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Preparing to teach literacy

5. Management and quality assurance

5.1 Leadership and teamwork

5.1.1 There were several examples of very good leadership from programme leaders. The very good leaders placed a strong emphasis on collaborative work, encouraging constructive sharing of expertise across subject and department boundaries. From this strong base, seeking co-operation from all staff, HEIs should clarify expectations of leadership in relation to language across the curriculum. Elements of good practice in raising students' awareness of how to tackle pupils' literacy needs in different aspects of the curriculum were present in several programmes, but staff needed to work together more formally to agree objectives and a model for delivery. A good starting point, already pioneered in one secondary programme, would be a structured audit of the attention given to literacy matters in current programmes. This exercise would help to reveal current good practice that could then be built upon to create a programme or faculty model with explicit expectations of how student teachers should be prepared to contribute to the development of pupils' reading and writing skills.

5.1.2 The specialist teams in English language departments generally worked very well together and some were co-ordinated by inspirational leaders. Some teams allied impressive vision with admirable professional insight into the teaching and learning of literacy. Through debate and discussion, they established a very clear, common understanding of what they hoped student teachers would achieve. This openness, accompanied by mutual, professional support, enabled them to present a coherent experience to their classes.

5.2 Deployment of staff

5.2.1 Generally, staff with appropriate expertise in literacy were well deployed on campus to maximise the effective impact of their skills. They were often deployed over more than one programme and some had a heavy workload, though they coped well. This commitment of these key staff to campus teaching meant that, in many cases, they were not visiting student teachers following primary programmes while they were on school placements. They were not, therefore, able to observe student teachers teaching reading and writing (and they did not always get specific feedback on literacy being taught from the tutors who did visit). The HEIs should seek to have all student teachers on placement in primary schools assessed by tutors with appropriate expertise in literacy for the quality of their teaching of reading and/or writing. Involvement in such activities would allow the tutors to evaluate the impact of their campus teaching, as well as providing specific information on the quality of student teachers' performance in these important areas.

5.3 Staff development relating to literacy

5.3.1 In the majority of HEIs, staff development for specialist staff in the English language departments was very good, enabling tutors to be well informed and up to date in their subject. In these departments, tutors were encouraged by line managers to attend relevant courses and conferences on literacy matters and on more general learning and teaching issues, both in the Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They were often involved in other activities that also served to keep them up-to-date. For example, they delivered in-service courses for teachers, engaged in literacy-related research, wrote materials for school use or studied for higher degrees. More generally, English language tutors in most departments were very good at sharing with their colleagues the knowledge they gained from their own development experiences.

5.3.2 A number of reasons led to staff development in some English language departments being less effective. In some cases, it was simply that staff development was not a priority because of general resource constraints, or staff time being taken up by teaching or other commitments. In others, it was because responsibility for their own staff development lay with individual tutors and there was no checking mechanism to ensure that their needs in relation to the principles and practices involved in effective teaching and learning of reading and writing were identified and met. All HEIs should ensure that English language tutors have good opportunities to access staff development that will enable them to be well informed and up to date on matters related to literacy.

5.3.3 Different HEIs used a range of formal and informal arrangements to encourage staff to maintain a developing interest in how teaching and learning of reading and writing can be made more effective. One English language co-ordinator circulated significant research findings to all relevant staff. Some HEIs ran seminars for staff at lunchtimes or in the evening that addressed literacy themes. One English language department ran a programme for staff that was focused on early reading and reading recovery. A faculty with a research group had used it as a forum to consider whether current literacy issues or developments should be included in the research programme.

5.3.4 Although there were examples of growth points, staff outwith the English language department did not always have appropriate opportunities to develop their knowledge and understanding of how to meet pupils' literacy needs in their own subject areas. HEIs should ensure that all staff are well equipped to teach student teachers how to play their full part in developing the literacy skills that pupils need in the subject or aspect they teach. The potential growth points included the following. All of the course team for a PGCE (Secondary) programme had a full in-service day on literacy, led by the language co-ordinator. In several HEIs, the English language staff provided very good informal support to colleagues in other subjects. Commendably, in one institution, a key member of the English language team had the formal responsibility to brief and advise colleagues in other disciplines on the teaching of relevant literacy skills. In several HEIs, involving cross-curricular groups of tutors in marking assignments with a literacy dimension enhanced staff expertise in literacy. In one case, the assessment arrangements involved a wide range of staff engaging in professional discussion of literacy issues with students. Another useful arrangement was the inclusion of an update on literacy issues in the briefing session for all tutors before student teachers went out on placements in primary schools.

5.4 Quality assurance of the literacy element of ITE programmes

5.4.1 In broad terms, all HEIs had established a range of quality assurance mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the quality of the ITE programmes and the components of the programmes. These mechanisms typically included external examiners' reports, formal and informal evaluations by student teachers, moderation of student teachers' assessments and assignments, peer evaluations of teaching and planning by staff and annual course reports. With a few exceptions, the quality assurance mechanisms did not focus specifically on the substance or success of the literacy contributions across programmes. This gap needed to be addressed to establish clearly whether student teachers were achieving the literacy competence.

