Multiple identities – student or teacher? by Catherine Foley

Background
Students on the BA (QTS) in Primary Education juggle conflicting roles right from the beginning of their programme. On the one hand they are undergraduate students with all that entails – getting to grips with being away from home, managing their social lives and budgets, learning how to become academically independent. On the other, they are expected to be professional at all times – becoming a trusted member of a primary school’s staff whilst on placement, being a role model and working towards professional standards. Whilst they study their specialist subject (art, English, music or mathematics) at honours level, they also have to develop subject and pedagogical knowledge across the entire primary curriculum as well as psychology, child development and difficult issues such as safeguarding. Tutors on the BA Ed have long been aware of these tensions and the challenges they present for students, and the students themselves echoed these difficulties through their programme feedback and the Staff Student Liaison Committee. One of the challenges for staff is that, like any University programme, the tutors don’t ‘live’ the whole programme – it is only the students who really experience the programme and in particular the transitions from one phase of the programme (University-based sessions, school placements) to the next.

 PLanT Project
With this background, we leapt at the opportunity presented by the CQSD/RUSU Partnerships in Learning and Teaching Projects Funding Scheme. These are small-scale initiatives addressing the enhancement of teaching and learning priorities as identified by students and staff. After discussions at SSLC meetings and via email, a volunteer group of students currently in Years 2, 3 and 4 of their degree met and put together an application. As well as the tensions outlined above, they were particularly interested in the profile of their degree across the University and of teacher training more widely, and how to communicate the high level of academic rigour and professionalism involved.

The students have led the project from the outset, planning and carrying out the data collection and analysis. My role has been to meet with them from time to time to support their discussions, book rooms for focus groups, and provide a sounding board for their approaches and evolving findings. They have carried out focus group meetings with all four year groups and kept photo-journals to illustrate the varied demands of the programme. The funding has been used mainly for their time, and partly to fund refreshments for the focus groups.

Although funding for this academic year’s projects is now closed, with claims being made by the end of May 2014, further details of this year’s application process can be found at http://www.reading.ac.uk/cqsd/FundingOpportunities/TLDF/cqsd-PLanTProjectsScheme.aspx and our experience would suggest it is well worth looking out for such opportunities in the future!

Partnership in teaching and learning conference
Being involved in the RUSU conference on Tuesday 18th June allowed the students to present the initial stages of their project to academic staff nominated under the Excellence Awards, other students from across the University and Student Union Officers. My role in the conference was minimal, allowing the students to share their passion and enthusiasm for their degree as well as the project itself. Particularly impressive was the fact that two of the students came straight from their school placements where they had been teaching all morning, perfectly illustrating the tensions explored within their project. Further information about the conference, joint funded by a project involving the HEA and NUS, can be found at http://www.rusu.co.uk/news/article/6001/Partnership-in-Teaching-and-Learning-Conference-a-Success/.

 Next steps
Having gathered their data, the students are currently analysing results to draw out themes and put together a report for the programme management team and the Institute of Education’s DTL. They will be providing materials to be shared with prospective students at Open Days to ensure they get a full picture of the nature of the programme, and presenting their results at SSLC. We hope that their findings will impact not only their own programme and other programmes at the IoE, but more widely across the University – in particular on those departments running vocational programmes which might share some of the tensions.

One of the real pluses of the project for me as a lecturer has been the opportunity to work closely with a group of students across different year groups on a common theme, an approach we aim to build upon in the future. We are looking forward to getting their final recommendations as they pull the project together.

As they complete this stage of their project the students aim to summarise their findings for this blog, so watch this space! They will also be presenting at the T&L Showcase on the 17th June, 1pm-1.50pm.

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