The Making of Teachers: A study into the differing experiences of PGCE students in university and school based initial teacher training environments.

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Education and Professional Studies


The research focuses on the experiences of secondary English beginning teachers and how the choice of PGCE environment impacts on their development as practitioners. The research project title alludes to Pam Grossman's seminal book 'The Making of a Teacher' (1990) where she suggests that, 'Teacher education can provide a framework that shapes what beginning teachers subsequently learn from experience.' p111. Inherent within this premise is the tension between learning 'from experience' and the relevance of theoretical study, an idea developed further by Grossman in later works that advocate practical methods in teacher training. National education policy in the UK has seen an increased emphasis on the practical, from the neoconservative thinking in policies in the 1990s (Furlong & Maynard, 1995) to the reforms of the 2010-15 Coalition Government. The political discourse around university teaching training has placed little value on the role of universities, emphasising a perceived separation of theoretical instruction from a more practical application in schools, 'teaching is a craft and it is best learnt as an apprentice...' (Gove 2010). This 'on the job' (Cochran-Smith 2005) approach to the development of teachers prioritises school-led systems over the traditional home of teacher education in universities. It is intended that the research will illuminate the differing approaches to learning and teaching practices in university and school-based initial teacher training. The development of in depth understanding of the cultures of both university and school based PGCE settings could help to inform future policy decisions around the nature and location of initial teacher education and the relationship between universities and schools.

Ethnography in qualitative research aims to provide an in-depth description of everyday life and practice. Sometimes termed 'thick description' (Geertz 1973) the focus is on the stories of the participants and are gathered from an emic perspective. Rampton (2007) highlights the necessity of looking in 'our own backyard to understand shifting cultural meanings, practices and variations' and it is the 'backyard' of the PGCE course that this research intends to look. Quantitative analysis of programme numbers or conversations with teacher educators does not get close enough to the actual experience of beginning teachers; a goal that is accessible through ethnography. As Heller (2008) comments, 'Ethnographies allow us to get at things we would otherwise never be able to discover.... They allow us to see complexity and connections.' (quoted in Copeland & Creece 2016). It is this complexity that the proposed research aims to access, combining interviews and participant observation of subject specific teacher education sessions with observation of classroom practice. As Britzman (1995; 2003) asserts, ethnography is not simply about 'capturing the real already out there' but is about constructing 'particular versions of truth' in which the reader has an investment and will be pulled in 'new directions.' Illuminating the nature of learning on PGCE courses has the potential to pull policy in 'new directions', developing an in-depth understanding of how the cultures of the different training environments work, rather than focusing on the politically expedient. Describing a 'vigorous period of change' internationally in teacher education, Tatto et al (2016) state, 'More research is needed that provides innovative answers to the challenging questions of who should teach, and where and how should teachers learn to teach.' p248. The research addresses this call and the choice of an ethnographic approach ensures that the focus is deep rather than shallow and grounded in the realities experienced by beginning teachers.


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Steadman, S (2018) Defining practice: exploring the meaning of practice in the process of learning to teach in Teacher Education and Advancement Network (TEAN) Journal

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1916680 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2016 29/09/2019 Sarah Jane Steadman
Description My research is concerned with initial teacher education in England. In my PhD, I considered how the choice of learning environment impacts on the learning and development of trainee teachers. The intensive yearlong immersion in three different training sites illuminated the cultures of the differing providers, demonstrating differences between training routes. The research resulting in the generation of rich, original data giving focused insight into what it looks and feels like to learn to teach in the increasingly marketized environment of teacher training in England. The subsequent conceptual theorising led to the formation of a framework addressing conflict, transition and agency. This conceptual framework has the capacity for analysis that transcends the specifics of individual programmes, both in the UK and internationally.
Exploitation Route My research has the potential to influence the pedagogy of teacher educators and has already had impact within the specific research sites. A proposal for a post-doctoral position focusing on further developing the impact of my findings is currently being prepared.
Sectors Education

Description The findings from my doctoral research have already had impact within the specific research sites. The articulation of anticipated conflicts has become part of induction activities in the university and consideration of differing identities and moments of transition have been worked into the practice of one of the school-led sites. These initial pedagogical advancements indicate the robust nature of the conceptual framework in informing the learning and development of trainees.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship
Amount £103,357 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 10/2021