Seomra Ranga would like to thank Dr. Seán Rowland for unreservedly accepting the invitation to partake in the interview series on the website. He accepted the invitation without hesitation and did not request any subject area to be out of bounds for the interview. He has given very comprehensive responses (which are unedited) to the questions put to him which should generate lots of talk, discussion and debate. DQ
Seomra Ranga: Considering the fact that Hibernia College enrols two cohorts of students per year for the primary teachers course, has it arrived at the stage where students are experiencing difficulties in finding schools in which to do teaching practice? Is a different model of teaching practice now required to accommodate student teachers from all of the colleges training primary teachers?
Seán Rowland: Our students rarely experience difficulty in securing placements; based on evidence from school principals this relates to their maturity as well as the fact that most of them can contribute to the school while they are there. The college is actively involved in working in partnership with schools to accommodate any students where difficulties occur. A different model for teaching practice (called School Experience) is being planned for future programmes (in line with Teaching Council requirements for same). This will reflect the contemporary issues faced by teachers today and the skills and knowledge required of them in order to be expert teachers who enable effective student learning. In particular, it will help Student Teachers to understand that teaching itself is practised as a form of self-critical learning by them; learning that is driven by inquiry, reflection and improvements based on evidence (Teaching Council 2011). The School Experience will incorporate an applied programme of study in a range of settings and ensure that they are given opportunities to develop these skills.
Seomra Ranga: The future of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) depends on forging close links with partner schools, where mentoring of pre-service teachers is conducted to a very high standard. How does Hibernia College currently build relationships with schools, and what are the plans for future partnerships with primary schools?
Seán Rowland: Hibernia is actively involved in developing school partnerships; to date we have an active programme in place where our tutors meet with school principals and class teachers in advance of the placement and dialogue with schools on ways in which the student can be supported. The response to this programme and to our recent School Partnership Conference shows the interest and desire among schools to be involved in Initial Teacher Education. In the spirit of partnership, the schools have identified a number of ways that the college can support them through professional development etc. We hope to extend the numbers in our programme significantly in the coming months.
International research and best practice models point to more effective periods of school experience for both schools and student teachers, when a partnership model is in place. Recently, the Teaching Council of Ireland has proposed the development of school partnerships for School Experience, as national policy for all teacher education providers. The college has also received feedback from principals and teachers on the need for greater communication and support from the college during School Experience. In response to this evidence, and building on the strong relationships that currently exist with schools, Hibernia College has established a School Partnership scheme.
Essentially School Partnership is about improved communication between the school and the college before and during the block of School Experience. School Partnership will ensure that teachers are clearer on their roles during School Experience and that all student teachers are clear about their roles and responsibility. Partnership will also allow schools to draw on resources from the college for their own CPD and research purposes. Partnerships will further develop the layer of support that is offered by schools to student teachers. The college supervisors will still play a very important role in supporting the student teacher and will continue to visit the student to evaluate their performance.
Seomra Ranga: In many other countries, final teaching practice can be taken in another country by a small cohort of students. Does your college have links to other international colleges or is there a plan to forge links in the future?
Seán Rowland: The College has wide-reaching links with the education sector in Ireland and internationally. These links span primary, post-primary, further and higher education. The College has formal partnerships with a number of universities and higher education providers in England, America and, more recently, Austria, South Africa and Haiti as well as the University of Peking in China. These partnerships enable the College to engage with faculty from other institutions, undertake joint research and initiatives, share ideas and disseminate good practice in relation to training teachers and online education as well as a number of other faculty areas. We may in the future consider creating a teaching practice link within the international community but at the moment we are fully invested in the continued partnership development within Ireland.
Seomra Ranga: Given that Hibernia College is now offering the Professional Diploma in Education (PDE) (formerly known as the H. Dip.) for post-primary teachers, what authentic links are made in that course, to the senior primary cycle to ensure a sense of continuity and understanding of the transition from first to second level?
Seán Rowland: Links are made within each of the Teaching Methodologies to ensure continuity and progression from the primary to post-primary level. Also emphasis is put on developing literacy and numeracy skills (based on Numeracy and Literacy Strategies) to create links and opportunities for integration. There is a strong emphasis on progression in the DEIS and SSE plans to ensure progression with schools and from primary to post-primary level.
