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Preparing to teach literacy

1. The literacy curriculum

1.1 Types of programme

1.1.1 A list of the programmes reviewed is attached as Annex 1. All programmes aimed to enable student teachers to have the competence1 to contribute to the development of pupils' skills in literacy in their first post. Programmes were planned with the reasonable expectation that continuing professional development during and beyond the probationary period would extend this initial competence. Teachers would be expected gradually to gain greater expertise in developing pupils' reading and writing skills, in the context of their own role as primary or secondary teachers.

1.1.2 In Scotland, student teachers wishing to qualify as primary teachers can do so via a four year Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree or a one-year Post-graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) (Primary) programme. Within a general course, the BEd degree equips student teachers to teach all aspects of English language to Level F as described in National Guidelines 5-14. The national guidelines require them to be prepared 'to teach children, including those in their classes with special educational needs, through two full years of pre-school education, possibly from as young as 2.5 years, and children aged 5 to 12 attending primary school'. Student teachers often enter this programme directly from school, with qualifications, which always include Higher English or an equivalent. Within one year, the PGCE (Primary) programme has to achieve the same objective: to prepare student teachers to teach all aspects of English language, including literacy, as well as the other areas of the primary curriculum, to pupils at the pre-school and primary stages. All student teachers entering this programme also have Higher English or an equivalent qualification and have successfully completed a university degree.

1.1.3 To qualify to teach English in secondary schools in Scotland, student teachers will most commonly have completed a degree, which contains passes in a minimum of three teaching subject qualifying courses (TSQCs) in English. They then take a one-year PGCE (Secondary) programme to gain the teaching qualification for English in secondary schools. These programmes aim to equip them to take a leading responsibility in developing pupils' literacy. Student teachers preparing to teach other subjects in secondary schools require sufficient emphasis on literacy in their one-year PGCE (Secondary) programme to help them to meet pupils' language needs, including literacy, in their particular subject. One HEI offers a concurrent degree, with a qualification in secondary teaching, for student teachers intending to teach English or another subject in secondary schools. As for primary programmes, all student teachers entering secondary programmes must have Higher English, or an equivalent qualification.

1.2 Curriculum structure - time allocations and balance

1.2.1 In all ITE programmes, student teachers receive teaching and tuition in the HEI for a certain number of weeks. The time remaining is spent in partner schools for practical experience within a context of advice and support from school staff. BEd programmes must devote at least 30 weeks to school experience and more than half of this experience has to take place in the final two years. PGCE programmes and concurrent degrees must devote at least 18 weeks to school experience. Though specific arrangements varied, all the HEIs made provision for student teachers to learn about theories and principles of education in some form of "Professional Studies" programme and to learn about effective means of implementing the principles in classroom teaching. Typically, there was a mix of lectures and workshops, with discussions on the practical implementation of learning and teaching approaches. Subject tutors led these practical sessions. Student teachers also undertook individual and collaborative assignments. Subject tutors visited student teachers on school placements to offer advice and to assess their teaching.

Programmes for primary teachers

1.2.2 The BEd programmes reviewed had sufficient time allocated for the English language component of the programmes. Over the four years of the BEd programmes, aspects of literacy were introduced, revisited, revised and extended and student teachers had opportunities to develop their skills during successive periods of school experience. In the PGCE (Primary) programmes, the time allocated to achieve the aim of student teachers achieving competence in teaching literacy was, inevitably, much more limited. A typical pattern for the 18 weeks in the HEI was a weekly session of lectures and workshops on English language totalling at least 40 hours over the programme. Within this constraint, staff ensured coverage of an appropriate range of literacy aspects with good emphasis on most of them. However, despite their best efforts, some were covered very quickly, without detailed consideration. For example, sessions on practical ways of teaching spelling or on using fiction in the upper primary stages might feature only once in some programmes. HEIs should consider ways of giving student teachers more time to study the English language components of the PGCE (Primary) programmes.

