Playing Safe, Faking Good, And Gatekeeping: Tensions In Practice-Based Assessment Of Student Teacher Preparedness

Recommended citation: Carver, M. (2019). Playing Safe, Faking Good, And Gatekeeping: Tensions In Practice-Based Assessment Of Student Teacher Preparedness. European Conference on Educational Research. University of Hamburg, 3rd September. Available from:

Slides with audio narration available here

Assessment of student teachers’ practice on a placement or practicum is a core component of Initial Teacher Education and post-qualification mentoring. To explore potential risks particular to this assessment type, this study uses Race’s (2014) model of the competing priorities of assessment in which different actors in different situations are seen to prioritise different aspects of assessment: validity, fairness, veracity, transparency, and authenticity. While it might be assumed that assessing a student teacher teaching a class is highly authentic, Race’s model helps to illustrate how other concerns can have an impact. For instance, using a rubric to improve fairness, validity, and transparency might limit attention to a few areas of teaching and thus reduce its authenticity. This can be particularly problematic if student teachers suspect this is happening and then try to game the assessment to get the best possible mark. Likewise, making assessment criteria as transparent as possible risks oversimplifying tacit professional judgements, which can limit authenticity and validity if too-strictly followed or else limit transparency and fairness if interpreted too loosely. Added to this is risk derived from assessors also having a mentoring role, raising issues around whether assessment should be a holistic judgement of an overall impression of a student teacher or if snapshots in pre-selected formally observed classes should be treated in isolation. Again, Race’s model shows how both have risks, particularly as students try to figure out how best to focus their efforts.

This framework helps to show how the nebulous concept of preparedness interacts with risk during the school-based components of initial teacher education programmes in Scotland. For instance, it considers tensions such as:

  • Student teachers needing to show their mentor that they are prepared and competent while also being honest about their development needs.

  • School-based mentors needing to support student teachers, maintain relationships with university-based colleagues, act as gatekeepers of their profession, and safeguard the interests of their pupils.

  • University-based teacher educators needing to maintain relationships with school-based colleagues, monitor consistency and fairness of assessments across wide-ranging settings, and to help prepare students for their practice-based or practicum experiences.

Through this, it is hoped that the paper will enhance our understanding of what student teachers, school-based mentors, and university-based teacher educators mean by students being ‘prepared to teach’ and how risk is experienced through assessment practices as competing priorities are balanced.

The motivation for this focus came from the 2018 Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE) surveys of graduating students, school-based mentors and headteachers, and university-based teacher educators. Survey responses showed a broadly positive consensus, but with diverging perceptions about the preparedness of students, the overall quality of students on admission to programmes, and the suitability of assessment to determine when students were of a sufficient quality. It was also found that ITE in Scotland is highly inter-connected – despite the many different universities and routes offering ITE, schools regularly take student teachers from across the country, thus raising issues around parity and consistency of assessment regimes. As part of the project’s broader remit to look at ways of measuring the quality of initial teacher education, findings are presented in a way which contrasts those distinctly Scottish areas of interest against a more international focus build around Feuer et al.’s framework for evaluating teacher education (2013) as elaborated in the recent MQuITE literature review (Rauschenberger, Adams and Kennedy, 2017).


Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE) is a six-year collaborative study funded by Scottish Government and supported by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and the Scottish Council of Deans of Education (SCDE). It involves partners from all 11 universities in Scotland currently providing ITE. The overall aim of the project is to develop a framework for assessing ITE quality and to test it out in a five-year cohort study with a view to identifying features of high-quality and context-appropriate ITE. The project has already completed a literature review of how quality is conceptualised in Initial Teacher Education and conducted surveys of graduating teachers in 2018. In addition to following this cohort through the next 5 years, annual surveys will also capture views of each graduating cohort, school-based mentors and headteachers, and university-based teacher educators in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. In addition to the quantitative and qualitative data generated in these different surveys, regular focus groups will explore particular topics of interest prompted from the survey analysis. In the case of new teacher preparedness, the 2018 surveys highlighted different perceptions of teacher preparedness, the suitability and usefulness of pre-programme selection and end-of-programme assessments, and some differences in preparedness based on factors such as subject specialism, type of training route, and the curriculum stage in which teachers worked. Taking these themes forward for the current paper involved using these findings as prompts for focus groups held across Scotland with recently graduated teachers, school-based mentors, and university-based teacher educators. Discussions were analysed in Atlas.ti through two theoretical frameworks: the approaches to learning literature (Entwistle, 2000; Gibbs and Simpson, 2004) and the dialogic feedback in professional learning literature (Carless et al., 2011). It was intended that these frameworks would help to focus attention on how new teachers and their tutors position themselves through assessment, the extent to which assessments ‘make up people’ and interact with professional identity (Stobart, 2008), and to highlight ways in which assessment practices fit within a broader evaluation of ITE quality.

Expected Outcomes

Results from these focus groups are intended to help various stakeholders in the practice-based assessment of student teachers to reflect on their priorities in assessment, identify where there are risks to fairness or effectiveness of assessment, and find ways to shift priorities more towards supporting student teacher learning. As part of the projects overall aim of findings nuanced ways to better understand quality in initial teacher education, these outcomes will be discussed in terms of what assessment practices can tell us about the overall quality of ITE and which assessment practices best support student teacher learning.


Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36(4), 395–407.

Entwistle, N. (2000). Approaches to studying and levels of understanding: the influences of teaching and assessment. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (Vol. XV, pp. 156–218). New York: Agathon.

Feuer, M. J., Floden, R. E., Chudowsky, N., & Ahn, J. (2013). Evaluation of Teacher Preparation Programs: Purposes, Methods, and Policy Options. Washington DC: National Academy of Education.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2004). Does your assessment support your students’ learning. Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 1(1), 1–30.

Race, P. (2014). Making learning happen: A guide for post-compulsory education (3rd ed.). London: Sage.

Rauschenberger, E., Adams, P., & Kennedy, A. (2017). Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education. Edinburgh: Scottish Council of Deans of Education.

Stobart, G. (2008). Testing times: the uses and abuses of assessment. London: Routledge.