The traditional structures of Initial Teacher Education have been under pressure for some time. Universities, eager to develop research capability and to economise during a downturn, have disinvested from ITE through reductions in teaching space, staff numbers and visits to schools, as well as rationalisation into larger Humanities Faculties, and economies in the structures of courses. Secondly, in staffrooms and populist columns in the national and educational press, those who work in ITE find their credibility challenged by a vociferous minority, despite many who speak enthusiastically about the quality of new entrants to the profession.
The underlying philosophy of both the Universities’ and the teaching community’s attacks on ITE is the same: it is the belief that serving school teachers are the best advisers of students, and that those involved in ITE, who no longer teach in schools, merely duplicate what teachers do. In an effort to test the hypotheses that ITE tutors’ visits to students in schools merely duplicates the processes occurring in school, and that teachers are more adept at giving professional guidance to students, the researchers commenced a small scale investigation of students' perceptions of their development on placement.
The research suggests that feedback from schools is conceptually different from that of tutors. School input deemed helpful concentrates on the particularities of the lesson, the class and the school, such as advice on “the identification of practicalities and routines to which pupils were familiar” or “information regarding individual students”. In contrast, University tutors' feedback appears to facilitate professional reflection, with comments such as “the tutors are able to better assess my development as a professional movement”, “a continuous reminder [of] the big picture” and “ensuring students know exactly why we’re doing things” being common. University tutors do not merely duplicate the role of school staff, but fulfil an entirely different and essential role which student teachers seem to value exceptionally highly. In the light of this, and with the Donaldson Review considering all aspects of Teacher Education, the way ahead for ITE must surely be in ensuring closer partnerships between Universities and schools in the knowledge that each plays a vital, complementary role in the development of new teachers on placement.