True Stories: a case study in the use of life history in initial teacher education

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Tasmania]On: 14 November 2014, At: 23:22Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    True Stories: a case study in theuse of life history in initial teachereducationPat Sikes a & Barry Troyna aa Department of Education , University of WarwickPublished online: 06 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: Pat Sikes & Barry Troyna (1991) True Stories: a case study in theuse of life history in initial teacher education, Educational Review, 43:1, 3-16, DOI:10.1080/0013191910430101

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  • Educational Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, 1991

    True Stories: a case study in the use of lifehistory in initial teacher education

    PAT SIKES & BARRY TROYNA, Department of Education, University ofWarwick

    ABSTRACT In February 1989, Kenneth Baker, then UK Secretary of State forEducation, insisted that the Government wanted 'trainee teachers to concentrate lesson the history and sociology of education and more on how to cope with a classroomof 14 year-olds'. In contrast to this and other calls for the dismemberment of initialteacher education (ITE) courses, as they are presently constituted, we argue for theintroduction of life history methods as a strategy for facilitating the transition frompupil to teacher. The article is a case study of our experiences of using this strategywith a group of 34 first year students on an ITE course. The students' responses to thestrategy suggest, provisionally at this stage, how ITE courses might be geared towardsthe development of teachers who might reflect critically on taken-for-granted assump-tions and who can articulate reasons for contesting some of the conventional wisdomsabout the abilities, interests and attitudes of their pupils.

    Teacher education may be conceived as a process that encourages thedevelopment of half educated persons into fully educated persons whoknow 'when not to think'. (Ginsberg, 1988, p. 100)

    Introduction: ITE a 'transitory influence'

    To say that teacher education in the UK was under siege would be an understate-ment. Over the years, of course, we have grown accustomed to criticisms of theorientation and emphasis of pre- and in-service course provision. More often thannot, these have crystallised around the relative weighting which is or should beassigned to theory and practice.

    Recently, however, criticisms of course provision have centred on more funda-mental concerns, with questions being asked about the desirability, even raisond'etre of teacher education as it is presently constituted. Thus, with the proposaland introduction of 'licensed teacher' and 'articled teacher' schemes, 'on the jobtraining' can be seen to be in the ascendancy [1]. What unites these and otherschemes that have been considered (see, for example, HMI (1989) The ProvisionalTeacher Program in New Jersey) is their emphasis on 'training', rather than'education', and the conviction that 'how to' rather than 'why' should be thedefinitive characteristic of provision for those following initial teacher education(ITE) and PGCE courses.

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  • 4 P. Sikes & B. Troyna

    These radical changes do not float in thin air of course and despite the celebra-tion of 'practice' over 'theory' we recognise, with Amy Gutman, that 'significantpolicy prescriptions presuppose a theory' (1988, p. 184). In this case the versions ofITE and PGCE courses currently being prepared can be seen to derive from andexemplify the present government's understanding of its 'proper' role in definingand confining the parameters of education.

    This role, it would seem, is to ensure that its vision of the 'good society' in whichsocial cohesion constitutes the skeleton around which the moral order is formed, isinculcated in and legitimated through the educational system. In the words of theformer secretary of state, Kenneth Baker, the thrust of the new reforms is gearedtowards providing 'our society with a greater sense of identity' (1987, p. 3). Whatdistinguishes this government from its predecessors, however, is its intransigence.Its vision, in other words, is non-negotiable, as Brian Simon points out:

    . . . involvement by the state in the restructuring and control of educationfor social/political purposes has been apparent at least from the middle ofthe last century and earlier. What is new are the modes of control nowbeing developed and brought into play. Significantly, the state, instead ofworking through and with other social organisations (specifically localauthorities and teachers' organisations) is now very clearly seeking a moredirect and unitary system of control than has ever been thought politicor even politically possiblein the past. (1984, p. 21)

    The unprecedented intrusion of central government into teacher education in the1980s [2] both extends and complements its determined efforts in other spheres ofpolicy-making to ensure that what takes place in schools, colleges and institutions ofhigher education is congruent with its own ideological conception of 'good' educa-tion.

    In specific terms these latest conceptions of teacher education imply a scenario inwhich, on the one hand, schools and their teachers have a major say in theinduction of students into the profession; and, on the other, a correlative decline inthe contribution from 'educationists' in University and Polytechnic departments ofeducation [3]. Consider, for instance, Mary Warnock's proposals for improvingprimary and secondary 'training'. In her view, 'the centre of training must shiftfrom institutions of higher education to the schools themselves' (1988, p. 125).Although she is at pains to distance her proposals from those offered by TheHillgate Group in Whose Schools? (1986) and its other publications, both sets ofproposals coalesce around what amounts to a mechanistic interpretation of whatconstitutes a 'professional' teacher. Whether intending teachers need to study thetheory of learning is a question which Anthony O'Hear also posed in his pamphletfor the Social Affairs Unit (1988). On this view, practical experience is presentednot only as an alternative to academic study but, most significantly, as preferable.Simply put, practice is differentiated from and contrasted with theory. The latter,according to Caroline Cox, a member of the Hillgate group and a vehement(poacher turned gamekeeper) critic of teacher education, currently comprises a largepart of 'the rigmarole of teacher training' (1988, p. 17). In her view this should bediminished if not excluded entirely. In the process, of course, this dichotomy canonly be sustained if practice is deprived of intellectual rigour and rationality.

