Exploring The Perspectives Of School-Based Teacher Educators In University-Led ITE

Recommended citation: Kennedy, A. (2019). Exploring The Perspectives Of School-Based Teacher Educators In University-Led ITE . European Conference on Educational Research. University of Hamburg, 5th September. Available from: www.mquite.scot

Slides with audio narration available here

In recent times, there has been significant interest across Europe in the concept of the ‘teacher educator’ (Murray & Male, 2005; Swennen & van der Klink, 2009), with much of this work focusing on the work and identity of university-based teacher educators operating in complex fields with sometimes competing demands from professional and academic stakeholders. However, there is a longstanding acknowledgment of the need to adopt a wider conception of the term to include school-based teacher educators (SBTE), with Feiman-Nemser (1998) posing the question ‘why don’t teachers in mentor-type roles see themselves as teacher educators?’ (p. 63). Over twenty years later, this question is as pertinent as ever.

In an attempt to shed further light on this question, and in order to provide evidence to enhance policy-making, this paper explores the views of 229 teachers in Scottish schools who are involved in the support of student teachers during University-led initial teacher education (ITE) programmes. The data is drawn from a wider project – Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education (MQuITE). MQuITE is a six-year collaborative project involving all 11 university providers of ITE in Scotland, together with the General Teaching Council for Scotland. It is funded by Scottish Government who wish to have access to rigorous empirical data that will help them to improve the quality of ITE in Scotland. The project seeks to:

  1. Develop a context-appropriate framework for measuring ITE

  2. Test that framework out with a study cohort over a five-year period with a view to identifying quality elements of ITE

The first phase of empirical data collection took place Spring 2018, and involved online surveys for graduating students, university staff and school staff involved in supporting ITE students. The present paper draws principally on data from the school staff survey.

There is acknowledgment internationally that ‘The most powerful programs require students to spend extensive time in the field throughout the entire program, examining and applying the concepts and strategies they are simultaneously learning about in their courses’ (Darling-Hammond, 2006, p. 307). However, simply spending time in school is not sufficient; rather it is what happens in the school site that makes the difference, with Smith and Avetisian (2011) arguing that a cooperating teacher's approach to mentoring has a greater influence than his or her teaching style on a teacher candidate’s pedagogy.

Over recent years, the calls first heard in the literature to adopt a wider conception of the teacher educator, are beginning to be seen in policy aspirations; a move exemplified in Scotland by the recommendation in the influential Donaldson Report (Donaldson, 2010, p. 73) that ‘all teacher should see themselves as teacher educators and be trained in mentoring’.

In designing the school staff survey in the MQuITE project, amongst other things, we sought to find out

This paper reveals the SBTE perspective on Donaldson’s aim, presenting their views on how experienced and competent they feel in mentoring student teachers. We also asked about the preparation they had received for this role, and whether they felt they would benefit from further CPD in supporting students at this stage in their career. Qualitative responses to a question about the quality of assessment of site-based learning reveal a range of assumptions about the respective roles of schools and universities, suggesting the need for greater dialogue between these two key partners in ITE.

This confusion between teacher educator roles, and importantly, the implications of the education of SBTEs is an issue coming to the fore across Europe and beyond (White, 2018), and this exploration of the views of SBTEs in Scotland provides an important perspective on this debate.