1.2.3 The time allocated to BEd and PGCE (Primary) programmes in the HEI was complemented by English language activities during school placements. These placements included opportunities to apply approaches introduced in the HEI and reflect on their implementation in the classroom. Student teachers were supported through professional discussion with teachers. Arrangements for school experience on all programmes provided student teachers with opportunities to teach reading and writing at different stages of the primary school and to experience the early stages of literacy development in pre-school education. The quality of student teachers' school experience varied. Where it was organised effectively and supported well by the school, the experience made a vital contribution to student teachers' knowledge and skills in teaching literacy. It also served to fill gaps in aspects covered only briefly within the HEI programme. Where school experience was of poorer quality, it did not compensate effectively for the compressed timescale of the PGCE (Primary) programme.

Programmes for secondary teachers of English

1.2.4 PGCE programmes for secondary teachers of English generally gave very good attention to preparing student teachers to teach reading and writing. As with PGCE (Primary) programmes, having only 18 weeks for HEI teaching in PGCE (Secondary) made it difficult to give as full attention as was desirable to all the aims of the programmes. Limited time in the concurrent programme for secondary teachers of English also created difficulties in preparing student teachers to teach reading and writing. Generally, programmes were well planned and delivered, and gave good guidance on most aspects of literacy. However, in some programmes only brief attention was given to aspects such as the development of early literacy skills or to strategies to support pupils with reading and writing difficulties in S1/S2 mixed-ability classes. Some tutors imaginatively 'expanded' the time available by increasing the length of sessions, promoting e-conferencing and independent learning, and arranging additional sessions with visiting speakers such as principal teachers of English. These voluntary strategies enhanced the quality of the programme as well as increasing the time available to student teachers. They also reinforced the evidence that the time allocated within the taught programme was insufficient for adequate coverage of all key aspects of literacy.

1.2.5 In all programmes for student teachers specialising in English, school experience provided opportunities to teach reading and writing at different stages of the secondary school. This practical experience in most cases helped to deepen student teachers' knowledge and develop their skills in teaching literacy. Schools demonstrating good practice often took steps to ensure that student teachers had experience of areas such as special educational needs, especially if such areas were only lightly covered in the HEI programme. They also took steps to boost student teachers' confidence by providing well-targeted support to help them tackle a gap in their knowledge and experience. However, in some placements, student teachers' confidence was reduced because they had to face up to a gap in their knowledge and experience without receiving the support needed to tackle the issue. Some secondary English programmes used specific periods of school experience very successfully to consolidate work done in the HEI on literacy. For example, they integrated relevant practical experience in schools with campus work on teaching and assessing reading and writing at S1 and S2.

Programmes for secondary teachers of other subjects

1.2.6 Secondary programmes for subjects other than English aimed to prepare all student teachers to meet pupils' language needs within their subject area. There was variation across subjects in how well this was achieved in practice. Where practice was best, tutors encouraged student teachers to see the development of literacy skills as a core feature of learning within their subject. Tutors emphasised aspects such as exploiting opportunities for extended writing, finding ways of developing skills in reading for information, giving good attention to subject-specific vocabulary and raising pupils' awareness of language structures in texts. Student teachers were given help in planning strategies to meet pupils' differing language needs, as well as catering for differences in their subject knowledge and skills. This targeted support helped student teachers to apply these ideas during school experience and to evaluate their success. Commendably, some tutors or programme leaders had audited their programmes to gather evidence to show that student teachers were being given an appropriate preparation to achieve the literacy competence.