5.4.2 Most HEIs had systems securely in place to gather student teachers' formal evaluations of English language courses taught on campus in primary and secondary programmes. These evaluations added to the informal feedback received from students as programmes were delivered. Most English language tutors were thoughtful and reflective about their courses and this self-evaluation contributed positively to the quality of the on-campus teaching. Tutors were also generally very assiduous about responding to student teachers' views, including when the views were hard hitting and critical, and there was clear evidence of changes and improvements being made, often very quickly and effectively. However, student teachers did not always get feedback on their evaluations.

5.4.3 Most HEIs sought evaluative feedback from schools and student teachers on their experience of the school placements. These evaluations did not include specific attention to student teachers' preparedness to teach literacy. HEIs should work with student teachers and partner schools to devise ways of getting useful feedback on student teachers' ability to make an effective contribution to developing pupils' reading and writing skills. The exercise should include gathering student teachers' views on their readiness to teach relevant aspects of literacy.

5.4.4 Many of the English language tutors were nationally known for their expertise in the principles and practices for effective learning and teaching in reading and writing, and most were very well informed about research in the field of literacy. They were therefore very well placed to plan, monitor and enhance ongoing courses and most achieved this enhancement through very good, supportive teamwork.

5.5 Partnership between the HEIs and schools

5.5.1 Because of the structure of ITE programmes and their dependence on school placements, the theme of partnership pervaded the review process. In carrying out the review, teams set out to look at features of programmes in relation to the respective roles and responsibilities for HEIs and schools that had been agreed through partnership arrangements. The reality of partnerships, however, was that HEIs had to adopt a pragmatic approach. All HEIs and many partner schools were clear about what was desirable if school placements were to be effective, consistent experiences that complemented student teachers' work on campus. In practice, constraints relating to the time available for HEI staff to support schools and for teachers to support students meant that principles had to be compromised. All HEIs ensured that all students experienced the required number of school placements, but even that basic expectation was only achieved through hard work and goodwill on both sides. The national attention being given to this key aspect of ITE is much needed. At the same time, existing strengths are commendable and will provide a foundation for future improvements.

5.5.2 For student teachers and for schools, the quality of the arrangements for the placement experience is very important. At a strategic level, all HEIs had some form of partnership meetings that involved faculty members and local authority/school representatives. These meetings worked well when they were used formally to evaluate the effectiveness of arrangements and, where necessary, initiate improvements. Attendance by partner schools at these meetings varied but minutes of meetings were circulated. HEIs also sought to involve school representatives in the planning of programmes. These high-level activities give schools insights into HEI thinking and the institutions benefit from teachers' experience as day-to-day practitioners. They form an important constituent of successful partnerships.

5.5.3 Arrangements at school level were generally well administered by the HEIs but limited in scope. Nominated teachers normally received placement handbooks, details of assessment procedures and a synopsis of the ITE programme. This documentation described, usually in fairly broad terms, how shared responsibilities for school experience would be delivered. Opinions varied in schools on whether the information available was sufficient for teachers to support student teachers effectively. In several programmes, tutors had made pre-visits to brief schools but these were being phased out because of pressures on HEI staff time. In relation to literacy, schools generally were given very little if any guidance on the preparation student teachers had received on how to contribute to pupils' learning in reading and writing. Nor were they given clear advice on what student teachers were expected to do during placements to develop the competence related to literacy. Without such guidance and advice, it is very difficult for school staff to assess whether the competence has been achieved. Partnership arrangements need to be reviewed to ensure schools, student teachers and HEIs have a better, shared understanding of what particular placements are expected to deliver. The aim should be to provide clear guidance on the teaching to be undertaken by student teachers; the frequency and purposes of observation of student teachers by school staff; and the relative roles of schools and HEIs in assessing student teachers' performance.

5.5.4 Positive evidence of good features of school placements included the following. Some partnerships succeeded in delivering almost all of these features.

5.5.5 Where the quality of school placements was more variable, student teachers expressed concern that a particular experience could 'make them or break them'. Many found it worrying if schools had little idea about what had been done on campus. They were also concerned if the HEI was not exerting a key influence on their teaching commitments and on the number and nature of observations to be undertaken by school staff before judgements were made on their teaching. Some thought different standards were being applied across schools.

5.5.6 Successful partnership between local authorities and their schools and HEIs is crucial to the successful delivery of ITE, including ensuring that the competence related to literacy is securely addressed and assessed. Given that all parties are in broad agreement about what needs to be done to achieve this success, all stakeholders need to work together to make current good practice the norm.

5.6 Summary

Strengths in management and quality assurance

Management and quality assurance issues and action points

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