I recently attended a HEA event at Edge Hill University entitled: Educating Teachers to be Advocates for Widening Participation. The event provided an excellent opportunity to explore the barriers which prevent learners (particularly school leavers) from accessing higher education and to discuss the role that initial teacher education could play in providing a platform to raise aspirations and encompass careers information, advice and guidance within the context of the learning journey and progression. There was also ample discussion amongst colleagues on the similarities and differences between the education systems in England and Scotland, where clinical models of teacher education are being designed to address the demands that teaching in the 21st Century can bring.
The event has had reasonable impact upon my opinions on my current practice as a degree programme recruitment lead. It has ‘forced’ me to reflect and it is important that widening participation does not focus on recruiting MORE people, but the RIGHT people. I was particularly struck by a presentation from Iain Hulland, the Executive Head teacher from Alder Grange School. Iain focussed the discussion from the school perspective and quite rightly illustrated the need to develop research, improve leadership and affect teacher CPD within the same context. He also mentioned the need to develop specialist teachers or leaders in education who can act as role models to others.
Whilst he was presenting, I realised that those students who apply but do not have the entry requirements need to be provided with advice and guidance so that they may gain entry for the following session. Partnerships with local Further Education Colleges is essential in this regard and it may be that our resources need to be more connected. There is a desire to cement the relationship between professional practice and intellectual rigour by using schools as a ‘gatekeeper’ to the teaching profession. Indeed, this is an ambition reflected in clinical models of initial teacher education.
As a teacher educator, I believe that I have a responsibility to provide my students with the skills and breadth of knowledge which they will need to be able to mentor school aged pupils and to instil in them the benefits of higher education (though I recognise that this may not be the correct pathway for everyone). Likewise, via my participation on national steering groups with Education Scotland and The Scottish Government, I feel that I too, am an advocate to affect cultural changes from the early years, through primary and into secondary education settings. There is a recognised need to carry out more research into the lifelong learning ambitions of those young people within socially deprived areas… under the auspices of the wider More Choices, More Chances (Opportunities for All) and NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) contexts.
My aim, following this event, is to build into revised degree programmes the opportunity for student teachers to develop their leadership and employability skills by maximising their retention and their success as an independent learner. I expect to present a strategic approach to widening participation by examining the role of students, teachers and lecturers and promote students as ambassadors. By utilising them as role models, I aim to strengthen the existing partnerships between schools and The University. This is important to the future of the teaching profession and must be a mutual exchange between the two. There is both the need to recruit and retain the highest calibre of student whilst providing an experience which benefits everyone. As pointed out by Professor Liz Thomas, this may be via a formal curriculum model, extra-curricular means, co-curricular adaption or in-service model.
I now intend to engage with my students via their new student teacher society (Career Long Professional Learning) to make connections with other student groups across Scotland and in other UK regions, so that the students themselves may share practice and resources. It is also my intention to establish a student-to-student mentoring programme which is aligned to the University Learning and Teaching Strategy and which will take into consideration the entrants’ academic and socio-cultural background by directly addressing the University interventions and services which are available. This may assist some Year 1 Undergraduate students with the transition into higher education and provide them with an informal means of seeking help and advice from their peers. Of course, this needs to be carefully planned with consideration given to training and on-going support for the mentors themselves. I intend to do this by exploring my new connections (established at this event) with other HEIs across the country.