1.2.7 In contrast, many subject programmes were not yet properly preparing student teachers to support pupils' literacy needs in their specialist subject. These programmes relied too heavily on student teachers' existing language competence, the limited attention given to literacy within professional studies programmes, and an expectation that student teachers would gain the necessary knowledge during school experience. However, student teachers were only likely to make up the deficiency during a school placement if they were fortunate enough to experience very good practice in teaching language across the curriculum. In some subjects, significant opportunities were missed during on-campus work to illustrate the role and significance of language in learning within their subject. As a result, some student teachers were uncertain about:

A few student teachers emerged from such programmes with little sense of responsibility for addressing pupils' literacy needs within their subject. They tended to see language issues as the responsibility of English language specialists. All secondary subject programmes should take steps to ensure that student teachers are equipped to support pupils' literacy needs in their specialist subject and have a sense of responsibility for doing so.

1.3 Overview of programmes

Programmes for primary teachers and secondary English teachers

1.3.1 The English language components of programmes for primary teachers and for secondary teachers of English took very good account of current research and advice in preparing student teachers to become effective teachers of literacy. Almost all were based on a well-considered rationale for the teaching of reading and writing, which was informed by up-to-date research and a clear view of good practice in schools. They were generally very effective in familiarising student teachers with English Language 5-14: National Guidelines, enabling them to use these guidelines to plan appropriate tasks and activities for pupils with different levels of attainment in reading and writing. In some cases, HEI staff were leading thinkers and researchers in the teaching of literacy and they used their experience in areas such as research, early intervention and the preparation of national staff development materials to inform their teaching. Similarly, involvement in the dissemination of national reports, such as Improving Writing 5-14 and Standards and Quality in Secondary Schools: English, was used effectively by staff to model the good practice highlighted in these reports in their own work with student teachers.

1.3.2 Through blocks of work on campus and school placements, programmes were generally well planned and logically organised to promote progression in student teachers' learning about how to teach literacy. Good planning helped student teachers to assimilate programme content effectively and to focus on a manageable set of ideas during each period of school experience. For example, following a concentration in the HEI programme on meeting pupils' different needs in reading and writing at the P4 and P5 stages, the ideas and skills would be applied and explored in a P4 or P5 class. Planning in this way for consolidation and extension of student teachers' skills in these aspects during school experience should be a consistent feature across all programmes. It would help to achieve this consistency if the assessment schedules provided by HEIs to schools required teachers to make more specific assessments of student teachers' competence in teaching literacy. Good planning also developed student teachers' understanding of different theories of how children learn to read and write, as well as more general theories of learning. Successful tutors introduced theoretical ideas and principles gradually _ using assignments, video case studies of teaching, and the experience gained on school placements to deepen student teachers' understanding of how these theories can be related to good classroom practice. Work of this quality enabled many student teachers to develop a good understanding of theory and practice and make clear and explicit links between them. In all programmes, student teachers will continue to require explicit guidance on how to link theory and practice to teach reading and writing effectively.

1.3.3 The quality and quantity of the attention given to the practical skills of teaching reading and writing varied across programmes and HEIs. Most programmes introduced student teachers effectively to the structured development of skills within different types of writing. Some were weaker in developing the practical skills needed to organise, teach and assess reading and writing at particular stages of primary or secondary schools. For example some student teachers were unsure about:

Cross-curricular literacy in programmes for primary teachers and for secondary teachers of subjects other than English

1.3.4 Programmes for primary and secondary teachers varied considerably in the preparation given to student teachers to teach the reading and writing skills required by pupils in different subjects and curriculum areas. This variation was apparent in the extent to which they did or did not reflect current research on literacy, familiarise student teachers with the 5-14 guidelines for English Language and develop practical skills in teaching and assessing reading and writing across the curriculum. Some HEIs were developing very good approaches to helping student teachers to teach literacy in various subjects, but others had made relatively little progress in this area.

1.3.5 Some modules on curriculum aspects beyond English language in the BEd and in the PGCE (Primary) programmes provided a strong and positive emphasis on language teaching. For example, they highlighted the crucial role of reading and writing in exploring issues in religious and moral education or the importance of reading in understanding mathematical problems. This approach helped student teachers to integrate their learning across different parts of the programme. Explicit attention to literacy was supported by an appreciation of how it is embedded in many aspects of learning. A particular benefit of this approach was that it made student teachers aware of ways of making literacy learning more coherent for pupils.