This paper draws on survey data which forms a part of the wider MQuITE project. All the empirical work in MQuITE is shaped by a quality framework devised by the project team (MQuITE Project Team, 2018), which drew on an earlier review of literature (Rauschenberger, Adams and Kennedy, 2017). The data reported here comes from an online survey for school staff who work with student teachers (including both classroom teacher mentors and promoted staff with a responsibility for overseeing student teacher development in their schools). The survey was live between 30 May and 15 July 2018, and received 229 responses. It was sent to every school in Scotland using a list provided by Scottish Government, with a request for the online link to be forwarded to all staff involved in the mentoring of student teachers. This approach to distribution proved slightly problematic in that several of the email addresses did not work, and some of the schools replied to say that they could not take part in research without formal approval from the local authority. This permission was sought locally by project team members, but in most cases the process was so bureaucratic and slow as to be unhelpful. The survey link was also published in the main Scottish education newspaper (Times Educational Supplement Scotland) which was running an article on the research. In addition, the survey link was circulated on Twitter, thereby allowing teacher mentor respondents to respond in an individual capacity rather than through their employer’s gatekeeping structures. The teacher mentor survey consisted of a demographics section followed by a range of questions adopting a likert scale format, supplemented by 7 opportunities to add free text comments. The survey looked at the following key issues: experience of and competence in mentoring student teachers; previous education/training undertaken and desire to undertake further education/training; involvement in selection, delivery and development of ITE; views on partnership; support and communication with university and local authority; assessment of student teachers; and views on the preparedness of graduates. The quantitative survey data were analysed using SPSS, with the free-text responses being analysed using a general inductive approach (Liu, 2016; Thomas, 2006) in order to generate categories and themes. Survey responses revealed good representativeness from the nine ITE providers who had 2018 graduates, and from different sectors (nursery/primary, secondary and other).

Expected Outcomes

In terms of experience and competence in mentoring student teachers, it is interesting to note that while only 69% report being experienced/very experienced, 82.1% report feeling competent. These figures are particularly interesting when considered against the findings that while 49.8% said they had undertaken some mentoring-related professional development/learning and 50.2% said they had not, only 43.3% felt they would, or would definitely benefit from further training/education in this area at the moment. The majority of those who indicate what kind of training/education they had previously engaged reported undertaking coaching and mentoring courses offered by their local authority or by the ITE providing university. A few had done mentoring-related work as part of leadership modules which even fewer had undertaken Masters-level courses specifically on teacher learning/mentoring coaching. These responses raise questions about how the role is understood, and what being ‘competent’ as a mentor might mean. These responses indicate a need to probe more deeply how teacher mentors conceive of the role, given the fairly convincing reporting of levels of competence yet the very varied range of specific preparation undertaken for the role. Interrogating respondents’ views of their involvement in other elements of ITE, and their views on assessing student teachers, helps to reveal a more detailed picture of their conceptualisation of the role of the teacher mentor in schools. Taken together, the findings reveal an inconclusive view of the role of the SBTE in Scotland. When considering this picture against the dominant EU view (European Commission, 2013), we can identify a series of potential actions for improvement, not least of which is moving the discourse to consider SBTEs as part of ‘the teacher educator profession’, involving dialogue and shared professional learning across all those involved in supporting student teacher learning.


Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Powerful teacher education: lessons from exemplary programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

European Commission (2013). Supporting teacher educators for better learning outcomes. http://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/education/policy/school/doc/support-teacher-educators_en.pdf

Feiman-Nemser, S. (1998). Teachers as teacher educators. European Journal of Teacher Education, 21(1), 63-74.

Liu, L. (2016). Using Generic Inductive Approach in Qualitative Educational Research: A Case Study Analysis. Journal of Education and Learning, 5(2), 129-135.

Murray, J., and T. Male. 2005. Becoming a Teacher Educator: Evidence from the Field. Teaching and Teacher Education 21(2), 125–142. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2004.12.006.

MQuITE Project Team (2018). MQuITE Framework February 2018. Edinburgh: Scottish Council of Deans of Education (scde.ac.uk).

Rauschenberger, E., Adams, P. & Kennedy, A. (2017). Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education: A literature review or Scotland’s MQuITE study. Edinburgh: Scottish Council of Deans of Education (scde.ac.uk).

Smith, E.R & Avetisian, V. (2011) Learning to Teach with Two Mentors: Revisiting the “Two-Worlds Pitfall” in Student Teaching, The Teacher Educator, 46 (4), 335-354, DOI: 10.1080/08878730.2011.604400

Thomas, D. (2006). A General Inductive Approach for Analyzing Qualitative Evaluation Data. American Journal of Evaluation, 27, 237-246. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1098214005283748

White, S. (2018). Teacher educators for new times? Redefining an important occupational group, Journal of Education for Teaching, DOI: 10.1080/02607476.2018.1548174