    Now, it could be asserted that this concern with the structure and orientation ofcourse provision, especially in initial teacher education is misplaced in any case.

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  • Initial Teacher Education 5

    Why? Well, according to Roger Dale (1977) students' experiences on ITE coursesare only one of the influences on the practising teachers' professional knowledge.What is more, if the research evidence is to be believed this contribution is atbest minimal, often negative. 'Training establishments', according to Martyn Den-scombe, have 'a weak socialising impact' (1985, p. 45). Marten Shipman had arguedthe same point 20 years earlier. In 1966 he concluded that ITE courses have a'transitory influence' on the assumptions and practices of teachers. He found thatwithin six months of their first year of teaching former ITE students had discardedmuch of what they had learned from their courses and adapted to the ethos andmodus operandus of their school; a trend which John Quicke has referred to as'slippage' (1988, p. 101). In her review of the literature on the transition from ITEto primary schools, Sandra Acker comes to similar conclusions. New teachers inprimary schools, she tells us, are often ' "brought into line" by the experience'; thoseteachers 'who persist in views incompatible with the dominant ethos of a particularschool may become demoralised and depressed and even leave teaching' (1987,p. 89). And Jan Lee's study of teachers in a multi-ethnic, inner city infants schoolprovides further corroborating evidence for this argument. As she puts it, theresearch findings reaffirm the contention that,

    . . . teacher training has little conscious effect on the teachers' cognitivestyle. Teacher C endorses this view: "There are certain things at the backof your mind that you don't consciously use, but you absorb them andtake them (sic). The actual business of controlling the class you won't learnuntil you come out. You learn that from other teachers". (1987, p. 96) [4]

    Reflective Teaching

    It is undoubtedly the case that the DES consultation document, Qualified TeachingStatus (May 1988) has changed irrevocably the relationship between schools andeducation departments/institutions in their contribution towards the ascription ofqualified teacher status to prospective teachers. Under these proposals, decisionsabout the nature and structure of what constitutes 'appropriate' professional prepa-ration for those entering under the licensed teacher route will rest with the LEA orthe schools' governors. Departments and institutions of education will be relegatedto the status of advisory bodies which may or may not be called upon to provide'training' for licensed teachers (1988, p. 8). The circular issued by the DES inNovember 1989 (DES, 1989b) is the latest harbinger of central aggrandisement overthis sphere. This document provides for the reconstitution of the Council for theAccreditation of Teacher Education (CATE), places greater responsibility on localcommittees for the scrutiny of ITE, establishes ostensibly more restrictive andcentralised criteria governing the nature of ITE courses, and puts greater emphasison practical classroom experience.

    So where do we go from here? Do we acquiesce to government definitions of'good teacher training'? Or do we exploit the ambiguities and spaces in any criteriato be specified by the government? This would not be an unprecedented response.As Michael Fullan (1982), amongst others, has shown, educationalists have oftenappropriated and redefined 'top-down' innovations and reforms to ensure that theybecome more acceptable to their own professional ideologies and practices. ThusSection 6, paragraph 1 of the May 1989 consultation document, Future Arrange-

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  • 6 P. Sikes & B. Troyna

    mentsfor the Accreditation of Courses of Initial Teacher Training, offers some scopefor those unwilling to submit to 'training' conceptions of teacher education:

    Educational and Professional Studies: This element in courses shoulddevelop in students competence in key professional skills. It should alsoenable students to appreciate their task as teachers within the broadframework of the purposes of education, the development and structure ofthe education service, the values and the economic and other foundationsof the free and civilised society in which their pupils are growing up, andthe need to prepare pupils for adulthood, citizenship and the world ofwork. (1989a, p. viii)

    In this paper we want to suggest an approach which, whilst retaining a commit-ment to the 'why' rather than 'how to' orientation to ITE can, nevertheless, beaccommodated within the programmatic requirements laid down by central govern-ment. The programme we are suggesting stems from our commitment to two things.First, to expose and make explicit the students' taken for granted assumptionsabout education, schools, teachers and teaching in order that they should be able toexamine them from a more critical perspective. We want to create, in other words,what Sheila Miles & John Furlong (1988) call a 'sociological break in educationaltransmission'. The purpose of such a break (from the practical experience of beingcaught up in school based education as either pupil or teacher) is to facilitate,amongst other things, the development of a 'sociological imagination'. Thus requir-ing that students "make" rather than "take" problems; '"making" them sociologicalby understanding their institutional, societal and historical dimensions' (Miles &Furlong, 1988, p. 81). It is an approach designed to encourage students 'to beintellectual about being practical' (Butt, 1989, p. 14) and should be juxtaposedagainst claims that 'the only way to learn how to teach is by doing it' (Cox, 1988,p. 17). This 'sociological break' might be achieved through various methods. ForMiles and Furlong, for example, it is realised through a partnership betweenteachers and teacher educators. We have reservations about this approach (knownas IT-INSET) however, insofar as the reproductive tendencies of teacher education(cf. Ginsberg, 1988, p. 101) might well be accentuated under this scheme. This maynot be explicit; but as Michael Apple notes, the reproduction of conventionalwisdoms may well constitute part of the hidden curriculum of this form of teachereducation in which,

    the tacit teaching to stude...