1.3.6 Similarly, some of the secondary programmes provided examples of good practice in language across the curriculum. In one HEI, most tutors followed up the professional studies lectures effectively in their subject areas, using a support pack, which provided examples of effective reading and writing activities applicable to a variety of subject contexts. This HEI also offered a very popular 'language and learning' option to non-English specialists. The student teachers that took this option regarded it as the most valuable part of their programme. In another HEI, a home economics programme consistently focused student teachers on very practical literacy issues, such as the importance of sequence, clarity and precision in writing and interpreting recipes. In a third HEI, several subject programmes in the PGCE (Secondary) integrated attention to literacy very successfully. Student teachers here were introduced to the issues through a lecture and multi-disciplinary workshops on the English Language 5-14 guidelines. They also had a lecture on core skills in communication. The lecture identified the kind of support pupils need at the levels of word, sentence and text in reading and writing across the curriculum.

1.3.7 In contrast, there was insufficient attention to literacy across the curriculum in some primary and secondary programmes. In one PGCE (Secondary) programme a single lecture on the English Language 5-14 guidelines at an early stage of the programme provided the only information about literacy offered to student teachers other than those preparing to teach English. HEIs should consider the inclusion of a short, but well-planned and significant, insert in the programmes for all student teachers on the importance of language in pupils' learning. To improve the consistency of provision for cross-curricular literacy, HEIs should offer further development opportunities for members of their staff whose specialism is not English language. This improvement could be achieved by facilitating communication and collaboration between language specialist staff and others involved in the delivery of the ITE programmes.

1.4 Opportunities for choice and extension

1.4.1 HEIs organised opportunities for choice and extension through programme options and independent learning tasks. The intention was that options would enable student teachers to build on strengths and interests and address weaknesses; and that independent learning tasks would encourage student teachers to take responsibility for planning and organising their learning as individuals or in small groups. While there were strengths in both of these elements of provision, there were also issues affecting the development of skills in teaching literacy to be addressed.

Programme options

1.4.2 Programme options often provided very good opportunities to explore topics in depth and detail. For example, PGCE programmes offered short, language-related options such as bilingual teaching, Gaelic or specific learning difficulties. Some BEd programmes provided additional studies of language or assessment in the final year, allowing student teachers to explore issues in more depth than was possible during the core programme. Others offered options on early intervention and other initiatives in reading at the early stages to bring student teachers up to date on new developments. Inevitably, options reduced the amount of available core curriculum time. Some staff regretted this loss, arguing that fourth year BEd programmes should be used to increase the general levels of student teachers' skills and understanding across the competences. They felt that opportunities for specialisation were more appropriate features of continuing professional development. As a consequence, some HEIs were moving to include language as a core element within all four years of the BEd programme. HEIs and other key stakeholders should consider how purposeful, flexible links between ITE and CPD could best be established. Achieving these links will require careful planning. Aspects of language in current ITE programmes identified for possible further work, through induction or CPD, included: special educational needs; English as an additional language; children's early language development; and primary language work (for secondary teachers). HEIs and other relevant bodies should agree on the essential elements of ITE and of early continuing professional development for teachers, as well as on areas where continuing professional development is desirable. Provision of targeted CPD will need to take account of the emerging framework of standards in the teaching profession. The national aim is to establish a continuum through ITE and induction, which can then be linked to ongoing CPD throughout teachers' careers.

Independent learning

1.4.3 The encouragement of independent reading and the requirement to complete assessed language assignments were integral parts of almost all programmes. Assignments were carefully planned and were successful in encouraging student teachers to reflect on how their own practice related to theoretical aspects of the programme. Reading lists were used effectively in most programmes to guide student teachers towards key texts and passages. Occasionally, bibliographies needed updating to include key national publications or lacked advice for student teachers on which texts were essential reading for particular aspects of the programme.

