Back to school

The University was delighted to receive top marks for the quality of its teacher education provision in a recent Ofsted report.

Teaching is a challenging and rewarding career and is consistently one of the most popular choices for students at the University, with the number of applications far exceeding the number of available places each year. We quizzed Jeff Serf, Associate Dean, Initial Teacher Education, about why teacher training is so appealing and what makes Wolverhampton graduates stand out.

Q1: The Ofsted report highlighted the high quality of the academic and pastoral support at the School of Education. Give examples

A: The two aspects are linked, in the sense that we take a great deal of care over our selection of students, so we can help them get off to a flying start.

Part of the selection procedure is an audit of their knowledge and previous experiences as well as an interview, and we use all this information to put together an individual programme for the trainees to carry out before they even arrive.

A feature of each course is on-going review and target setting, which requires students and tutors to work together closely and this develops the relationships that underpin our pastoral care.

Every student has a personal tutor throughout their course, and because they spend so much time on placements gaining real experience, they also have a school or college mentor who they look to for support. In terms of outcomes, our students really are outstanding and that is illustrated by their high standard of academic work, as well as their performance in the classroom.

Q2 Describe the partnerships the School of Education has with schools and colleges

A: All of the courses are partnerships, which means school and college staff sit on the various steering groups and have input there on, for example, the curriculum the students follow.

They take our students on placements and support them, and we use their staff to provide bespoke sessions in their areas of expertise.

We take groups of students into a school or college that is particularly well recognised for a high standard of teaching in, say, citizenship, so they can see what best practice is. When a school or college enters into a partnership with us, there is a commitment to provide a mentor who has to undergo training and we have a structured training programme for mentors that can result in the accreditation of Masters credits.

Q3 “Interest in teaching as a career has increased and the kind of people applying to become a teacher has changed in recent years”. Discuss

A: We are lucky in that we get significantly more applicants than we have places.

Interest does reflect the economic climate – if there are redundancies out there then people will be changing careers, either because they want to or are being forced to. Teaching is an attractive career for many and it is relatively well paid – but you do have to work hard.

The vast majority of applicants have thought very carefully about the choices facing them and have made a conscious decision that they want to teach. It is not the profession for someone who does not really want to do it.

For primary teaching, most students tend to fit the typical undergraduate profile, while secondary is a mix of traditional and mature students, perhaps because it is more attractive to career changers.

Many of our PCE students are already teaching in colleges and so bring, in some cases, years of experience – as do those on our employment-based routes for school teachers.

One cohort of PCE students consists of active service personnel based at RAF Cosford.

Q4: Describe the formula used to make Wolverhampton graduates stand out

A: What makes them stand out is their enthusiasm and they do get that partly from their tutors.

They are willing to experiment and to try things out and to risk failing. There is nothing wrong with trying things out, making a mistake and learning from it – just don’t make the same mistake twice! I think the students are quite critical of their own practice and the practice they observe, and we want them to be critical.

We are not trying to produce models or clones of ourselves – we want individuals who have the skills and abilities to support children and people in their learning. Of course, they are also very hard working, and that underpins everything.

They also enjoy being in the schools and colleges. I don’t think it is a reflection on us, but most of them would rather be in the classroom or teaching room than attending a lecture or seminar – and that’s the way it should be. They enjoy being in school and college and that comes through in their teaching.

Q5: Argue the case for School of Education courses, including what you think makes them different

A: In each of the phases we teach, we have developed areas of particular expertise.

For example, in primary we encourage students to exploit the potential for teaching outside the classroom and in secondary we have expertise in preparing students to teach in schools in challenging circumstances.

Meanwhile at PCE level we are excellent at using technology to support learning, including the use of e-portfolios. We do things that other institutions don’t or we do the same but better!

Q6: Outline the challenges facing the teaching profession and Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in particular

A: In the short term, one of the biggest challenges is probably the economic climate and government attempts to cut the financial deficit. It makes planning for the future quite difficult.

Also issues surrounding curriculum reform affects our planning, as well as all sectors from schools to Further Education colleges – for example, the uncertainty around vocational courses such as the 14-19 Diplomas.

Longer term, we really don’t know what the future holds apart from that there will be changes and in many cases we can’t guess what those changes will be.

But there must be a core of knowledge, a set of moral principles that we need to pass on to future generations and there must be a debate about that knowledge and those principles and what future generations will need. someone is considering teaching as a career.

Q7: Someone is considering teaching as a career. Describe the advice you would offer to them

A: Go and try it.

To get on to one of our courses you need some experience of working with the age range you are looking to teach, and without that you won’t get an interview.

We see experience as a good selection criterion, as they all know what they are getting into. If you think you are interested in teaching, get into a school or college and do some voluntary work. Do some group work and try and teach them something.

You will see if you like it and if you can do it. But do be careful – it’s addictive.