The pandemic has demonstrated the strength and versatility of cooperation and collaboration in our ITE partnership. This has been shown through the support and flexibility of our school partners joining with us to train beginning teachers, and through the ways in which the University PGCE has worked to develop approaches which would provide support for our partnership schools.
Experiences in the first lockdown
During the first lockdown we developed a comprehensive subject specific ‘virtual’ PGCE programme for our beginning teachers. This allowed them to continue to develop their practice-based skills, as well as taking the opportunity for deep reflection on their classroom experiences on the course to that point.
Recent discussions with local schools, who now have this cohort of beginning teachers working with them as NQTs, have demonstrated that, despite the obvious challenges of training in a pandemic, they were well prepared. They have needed support to make the transition back into classroom practice and develop day to day teaching stamina, but the time spent in our virtual curriculum had prepared them for their new roles. It was particularly noted that they were thinking far more deeply about subject specific pedagogical approaches and curriculum planning than would usually be expected of NQTs.
Facing the challenge of educating beginning teachers in a pandemic from day one of the course
During the academic year 2020/21 our partnership has demonstrated the determination of school and university-based colleagues to ensure our beginning teachers have the best chance to become excellent beginning history teachers despite the pandemic disruption. In a very challenging climate we have been able to provide all our beginning history teachers with two distinct teaching practice placements in local secondary schools, and our school-based partnership colleagues have been incredible in supporting our students to make the most of their time in the classroom, learning to work within Covid-19 regulations. The students have been able to engage with their placements online, supporting remote learning when bubbles have burst, required to self-isolate or in this most recent lockdown. The response from everyone involved in developing our beginning history teachers, both school and university based, has been to provide a ‘bespoke programme’ guided by really clear shared principles of our ITE curriculum.
In addition, throughout this challenging year, our partnership colleagues have continued to engage with the CPD opportunities offered through the partnership, attending Subject Interest Groups where they’ve engaged with subject knowledge enhancement and subject specific pedagogical thinking and seizing opportunities to become involved in research projects with the History department at the University of Nottingham. Colleagues in local schools have also worked with UoN undergraduate students to develop specialist subject workshops with our undergraduates going into schools (both in person and virtually) to work with pupils on understanding more ‘Black British History’. And we have supported teachers from our partnership present and participate at a national New History Teacher Conference organised by the School History Project as well as be involved in a plethora national history community events from the HA Virtual Conference to the African Kingdoms seminars and the Twitter based History Teacher Book Club.
And, in turn, we have sought to specifically support our school colleagues during the placement phase of the course. Alongside our students’ teaching practice placements we have offered, in addition to our usual university-based curriculum, a new kind of virtual curriculum, drawing on the lessons of the summer but reconceptualising how this might work when blended with placements. This virtual curriculum has sought to enhance practice-based skills alongside deepening their engagement with pedagogical reading and thinking about history as a discipline. We have actively developed our beginning teachers’ skills in teaching remotely so that they could bring their expertise as learners and teachers in the online environment to support remote learning in their school placements. The virtual curriculum has also provided opportunities for us to broaden the scope of the areas usually covered during the PGCE year and deepen engagement with certain elements of the course in response to student’s individual needs. In this way our students have been supported to continue making progress against the teacher standards and to develop their curricular thinking despite the disruption caused by the pandemic.
The importance of partnership and collaboration
The past year has vividly demonstrated to me how closely ITE partnerships work to collaboratively develop beginning teachers and also support established colleagues in their teaching practice. It is a reciprocal relationship and if valued and nurtured it can be one in which all parties benefit. We work with our school partners to develop teachers who think critically and develop agency which means they can be visionary not just reactive when circumstances change, and to make the most of the opportunity presented by challenges such as the pandemic. We create thinking teachers with deep foundations which equip them for the long term in teaching.
I am incredibly grateful for the colleagues who have walked this ITE journey with us over the past year, and will continue to support, advise and help us to develop a rigorous, practice-based, research informed programme which is able to take on the challenges of a post-Covid-19 world. We are truly better together. And I’m looking forward to the point where mentors and tutors might all be able to meet together to enjoy a cuppa and a sticky bun and look at the history teacher cohorts of 2019/20 and 2020/21, who together we set on the journey of ‘becoming a history teacher’, and smile.