Enhanced competence-based learning in early professional development

ESRC (Funder)

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


The four-year study of beginning teachers by the Early Professional Learning (EPL) project found that the developmental experience of new teachers involved seven empirical dimensions of experience: the emotional, relational, cognitive, material, structural, ethical and temporal. These dimensions represent a largely informal process of professional development and occupational identity formation, which reflect the essentially relational nature of teachers’ work as well as the psychosocial aspects of early professional development.

Our research found that the main engagement with the professional standard by new teachers was in relation to the bureaucratic requirement to complete the profession’s interim profile, a record of performance which, in the opinion of the teachers questioned, trailed behind the real experience as an imposition rather than an instrument of reflection (Stronach, 2009). In interviews with 128 new teachers in 31 secondary schools in Scotland and England, typical comments were: ‘I found it really dry; it wasn’t seeking to find anything about me personally as a teacher’; or, ‘the idea that we can give everything an [interim profile] code… it’s completely meaningless’. Insofar as there was a small but significant connection with the standard when many new teachers began to adjust their teaching to difference across the children and classes that they taught, and which occurred a few months into their first year of teaching, learning to teach appeared to be experienced as a process of becoming a teacher: that is, gaining a preliminary self-as-teacher identity, mainly through the emotional-relational engagement with colleagues and pupils taught, a process for which the standard provided no guidance or structure. The findings were consistent with the anthropological paradigm of rite of passage in describing this experience (Eddy, 1969), and also echoed those who have found professional development to be intimately dependent on relationships. Hinchliffe (2004), for example, describes the ethical nexus in workplace relationships as being not simply a context for the quality of work and human flourishing, but as central to the experience of the newcomer joining a community of practice. And this is a transition, as Wenger (1998) argues, which involves a relationship between learning and identity in which a sense of self is integral to the individual’s feeling of belonging. The learning is transformative and is a process of becoming a new person or, in this case, a teacher.

Despite the often compelling nature of such evidence, our continuing impression was of a policy resistance to such explanations as lacking in hard evidence: soft data based on mere case studies. The backing of ‘harder’ evidence through the more positivist methods of research and evaluation that were adumbrated by the likes of David Hargreaves (1997) and then David Blunkett in the late nineties, validated for some a view of ‘genuine’ social science as being able only ‘to measure the size of the effect of A on B’ (in Hammersley, 2002, p. 83), and suggested to us that an interview-based strategy alone might be methodologically limited in its potential for warranting evidence, as Eraut (2000) puts it, of processes that, if not entirely tacit, do not come readily to mind. In the first phase of the project (2004-05) six teacher-researchers seconded to the project interviewed twenty-five new teachers within their own schools at approximately twice monthly intervals. It was from these findings that five important areas were identified for which quantitative indicators of new teacher development were designed in triangulation of the narrative evidence. These were job satisfaction (jobsat), children’s views (cepsati), expert judgement of teaching performance (exjudge), pupil development (PDI), and interactions with significant others (interact). This archive contains the data collected through these instruments between 2004 and 2008. A discursive analysis of the findings is available in McNally and Blake 2010
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSwindon
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • early professional learning
  • new teachers


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