Teacher education: what is it and why is it important?

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Date published 04 August 2023

In this blog, Ambition Institute Director of Programme Delivery Elen Jones discusses the ins and outs of teacher education. What is it? Why is it important? And how can it have an impact on the pupils, teachers and leaders in your setting?

Our vision is an education system where every child can thrive, no matter their background. Through our programmes, we want to ensure there are expert teachers in every classroom being led by exceptional school leaders at all levels. We do this by providing high- quality professional development.

For schools and trusts, professional development involves everyone who plays a role in the education of children and young people. Teacher educators play a vital role in that picture, as they are responsible for supporting teachers and school leaders to develop their expertise.

Teacher education is all about helping teachers to improve their practice and improve pupils’ learning through high quality, impactful professional development. In short, it’s the work of teaching teachers.

Thinking in terms of teacher education means looking at teachers’ whole careers. This holistic approach helps to address these key questions: How can you support teachers and school leaders to grow their expertise? And, how can you guide their development at every stage of their careers?

Who are teacher educators?

Teacher educators include anyone who delivers teacher development. This covers a wide variety of roles, including:

  • An experienced teacher who mentors an Early Career Teacher.
  • A head of subject in a secondary school trying to improve pupil attainment.
  • A Key Stage lead in a primary school who wants to ensure that teachers build on pupils’ prior learning.
  • A trust-wide initial teacher training lead who wants to support in-school leads in designing bespoke training to meet the needs of their early career teachers and mentors.

What do teacher educators do?

A growing body of evidence points to a core foundation of knowledge that supports teachers and school leaders to be effective. This has also been built into the recent reforms in teacher training, including the Early Career Framework (ECF), National Professional Qualifications (NPQs), and Initial Teacher Training Framework.

A teacher educators’ role is to teach this core knowledge and support teachers to apply it in their own classroom and context, at every stage of their career. For teachers in the first few years of their practice, this could involve sharing insights from research evidence and what this might look like in the classroom.

As teachers and school leaders learn and gain more experience, teacher educators can help them get into the knottier problems and challenges of their context. This involves guiding teachers to consider evidence-based principles and helping them to practise and apply these insights to better support their pupils.

Why focus on Teacher education?

In terms of the interventions that can be made in the education system, the research says that effective teaching can have a significant impact on pupil outcomes.

Teacher education is one way to improve the effectiveness of teaching. The impact of high quality professional development on pupil outcomes is comparable to the impact of having a teacher with 10 years’ experience in front of a class instead of a graduate teacher (Fletcher-Wood & Zuccollo, 2020).

Every pupil has a teacher, and that means teacher education has the potential to reach every pupil, in every school. It's not just for a specific group of pupils, it has impact across the whole system.

This is particularly important when it comes to addressing inequalities in education. There is an attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers, and improving teaching and school leadership is one of the most effective ways to bridge this gap.

Research shows that settings providing high quality professional development are holding on to their teachers for longer, with educators less likely to leave the profession (Fletcher-Wood & Zuccollo, 2020). This means teacher educators play a key role in keeping skilled and experienced teachers in the profession and making sure that pupils have access to the most effective teaching.

Impact across your setting

Working with groups of teachers across a school, trust or local area can lead to even greater change.

Teacher educators can support entire settings, such as schools or trusts, to build a shared body of knowledge, language and culture of learning. This gives teachers and leaders a common foundation to explore how to better support pupils. It can also help settings to tackle more complex problems or evaluate the benefits and challenges of different approaches for a specific context.

An example of this could be in assessment. Does your setting design and deliver assessment in the most effective way? Is your assessment policy robust and rigorous? How does your assessment cycle support teachers to be effective in the classroom?

Teacher educators support teachers and school leaders to reflect on current practices and to consider what the evidence tells us about the most effective approaches. This can lead to changes at classroom, phase, department, school or trust level.

Teacher education supports this process of rigorous reflection and improvement, so that the most effective approaches can be developed to support pupil learning.

Our programmes for Teacher Educators

Our National Professional Qualification (NPQ) in Leading Teacher Development provides the knowledge and skills you need to help you make classroom teaching in your school be the best it can be.

Our Transforming Teaching programme supports your setting to build its capacity to design and deliver effective professional development, tailored to the needs and context of your setting.

Elen Jones
Director, Programme Delivery

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