Making Maths Count (2016) report that perhaps the entrance qualification to ITE could be reassessed to ensure that candidates enter ITE programmes with both Higher Mathematics and Higher English. At present, the entry memorandum for ITE courses, as set by GTC Scotland, provides advice on the minimum expected academic qualifications of potential new teachers. This entry memorandum is due for review in 2018. All ITE university providers are at liberty to apply their own entry requirements above the minimum, and generally they do.

This report provides evidence to support a review of the entry memorandum. This review may include firstly, considering 'softer' measures such as voluntary classroom experience and providing potential candidates with an opportunity to experience a 'real life' classroom in advance of applying for an ITE programme. Such experiences would allow potential applicants to consider more carefully if teaching is a career they would be both suitable for and would wish to pursue. Secondly, it may consider raising the entry level for mathematics which currently asks candidates to have National Qualification in Mathematics at SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) level 5 ( e.g. National 5 or Standard Grade Credit or Intermediate 2 level to Higher ( SCQF 6) Mathematics which would bring this in line with the minimum entry requirement for English. However there are consequences to this action as reported in the Making Maths Count (2016). In this document, student teachers "express some concern [that] if the minimum entry requirements for maths were raised to SCQF level 6, this would preclude some of them from entering teaching." At a time of significant teacher shortages, particularly in the STEM subjects, this is an important consideration. Finally, it may consider whether the 'minimum expectation' may be achieved in conjunction with the teaching qualification and become a graduate expectation rather than an entry qualification.

Developing resources can be problematic for probationer teachers. The development of resources is a complex process which requires teachers to take cognisance of the cognitive, developmental and social aspects of learning. To develop effective learning resources teachers must have deep knowledge of the subject they teach (pedagogical and content knowledge), the skills to convey that knowledge (which requires quality instruction) and the ability to make the materials interesting and relevant to the children and young people. In addition to this, teachers must also understand the ways children and young people think about the content, and be able to evaluate the thinking behind students' own methods, and identify students' common misconceptions. This is developed through aligning theory with practice, which is highlighted as an issue for some probationer teachers. Not surprisingly, probationer teachers tend to do more whole class teaching as they lack confidence in preparing differentiated resources to support individual learning needs.

Most probationer teachers reported that they have a very positive ITE experience and feel well equipped to teach at the start of their probation year. Conversely, a few probationer teachers feel unprepared as they find 'bridging the gap' between theory and practice difficult. The challenge of connecting educational theory to underpin practice and then use this to create learning opportunities for children and young people involves complex cognitive processing. Putting learning into context may take longer for some probationer teachers than others.

Some probationer teachers have yet to embrace fully the areas of the curriculum that are the responsibility of all and this may raise questions as to how these were signposted through ITE. In most ITE programmes, those areas which are the responsibility of all are embedded in the learning. Current academic research would suggests that 'in context' learning is a more powerful way for student teachers to build their own capacity in learning and teaching in key areas. ITE providers weave responsibility for all through-out their programmes to support student teachers to acquire knowledge and experience, as well as model good practice for delivering Es and Os. There is broad agreement that particularly secondary probationer teachers are leaving ITE with a good knowledge of their own curricular subject. They may not be as confident in how they contribute to the key areas that are responsibility of all.

There are also some suggestions that in particular key areas, such a HWB, the same depth of knowledge was not achieved by all. This was linked to there being less focus and less time to 'practise' during ITE, particularly when this is only available as an elective programme of study. As a result, some probationer teachers felt less prepared to contribute to HWB.

The quality of the ITE and TIS placement experiences are important factors for the development of probationer teachers. Probationer supporters were seen as one of the key aspects that "makes a difference" and was seen as a valuable resource in helping probationer teachers to develop confidence through supporting high quality critical reflection and professional dialogue. In contrast, in unsuccessful placements the lack of coaching and time for meaningful professional dialogue were cited as the main barriers. This lack of a positive experience was usually assigned to their probationer supporter having limited time to meet with the probationer teacher or the lack of coaching skills of the probationer supporter.

It is also important that the whole teaching profession supports both student and probationer teachers in order that they are provided with the best learning experiences during student placement and TIS, in line with recommendation 39 of " Teaching Scotland's Future" (2010) which states "All teachers should see themselves as teacher educators and be trained in mentoring".
This mentoring would help probationer teachers to be ready to deliver literacy, numeracy, to contribute to health and wellbeing and equality and be confident in the use of data to support pupil progress. Experienced teachers can support probationer teachers to develop their repertoire of skills through engaging in professional dialogue to help probationer teachers continually interrogate and improve their practice in order that they can have a positive impact on outcomes for children and young people.

Some local authorities have had success in using a 'support team' that works over a number of schools, supporting the probationer teachers but also being a conduit for good practice and creating targeted networks to support individual probationers to share learning with their peers. The experience of supporting a probationer teacher is also an excellent professional learning opportunity for supporters to develop skills in coaching and mentoring. However, for this relationship to be successful it is of paramount importance that the probationer supporters undertake a professional learning programme in coaching and are also supported through this process.

The majority of probationer teachers secure permanent positions post- TIS where they have opportunities to become part of a learning community and into which they can make a positive contribution. The TIS placement is considered a very valuable experience although it can seem short given the breadth and depth of knowledge which probationer teachers need to gain. This two-year supported experience is considered world leading and helps probationer teachers to develop the curricular knowledge, assessment strategies, pedagogy, classroom management, planning and preparation and behaviour management needed to become a fully qualified teacher. As a consequence, most probationer teachers feel confident to move into their first full teaching post. However, perhaps this two-year supported experience needs to be considered as part of an early career teacher continuum as, from the data, there are still some key areas in which post- TIS teachers feel they could use further support.


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