Seomra Ranga: Does Hibernia College have any data on the employment/unemployment rates of its primary teaching graduates? What percentage is in temporary, permanent employment etc? What trends are emerging two or three years after graduation – what percentage have switched careers?
Seán Rowland: A survey of over one thousand Hibernia College HDAPE alumni, conducted over a two week period during January 2012, found that 84% were employed in the teaching profession. Of these employed graduates 90% secured employment in less than six months post graduation and 3% are already school principals. Most were employed in schools under Catholic patronage (87%), but 6% were employed in Educate Together Schools and 3% in Church of Ireland schools, indicating that Hibernia College graduates are able to secure employment in schools under all forms of patronage.
Seomra Ranga: As one of five Ministerial nominees to the Teaching Council, what is your opinion on the operation of the council? Is it achieving what it has set out to achieve, to regulate the teaching profession and to promote professional standards in teaching?
Seán Rowland: The Teaching Council operates in a professional manner and bench marks against international best practice. The professionals at the Teaching Council are some of the hardest working people in education in Ireland. Áine Lawlor developed the Council in a time when resistance to change was strong. Now the CEO of the TC, Tomás Ó Ruairc, is leading the council into a new chapter of professional development. With the implementation of Section 30, this gives the Teaching Council a stronger professional standing. As a relatively new organisation in Ireland, I believe it is right and proper to question and critique the professional development of the Council. However, constant negativity is just not productive. I believe that the Council will ensure that only suitably qualified teachers are teaching in the areas that they are qualified to teach in. And this is a corner stone of professionalism that we have not had in the past. The document on school placement for example, provides a model of ITE that will make experiences in school far more meaningful for students. Parents are in a position to understand that as members of the Teaching Council their children’s’ teachers are qualified to be in that specific classroom and are also vetted by An Garda Síochána. In my opinion, membership of the Teaching Council should be displayed in every teacher’s place of work just as those in the medical and legal professions.
Seomra Ranga: You recently stated in an interview in The Irish Times (November 13th, 2012) that Hibernia College is a “creative innovator in Irish education”. To what extent does this apply to your course which trains primary school teachers?
Seán Rowland: The way in which content is currently written really puts the responsibility for learning on the students; they are not ‘spoon-fed’ large tracts of information; rather they are presented with tasks that require them to access certain literature/websites/resources/ research and to be prepared to comment/critique them at online and onsite tutorials and on discussion forums. The modes of assessment on our programme i.e. case study and portfolio assessments have been described as creative and transformative by the external examiner in her interim report.
Seomra Ranga: Many teachers feel that they are now part of a demoralised profession, doing their best to cope with pay cuts, larger classes, less resources, less SNA support and the inclusion of a wide range of pupils with SEN and ESL pupils in mainstream classes. Younger teachers in particular now feel that they are working in a two-tier system where they do the same job for a different pay structure and different pension entitlements. What is the future for the profession when such conditions prevail?
Seán Rowland: Our student teachers must embody hard work, solid research and teachers who remain well educated through engaging with research and embracing school community. A majority of teachers spend long days serving their school community. All professions go through ups and downs, particularly in relation to financial wins. Many of our students come into this profession with their eyes open as they are transitioning from another sector or career and appreciate the quality of life that is gained through the teaching profession. The prevailing winds are austere at the moment but as we look back in history times change and we must all cut our cloth according to our budgets. I believe however as with all human circumstances, all situation of dire necessity must be addressed as a one size cookie cutter does not serve everyone well.
Seomra Ranga: Having celebrated ten years of training primary teachers, what will be different about the course after the next ten years?
Seán Rowland: Hopefully we will have wider participation from people less likely to have opted for teaching. I think that leadership will feature more on the programme as arguably every teacher is a leader in his/her school. Also we will have to take into account the changing landscapes in education and be prepared for the unexpected; in other words, leading children and colleagues when the destination is undefined. This will take a lot of confidence and courage on their part and I think this aspect is really under-explored currently on teacher education programmes.
In addition, technology will continue to play a larger role in teacher education and CPD. However the three key areas will remain the same regardless of technology, politics or finance – Teaching, Learning, and Research.
Read Part 1 of this interview HERE
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