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.

Key findings

A thematic analysis of the data produced the following themes:

  • ITE programmes
    • Theory into practice
    • Elective programmes
    • TIS placement
  • Probationer knowledge and pedagogy
    • Knowledge Gaps
    • Differentiation
    • Developing resources
    • Data literacy
  • Pace of learning

ITE programmes

Theory to practice

Some probationer teachers also felt that ITE is too theoretical making it difficult for them to bridge the theory into practice gap. Comments from the probationer supporters and probationer managers suggest that partnership working between local authorities and ITE providers can be further improved. Probationer managers indicated that they would like a better understanding of ITE programmes to enable them to better support probationer teachers' professional learning by helping them put the theories of learning explored during ITE into practice in a new context during the TIS. This could also support local authorities to offer personalisation and choice of professional learning and target their support capacity to maximise positive impact on the probationer teacher learning journey.

Elective Programmes of study

All ITE programmes offer elective programmes of study to provide personalisation and choice to student teachers but this may lead to probationer teachers not feeling fully prepared to teach core areas of literacy, numeracy and HWB, given the limited time available to spend in these areas. Data collected from focus groups highlighted that a lack of confidence by some probationer teachers in areas of literacy, numeracy and HWB which could be accredited to them choosing other elective programmes of study e.g. outdoor learning instead of further study in literacy, numeracy or health and well-being. Perhaps in addition to the elective programmes ITE programmes could increase the time spent in these areas as part of the core programmes.

It was suggested by both probationer supporters and probationer managers that in some aspect of HWB, e.g. mental health, probationer teachers demonstrate a high level of readiness to contribute. This contradicts with the data gathered from the probationer teachers. There was consensus from all groups that there was less emphasis on health and wellbeing through ITE programmes, compared to literacy and numeracy. For some probationer teachers access to in-depth learning around HWB was only available through elective programmes of study.

TIS placement

The data collected demonstrated that within the TIS placement there was a wide variety of experiences. The majority of probationer teachers indicated that they had had a very positive experience. They felt very well supported and felt that they had continued their learning journey through additional opportunities and collaborative learning. However, a few probationer teachers reported that they had less positive experience during the student placement and/or TIS placement and felt this had a detrimental effect on their level of confidence to enter the teaching profession.

There was consensus from probationer teachers, probationer supporters and probation managers that over the TIS year the vast majority of probationer teachers gained in confidence in most areas e.g. equality. They also benefited from partnership working both within and out with schools to support their own and their pupils' learning.

Probationer knowledge and pedagogy

Knowledge Gaps

Probationer teachers indicated that they were very confident in their readiness to teach literacy, with a few concerns expressed around teaching reading and phonics. These concerns are reflected by probationer supporters and probationer managers who rated the confidence level of probationer teachers less highly than the probationers themselves. Probationer teachers also expressed a view that there were concern about some probationer teachers' own skills in literacy. One probation manager said "[their] grasp of phonics is very, very weak…it's only one small part of the whole literacy approach, and I think they are definitely struggling." This was supported by another probation manager who felt that probationer teachers were " not equipped" and " they're not ready" to contribute fully to the teaching of literacy across the curriculum.

Data collected from all three groups confirmed that a small number of probationer teachers have 'gaps in their knowledge' and showed some conceptual misunderstanding e.g. numeracy. They felt that this was attributed to a lack of confidence of probation teachers and an over-reliance on a resource to deliver the curricular outcomes, rather than supporting individual pupil progression in numeracy. This is illustrated by a comment from one probationer supporter who commented that;

" they don't have to go and search them out and tailor them necessarily….support [for] teaching and learning, that's just a click away. Whereas for literacy I think it takes a bit more time, organisation and understanding …"

This is in line with the findings of the Making Maths Count (2016) report where student teachers were reported as saying that they "would find it helpful for ITE courses to include more of a focus on how teachers can better understand and support children's thinking processes in maths." (p19)

Confidence in meeting the needs of all learners

In general, the expectations of the Es & Os are generally understood by probationer teachers but it was reported that they lack the experience to provide appropriately differentiated learning activities to meet the needs of all learners, particularly those individuals with ASN. Probationer teachers indicated that they felt more confident with addressing ASN than other aspect of equality. However, this was contradicted by comments from probationer teachers themselves, probationer supporters and probation managers who all felt that probationer teachers find it challenging to differentiate learning effectively to meet the needs of all pupils.

Probationer teachers reported that they were less confident in numeracy across all measures; however it was suggested by both probationer supporters and probationer managers that there is more differentiation observed in teaching numeracy than in literacy. It was, however, acknowledged that probationer teachers are at the start of their own learning journey in developing expertise in matching learning activities to pupil need to support the learners' progress.

Developing resources

Probationer teachers expressed the view that that they were highly confident in their readiness to teach in all areas of the curriculum. This perception was generally shared by probationer supporters and probation managers to a lesser extent. It is interesting to note that although many probationer teachers were confident in their knowledge of numeracy, fewer reported that they were confident in developing resources to teach numeracy. This lack of confidence in developing resources was consistent across literacy, HWB and equality.

A range of opinions from probationer supporters were reported within HWB, it ranged from those who fully embraced HWB to those who are very unsure how to approach HWB to support pupils' learning. This may suggest that confidence levels in developing resources is dependent upon the individual probationer teachers' previous experiences.

Data literacy

Based on the data, probationer teachers are least confident in data literacy in comparison to other areas reported in this study It is not clear whether this is due to a lack of understanding of what constitutes data literacy or whether this is not addressed in sufficient depth during ITE which was signposted in the findings of the ITE Content Analysis (2107). However, these barriers seem inconsistent with the fact that all probationer teachers undertake action research or practitioner enquiry during their ITE and TIS placements which provides them with an opportunity to develop data literacy skills. It was suggested that probationer teachers were at different levels of preparedness in data literacy, dependent on their previous experiences of handling data.

Pace of learning

Probationer teachers felt that a lack of time/priority, lack of opportunity and lack of support were barriers to them further developing their skills in literacy, numeracy, HWB, equality and their ability to generate and analyse data to support student progress. Probationer teachers reported that they feel overwhelmed with the day-to-day complexity and demands of the 'job'. In some cases this can lead to probationer teachers using the dedicated 0.2 FTE for professional learning, which is built into the TIS placement for day-to-day activities, such as planning and marking. However, as reported in the Evaluation of the Impact of the Implementation of Teaching Scotland's Future (Scottish Government, 2016), probationer teachers indicated that they understood and accepted that on-going professional learning is integral to their professional growth.

From the focus groups discussions, the main barrier to probationer teachers feeling sufficiently prepared to contribute to equality and HWB in their classroom was reported as time to explore these areas in context. Both are seen as "vast".

There appears to be a disconnect between the responses from probationer teachers throughout this research. Although the probationer teachers indicated that they were confident in most areas, when offered further support, the majority indicated that they would embrace the opportunity for further learning. This could suggest that probationer teachers understand the need for life-long learning

It should be remembered that each probationer teacher's experience is unique and the ITE and TIS placements play a very important role in supporting probationer teachers to develop into confident effective teacher. However, there was broad agreement that " all grow in confidence over the year" with a few exceptions.


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