1.4.4 In some programmes, opportunities for independent learning led to work of high quality. For example, well-designed tasks enabled student teachers to study a topic or issue in depth, carry out a small piece of structured observation or undertake classroom research. Tasks worked best where the development of the student teacher's ideas was supported by opportunities for discussion and comment from a tutor. In these circumstances, some student teachers gained sufficient confidence in a particular aspect to share their expertise with fellow student teachers.

1.4.5 Other independent learning tasks were of poorer quality, lacking a clear definition of the outcomes expected or only demanding a shallow coverage of issues related to research, theory or practice. Some student teachers, including graduate student teachers, needed guidance in organising and writing up independent learning tasks. Others regarded these tasks as low-status activities if they did not contribute to the formal assessment of their progress. Pressures of assessment workload sometimes led to tutors giving low priority to assessing independent learning tasks. This response on occasion led to little or no interaction with student teachers during these assignments and, in some cases, no assessment of their outcomes. HEIs need to review the definition of the outcomes expected in independent learning assignments and their arrangements for support and assessment, in order to realise the significant potential of these tasks.

1.5 Support and guidance for staff in HEIs and schools

HEI staff

1.5.1 Programme handbooks contained summaries of what was to be taught in the English language modules and clear guidance for HEI staff on teaching literacy. These handbooks set out the aims of programmes, the sequence and progression of content, required reading and arrangements for assessment. The handbooks also listed periods of school experience, setting these within the context of the programme and indicating the objectives of each placement. This guidance was often consolidated through staff meetings, informal professional discussion, the circulation of lecture notes and staff development. Some HEIs had made a promising start to auditing modules beyond English language for primary and secondary programmes to highlight the literacy elements. In some cases, communication on the teaching of literacy across a range of lecturers/tutors was considerably enhanced by a member of staff having the key responsibility to brief and advise colleagues.

School staff

1.5.2 Generally, teachers who were not English specialists had only a broad, general understanding of the role they were expected to fill in developing student teachers' skills in teaching aspects of literacy. Placement handbooks for schools contained information that gave teachers a clear picture of their role within the joint HEI/school responsibilities for assessing student teachers during school experience. It was less common for school staff to be informed about the principles of literacy teaching underpinning the HEI programme or which aspects of the HEI's language curriculum had been covered before the placement. In general, programme arrangements did not require teachers to assess student teachers' attainment of the specific competence on literacy during placements. However, teachers' comments on student teachers' effectiveness in improving pupils' learning through focusing on aspects of reading and writing undoubtedly provided tutors with evidence relevant to this competence.

1.5.3 Some HEIs arranged meetings for teachers during or after the school day to offer further guidance on placement arrangements, including assessment, and to promote partnership. Teachers were not always able to attend these meetings because of difficulties in, for example, providing cover for class teachers. Nevertheless, these meetings were valued by staff in HEIs and schools and made a positive contribution to partnership. Innovative ways of improving remote access to information included videos about the HEI programme and a partnership web site which schools could use to download information.

1.5.4 Teachers had different views about whether they required more information about ITE programmes in order to support student teachers effectively. Most recognised the potential value of having a better understanding of student teachers' experience and the principles underpinning the HEI's approach to language teaching. However, others felt that they would not have time to read more documentation. From the HEI's perspective, the important principle was that teachers should have access to information about the programme if they wished but in as concise a form as possible. It is clearly important for the teaching profession that teachers are able to support student teachers effectively and this can only be achieved with some investment of time. Local authorities should consider how teachers can be given time to support student teachers on school placements effectively.

1.6 Summary

Strengths in programmes that prepared student teachers effectively to meet pupils' literacy needs

Curriculum issues for consideration and action points

1 The SOEID guidelines for initial teacher education included a specific competence on literacy i.e. "be able, whether at pre-school, primary or secondary level, to play his or her full part in developing pupils' skills in literacy and numeracy":

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