Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

School-based teacher education: The lived experience of students, teachers and university staff

Barry Down, Carol Hogan and Rosa Madigan
Faculty of Education
Edith Cowan University
In 1994 the staff of the Faculty of Education at Edith Cowan University, Bunbury Campus and several local primary schools developed a collaborative problem-solving model for preservice teacher education. The aim of the project is to allow teacher education students to work in schools for longer periods than is currently the case and deliver part of their program in the school setting, addressing real educational problems with the guidance of university staff and school personnel. SBTE rests on the assumption that more time spent in schools will lead to better outcomes for student teachers, classroom teachers and university staff. This work in progress sets out to investigate the extent to which this assumption matches the lived experience of those people involved. It will examine several themes emerging from this study to date: (1) The importance of understanding the broader social, economic and political context in which teachers, students and university staff operate; (2) The changing power relations between schools and universities; (3) The qualitative aspects of supervision by both school-based and university-based staff; and (4) The desirability of moving toward 'critically reflective' practice in a whole-school setting.


In America, Britain and now Australia, pre-service teacher education is undergoing profound change. Undoubtedly, 'teaching practice' is one of the most contested issues in the debate about the nature of teacher education. Throughout the 1980s a growing chorus of dissatisfaction culminated in a UNESCO report which summarised the criticisms of teaching practice as follows: lack of preparation for diverse situations; lack of linkages between subject matter and teaching processes; difficulties in placement of student teachers; uneven use of schools for practicum experiences; lack of direction of student teachers; lack of positive teacher models; confrontation in supervision situations; lack of consistent supervision; lack of training of cooperating teachers; lack of credibility of college or university supervisor; unclear expectations in the supervision situation; lack of 'ownership' of practicum program; and lack of communication between institutions (Learning to Teach, 1994, p.6).

In response to these criticisms school-based teacher education has gained momentum as a more desirable model of teacher education. The Discipline Review of Teacher Education in Mathematics and Science (DEET, 1992) the Ebbeck Report (1990), Teacher Quality (School Council, 1989), Australia's Teachers: An Agenda for the Next Decade (Schools Council, 1990), and the more recent Ministerial Statement Teaching Counts (1993, p.7) all argue that effective teacher education courses depend on a strong partnership between universities and schools. As a result, Government education policy is committed to the reform of teacher education. As teacher educators working in this reform context we find ourselves caught between two conflicting tendencies. On the other hand, the government's reform agenda presents many positive moments and possibilities. It offers university staff and teachers working in collaboration the opportunity to bring about fundamental change to teacher education and school level practices. On the other hand, the current debate has a negative and more sinister agenda in terms of the desire of governments to reduce expenditure and to emphasise the training and technical aspects of teaching practice. We are very aware that the current drive to restructure teacher education is a part of a much larger political, economic and cultural struggle to redefine the character of Australian society (Marginson, 1993; Frankel, 1992).

A general dissatisfaction with the technical training emphasis in current teaching practicum contributed to our decision to explore the possibilities of School-based Teacher Education. In addition, our close working relationship with many local primary schools in the Bunbury North and South Districts provided a further incentive to develop closer links with teachers interested in school level change.

The analysis presented here is by no means exhaustive. At this stage of our research we simply want to offer a sample of the sorts of issues, concerns and problems that seem to be emerging from various individual biographies. It is our hope that the ideas presented in this brief summary will stimulate comment and further dialogue.

What was our aim?

The aim of the project was to explore the extent to which the strong positive claims made by advocates of School-based Teacher Education matched the experiences of those involved in the long-term practicum in Bunbury.

How did it get started?

The Bunbury project began late in 1993 when Professor Max Angus spoke with the staff about the possibility of offering some final year students the opportunity to spend a longer period in schools that the standard ten-week term, and to take their university courses largely within the school setting. We canvassed the students and several local school principals and found that there was very strong support for such an initiative. Twenty-one students and five schools volunteered to participate, but we felt that a trial on this scale would overtax our meagre resources, particularly in terms of staff time.

In the end eight students were selected to spend all of semester 1 1994 in two schools. The students were required to have a sound academic record and a grade of "Highly Satisfactory" on their fourth practice, as we did not feel it was fair to place any additional pressure on students who might be considered at risk. Additional selection factors operated according to the particular contexts, for example, one school required that students be sympathetic to its Catholic ethos, while the other needed students who were willing to work in multi-age, junior primary classrooms.

Both schools were in favour of School-based Teacher Education in principle, but both were also involved in specific school reform and could see the advantages of having student teachers in the school to work with and support the teachers in the process of change. We were confident that our new approach could achieve this, and at the same time offer our students a better and more "authentic" practicum experience.

