Socially just ITE... moving from aspiration to enactment [podcast episode]

Aileen Kennedy (Other), Melanie Ní Dhuinn (Other)

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[Abstract taken from the Let's Talk About Sociology of Education podcast website]

My guest in this episode is Professor Aileen Kennedy. Professor Kennedy is Professor of Practice in Teacher Education and Director of Teacher Education in the School of Education at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. She graduated as a primary teacher and having taught for six years in Clydebank moved on to become the first ever Professional Officer at the General teaching Council of Scotland. From there she took up a lecturing post at Strathclyde and after 15 years moved to the University of Edinburgh where she spent 5 years developing a radical new Initial Teacher Education programme that qualifies graduates to teach across the primary/secondary transition, working in an explicitly activist way to progress social justice in schools and their communities. In 2020 she returned to Strathclyde to take up a position as Professor of Practice in Teacher Education. Professor Kennedy is currently the Director of Teacher Education in the School of Education in Strathclyde, working with colleagues and wider stakeholders to enhance and promote work in teacher education policy and pedagogy. Professor Kennedy is informed in her work by an activist approach which puts social justice and transformative learning front and centre. She believes that Sociology of Education found her rather than her finding it and that she had a somewhat unintentional journey into it. I spoke to her about her career, her work and research, her interest in and commitment to equity, fairness, social justice and much more within Initial Teacher Education.

We talk about the Scottish Initial Teacher Education system and the similarities and differences with the Irish system, how ITE in Scotland has developed and progressed over time. She describes how innovative routes of ITE in Scotland address various challenges in the system including recruitment challenges around particular geographical areas, challenges of recruitment in particular subjects, underrepresentation of certain groups in teaching at both concurrent and consecutive levels and the challenge of attracting applicants back into teaching. Professor Kennedy elaborates on her episode title and explains that in her view that while ITE programmes promote and are based on a view of social justice that underpins ITE provision that this is something that has evolved over time through a process from an initial aspiration to enactment. She is keen to explore how social justice is enacted and how we see it in ITE programmes and that ITE students not only see how we teach through a social justice lens but also how students learn through a social justice lens. She talks about social justice as a way of being as well as a set of knowledge and pedagogical approaches, something that is an all- encompassing embodied approach.

We discuss what the research tells us about social justice in ITE and how that might impact on students’ outcomes. She refers to how politically the disadvantage of certain groups is prioritised at different times in ITE and in the Scottish case that there have been focused efforts to address poverty and attempts to close the poverty related attainment gap supported by research that tells us which groups of young people are less likely to achieve at school and how best to mitigate and organise and deliver teaching.

Professor Kennedy talks about critical pedagogy, transformative learning, culturally responsive pedagogy, professional activism as areas of research she is interested in and draws on in her work with ITE and in her research. We discuss the challenges of conceptualising and delivering the ITE curriculum cognisant of the learning outcomes requirements, time constraints and other mandated priorities. She describes how she led the development of an innovative new Masters-level initial teacher education (ITE) programme whilst at the University of Edinburgh. This programme adopted an explicit activist approach which put social justice and transformative learning frontand centre. She recalls how her students were supported to co-create their learning experience with teacher educators and her learning about assessment in general and we discuss the perennial issue of the purpose of assessment as simply giving a grade or classification or assessment for genuine learning.

We veer off course a little and talk about the ‘doing’ of research that supports our practice as teacher educators generally and more specifically research that supports ITE provision and reconceptualization. Professor Kennedy discusses the concept of ‘assessment’ of student teachers which is a contested and challenging space and the different approaches to this. We discuss the practicalities of school placement, the role of various stakeholders including mentor teachers in the assessment of student teachers as part of a tri-partite agreement.

In a message to student teachers she reminds us that the enactment of social justice can’t ever be something that teacher educators just deliver and that student teachers should feel entitled to be part of the enactment of social justice and to have conversations with all stakeholders and contribute to the enactment as they have more power at their disposal as student teachers than maybe they think and enactment is only ever something that is driven by a whole community.

This is a must listen episode for teacher educators, student teachers, policy makers, school management, teachers and parents. As Irish teacher educators embark on the process of reconceptualising initial teacher education programmes within the Céim framework this episode gives plenty to think about. It promotes the centrality of social justice in ITE that scaffolds, underpins, overarches and frames a process of enactment over time. Globally teacher education continues to undergo much transformation and reform that is driven by a neo-liberal approach of accountability and standardised approaches while the reality on the ground is that that the preparation of teachers and teaching is a messy, complex and nuanced activity that is both broad and deep and affords many opportunities to be innovative and radical. Professor Aileen Kennedy’s offer views on this and much more besides in this episode, tune in to hear more.
Original languageEnglish
Place of Publication[London]
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 13 May 2021


  • teacher education
  • social justice
  • transformative learning


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