Teacher training reforms are making progress

Ireland’s teacher training structures have been undergoing reforms recommended by the 2012 report on the system. A new review of the reform process has been released and here is an edited copy of the executive summary.

In 2012, the report of an International Review Panel, chaired by Professor Pasi Sahlberg, proposed a vision for the restructuring of initial teacher education (ITE) provision so that: “by 2030 Ireland will have a network of teacher education institutions based on a small number of internationally comparable institutes of teacher education.”

In addition: “each of these institutes will offer research-based teacher education in internationally inspiring environments, provided at Masters level initially or through continuing professional development. Each will also offer further professional development services on the continuum ranging from early childhood to in-service training of teachers and leaders”. 

The report recommended that the then 19 separate ITE institutions be reconfigured to provide six new institutes or centres for teacher education.

New review

It was decided in autumn 2017 that a review be undertaken to report on the extent to which the recommendations of the 2012 report had been implemented. The review was carried out in May 2018 by Professor Pasi Sahlberg, advised by Professor Áine Hyland with executive support provided by Valerie Harvey, Sarah Fitzgerald and Laura Austin of the HEA. 

The team visited all publicly-funded higher education institutions offering ITE in Ireland with a particular focus on the extent of the structural and cultural changes which have taken place since 2012. It also considered the effect of the reforms on the quality of instruction, on pedagogy, and on the educational experience of teacher-education students. It assessed the impact of the reforms on research capacity in the teacher education institutions, as well as linkages between theory and practice from the students’ perspective.

Considerable progress

The review found that considerable progress has been made over the past five years in implementing the recommendations of the 2012 report. 

From the restructuring perspective, the recommendations have been fully implemented in the case of three centres, i.e. DCU Institute of Education, Maynooth University,and University College Cork/Cork IT. 

In the case of NUI Galway/St. Angela’s – implementation of the recommendations is almost complete and senior management teams in both institutions are committed to finalising the incorporation of St. Angela’s into NUIG as soon as legal issues are resolved. 

In Limerick, there have been significant developments since 2012. Art and Design students from Limerick Institute of Technology now attend lectures and tutorials with Professional Master of Education (PME) students in UL. 

Mary Immaculate College (MIC) – incorporating St. Patrick’s in Thurles – now provides ITE across the continuum of early years, primary and post-primary as well as providing Continuing Professional Development (CPD), Masters and doctoral programmes. 

MIC, UL and LIT collaborate on research, CPD and Masters and Doctorate programmes through the National Institute for Studies in Education (NISE) and it is anticipated that collaboration between MIC and UL will grow and strengthen in the years ahead. The review report recommends that MIC be recognised as a free-standing provider of ITE and that issues relating to inconsistency of staffing arrangements across the sector be addressed.

Separate clusters

As regards the 2012 proposal that TCD, UCD, NCAD and Marino Institute of Education be reconfigured as one centre, the report accepts the point made by the four institutions that the logical approach would have been to propose two separate clusters, one made up of TCD and MIE and one made up of UCD and NCAD. 

In the case of the TCD/MIE cluster, the report notes that MIE is the only provider of ITE which is still directly funded by the Department of Education and Skills and recommends that MIE be brought under the auspices of the HEA like all other ITE providers. 

It also recommends that research and other collaborations between all four providers right across the two clusters should be extended and developed.

Further recommendations

As well as recommending that Ireland should have seven centres of excellence in ITE (as opposed to the six centres recommended in 2012), the report makes a number of further recommendations and raises some issues for consideration. 

It states that in all seven centres, the key strategic focus should be on creating a coherent range of ITE provision from early childhood education to adult and higher education teacher preparation. 

This should take place by further strengthening research-based approaches to teacher education, quality of pedagogy and instruction throughout various programmes, building coherent linkages between theory and practice and broadening internationalisation of ITE, including both students and academic staff.

Self-improving system

It recommends that higher education authorities and other policy makers should aim at creating a self-improving professional ITE system in Ireland where centres of excellence would have more autonomy from the state level central administration and would enhance collaboration with each other. 

It suggests that the authorities should provide timely and continuous feedback to the centres, especially when there are reasons to publicly recognise good work done. 

Incentives should be provided to encourage the centres to reach their strategic goals – for example, part of the annual spending on CPD could be distributed to the centres through a competitive funding scheme that would seek novel and innovative solutions to further develop the impact of CPD provision.

As regards research-based ITE, while recognising developments since 2012, the team recommends that all centres should make extra efforts to ensure that students understand not just how to read and do research but also how to think as researchers when working in or with schools and why it matters. 

School placement

The team also notes that ITE programmes now place a stronger emphasis on school placement than was the case in 2012. 

However, in view of issues raised about difficulties experienced by some student-teachers in relation to school placement, the report recommends that a review of current placement practice be undertaken and based on the findings of that review that necessary changes be made in policy, funding and practice in order to bring practical elements of ITE closer to the universities. 

The report also recommends that two or three centres might arrange to have a clinical teacher training school or schools closely integrated into their normal operations. Such a development should be introduced on a pilot basis in the first instance and should include rigorous and ongoing evaluation of the quality of student outcomes.

The report commented that while most centres referred to anecdotal evidence to indicate the success of their restructured programmes, there was a dearth of empirical evidence to support these claims. 

The review team therefore recommends that ITE centres collectively and in collaboration with higher education authorities and policy-makers, design a survey instrument that would help to monitor the progress and further development of ITE in Ireland. 

This could be an annual or bi-annual online survey that would focus on essential aspects of the evolution of ITE in Ireland, including student experiences of growing into the teaching profession, the impact of research as part of ITE, the effectiveness of practical training and the relevance of pedagogy used in teaching and learning.

Positive reform experience

The review team commends the leadership and staff of all institutions on their commitment to the implementation agenda and on the outcomes achieved. It notes that the structural reform of ITE in Ireland took place at a time of national economic retrenchment while also coinciding with significant reform of ITE programmes following the decision to extend those programmes by an additional year (i.e. an additional 60 ECTS credits). 

The team was gratified to hear staff in a number of centres commenting positively on the reform experience, in spite of the challenges and difficulties experienced during the process.