Primary mentors' conceptions of subject knowledge in English
This research investigates concepts of subject knowledge in English held by
teachers acting as student mentors in primary schools, in an Initial Teacher
Education and Training (ITET) partnership. A case study approach draws on
evidence from documentary sources, interviews with mentors and taperecorded
conversations between mentors and student teachers, following the
observation of English lessons.
During the past 25 years teachers' professional identities have been restructured
through a series of Government interventions into the curriculum
and teachers' working conditions, culminating in the introduction of the
National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. It has been argued that these
reforms have established a 'culture of compliance' within the teaching
Government intervention has taken place in ITET, which has been regulated
through OfSTED inspection. Since 1992 schools and Higher Education
Institutions have been required to establish training partnerships. A National
Curriculum for ITT was introduced in 1997.
It is suggested that opportunities for student teachers to learn through
reflective practice are constrained by policy directives affecting ITET and
The management of student teachers' learning, and the assessment of their
progress is the responsibility of a designated student mentor. Previous
research indicates that primary mentors do not place a high priority on
supporting the development of student teachers' subject knowledge.
Evidence from the case study suggests pnmary mentors implicitly
distinguish between different forms of subject knowledge for teaching. They
hold a developmental model of learning to teach which seeks to move student teachers towards an awareness of the needs of learners. Mentors'
conceptions of subject knowledge in English are circumscribed by the
curriculum and pedagogical approaches recommended in the National
Literacy Strategy. The subject specialism and personal interests of mentors
are also a significant factor in these conceptions. Mentors who have entered
the profession more recently appear to be more accepting of the content and
approaches of the NLS.
Much of the literature on mentoring assumes an underpinning model of the
reflective teacher. The mentoring practices examined in the case study were
situated within the context of the school and delivery of the NLS
requirements. It is suggested that it may be unrealistic to expect broader
reflective discussion on curriculum issues within the current policy context
and structures of school experience. A re-examination of the ways in which
student teachers' experiences in schools are conceptualised and organised,
in terms of professional learning, may thus be necessary.