How did it operate?

The students were in the schools for three days per week through first and second term. They participated in school planning and professional development, and were involved in staff and cluster meetings. The other two days were to be used for reading, tutorials and assignment work. This format was the end result of much discussion and negotiation as we were concerned to maintain fairness and comparability with those students continuing with the mainstream programme. The practicum guidelines were revised to reflect these organisational changes but the evaluation criteria and assessment procedures remained substantially unchanged.

University assignments were modified so that the students were able to take advantage of the classroom contexts in which they were working. Case studies, programmes and resource packages to address particular needs were the focus of student assignments and assessment. Once again, these were open to negotiation to a far greater extent than in the normal programme.

How did we find out?

To build a picture of the SBTE program we decided to use qualitative research methods. The research methodology falls within the broad parameters of action research or reflective practice. According to McCutcheon and Jung the salient characteristics of action research are captured in the following definition:
Action research is characterised as systematic inquiry that is collective, collaborative, self-reflective, critical, and undertaken by the participants of the inquiry. The goals of such research are the understanding of practice and the articulation of a rationale or philosophy of practice in order to improve that practice (1990, p.148).
Student teachers, classroom teachers and university staff used a combination of oral stories and written reflections to construct their own biographies. We felt that oral stories would provide an important dimension to the investigation by providing public discussion of what was primarily personal and private. Personal biography enables people to identify what is important to them and this is quite different from examining the 'real' world of people with a preconceived set of questions with inbuilt answers already assumed or predicted. It allowed us to uncover the insiders' view of their own experiences.

Written reflections provided another important means of revealing the nature of individual experience. In this case some of the participants reflected on what happened to them during the day. Writing a personalised narrative of what happened allowed the participants to organise an account of their teaching in a way that was crucial to finding and speaking their own voices (Smyth, 1992; Tripp, 1993; Elliott, 1991; and Gitlin et.al. 1992).

What did we learn?

We believe that under the appropriate conditions SBTE can be an effective element in pre-service teacher education and importantly, in the professional development of both classroom teachers and university staff. Nonetheless, our experiences have shown us that SBTE faces numerous hurdles, some of which have been alluded to in the above stories. In developing closer partnerships with schools it is our experience that the following appear to be important factors that require further investigation:

General issues:

For student teachers:

For teachers:

For university staff:

Where do we go from here?

We began this study intending to contrast the SBTE model with existing competency-based models of teacher preparation. Our most important discovery has been that there is no "model" as such for SBTE: the experience is invented anew in each case as students, teachers and university staff struggle to redefine their roles and develop solutions to problems that arise out of each particular context. The old categories of student competency were no longer an issue: almost all of our time and energy was consumed in dealing with conflicts that arose out of the broader themes of power and social change. In dismantling the rules and requirements of an older system we found that everything had to be negotiated, and while this was often exhausting and frustrating, all participants were aware of its positive potential.

It is interesting that all participants said or implied that they would choose to undertake SBTE again - under the right circumstances. Our next task is to develop a clear, detailed and responsive picture of what those circumstances might be.


Department of Employment, Education and Training (1992). Discipline review of Teacher Education in Maths and Science. Canberra: AGPS.

Department of Employment, Education and Training (1993). Teaching Counts. A Ministerial Statement by the Honourable K C Beazley, Minister for Employment, Education and Training. Canberra: AGPS.

Ebbeck, F. (1990). Teacher Education in Australia. A report to the Australian Education Council by an AEC Working Party. Canberra: AGPS.

Elliot, J. (1991). Action Research for Educational Change. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Frankel, B. (1992). From the Prophets Deserts Come: The Struggle to Reshape Australian Political Culture. Melbourne: Arena.

Gitlin, A. et.al. (1992). Teachers' Voices for Educational Change: An Introduction to Educative Research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Grenfell, M. (1992). School-based Teacher Education. Education Australia, 17, 18-19.

Marginson, S. (1993). Education and Public Policy in Australia. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Queensland Board of Teacher Registration (1994). Learning to Teach: Report of the Working on the Practicum in Preservice Teacher Education. Board of Toowong: Teacher Registration Board.

Schools Council, National Board of Employment, Education and Training (1989).

Schools Council, National Board of Employment, Education and Training (1990). Australia's Teachers: An Agenda for the Next Decade. Canberra: AGPS.

Smyth, J (1989). Developing and sustaining critical reflection in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 40(2), 2-9.

Tripp, D. (1993). Critical Incidents in Teaching: The Development of Professional Judgement. London: Routledge.

Please cite as: Down, B., Hogan, C. and Madigan, R. (1995). School-based teacher education: The lived experience of students, teachers and university staff. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p62-66. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/down.html

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