Initial Teacher Education (ITE) is complex. In this piece, Henry Sauntson focuses our attention on what matters: not the curriculum itself, but how it is applied by today’s trainee teachers.

our calling after all, is to shepherd and enable the callings of others

(Ayers 2001).

The introduction of your friend and mine, the Early Career Framework (ECF) and its reverse-engineered progeny the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) – is perhaps the biggest standardisation of Initial Teacher Education in a generation. A form of National Curriculum for teacher development, using an evidence-based approach and a series of Learn That and Learn How To statements that endeavour to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

We can perhaps see the CCF as a specification and the Teachers’ Standards as the mark scheme. From September 2024 it will be the duty of every ITT provider (many already do) to have have a fully developed, evidence-based curriculum which explicitly delivers all aspects of the ITT Core Content Framework (CCF) and ensures that trainees are prepared for the next stage in their professional development as teachers, the Early Career Framework (ECF) induction(ITT Draft Criteria 24/25).

They must also consider the following:

  • The curriculum must be designed in the light of the best evidence for effective teacher training and development
  • Programmes must be designed to reflect how children learn most effectively and, wherever appropriate, reflect cognitive architecture in curriculum design

Furthermore, they should integrate well-evidenced content into their ITT curricula, including relevant subject-specific content and critique of theory, research (including, where appropriate, their own) and expert practiceand weave this into a sequenced and coherent curriculum which supports trainees to develop their classroom practice.

Back in 2000, Hillary Burgess looked to the future of teacher training, quite presciently: It is important to note that with the introduction of the National Curriculum for ITT a new language has also emerged. Teacher education is now teacher training; students are trainees; the curriculum is expressed as a set of standards for qualified teacher status (QTS) and subject knowledge is content; the expansion of school-based routes and employment schemes means that training institutions are often referred to as providers. All these terms hold implications for the way student teachers and student educators are perceived (Burgess, 2000, p406).

One of the biggest challenges providers face is not the design of the curriculum but ensuring that it is understood by all engaged in its implementation. The provider can put the content on the road map, but it is the trainee and mentor that oversee its implementation in diverse classroom settings; this is not easy to monitor, manage or manipulate.

There are many layers, each filtering the content from the Core Curriculum and adding their own twist, their own opinion, their own experience. With so many layers comes the possibility of a game of pedagogical Chinese Whispers – lethal mutations derived from surface-level awareness of terminology or concepts but perhaps lacking the firm knowledge base.

The provider MUST ensure that the curriculum is not only principled – based on a firm vision of what teaching looks like– but also coherent; internal coherence through the relationships between the taught content, and external coherence through the relationships between that taught content and the multitudinous implementers across the providers partnership settings.

Indeed, the draft criteria is quite explicit about this: Those responsible for teaching, tutoring and mentoring trainees should have a deep understanding of the providers planned curriculum and its basis in evidence, to ensure that trainees experience consistent training and support at all stages.

So many times we see implementation hampered by the lack of sufficient understanding or a confused cacophony of feedback; a Tower of Babel.

For me, the key is the effwords that we are allowed to use in school settings – efficiency and effectiveness; a curriculum must be both in order to be properly understood; it must be deep, rich and worthy, but it must also be simple.

Trainees are adult learners, subject to the same principles of learning science and curriculum design that we would adopt for students, but with the added layer of increased lifeexperience and self-regulation – therefore there is more of a challenge to cater for everybody due to a more diverse range of preconceptions and attitudes formed by experience.

A further challenge of the ITE provider is that of balancing the trainees dual identity as both aspiring teacher and novice learner; they work through the 5 stages of Furlong & Maynards proposed pre-service year, they adopt Korthagens onion model of competencies with Core Beliefs and Vision at the core, they strive to be the best but they also suffer from the difficulties of filtering myriad critical voices, translating generic theory into domain-specific practice and also cultivating their own development.

To return to Burgess, Successful initial teacher training also involves knowledge, expertise, accountability and ideals. The interaction between the teacher and the learner is dependent not only on subject knowledge and skills but it is also an expression of personal values and beliefs about teaching. These important components in the programmes of student teachers can only be developed where time for reflection on practice is given space. The processes of teaching need to remain high on the agenda of initial teacher education if it is to produce the inspirational teachers of the future(408)

All curricula require practice in order to authenticate them and make them real; there are many active facets of the ITE curriculum that must be considered within its intent (abstract concepts) and its manifestation in practice (concrete constructs), all supported by constant observation, feedback, discussion and dialogue, underpinned by reflection.

As with many counterintuitive elements of learning science, we must remember from the outset of our design that to increase expertise, trainees shouldnt look to simply imitate experts. The performance of the trainee in the short-term is not indicative of their longer-term progress through the course. They will learn only their interpretation of what they are taught, based on their own prior knowledge Finally and most importantly, the generic skills I hint at above – evaluation, reflection, interpretation – have to be robustly and securely underpinned by swathes of domain-specific knowledge.

There are, in my view, eleven guiding principles and ideas around which a teacher training curriculum must be designed:

  1. Elicit, diagnose and dispel traineespreconceptions and misconceptions
  2. Structure trainee access to the curriculum at the right time, level and complexity
  3. Create a learning timetable, not just a teaching schedule; there needs to be an appropriate balance of the two
  4. Iterative exposures to opportunities for engagement in planning, teaching and assessing
  5. Plan for careful progress – formative assessment that builds through observation, feedback and evaluation, centred around curriculum goals. Avoid the summative judgments until they are necessary
  6. Structure observation of trainees to avoid irrational judgment or excessive subjectivity
  7. Provide trainees with opportunities to observe, with guidance and focus, experienced teachers and their practice
  8. Create multiple opportunities for dialogue, deconstruction and critical thinking
  9. Set targets drawn from the curriculum
  10. Use the curriculum as the lowest common denominator for the shared language
  11. Consult all stakeholders – mentors, students, trainee teachers – about their learning experiences

Above all we must be careful with our language; everyone needs to know what terms mean, where they are drawn from and what implications they carry: Back in 1982 Joyce & Shower stated that the conditions of the classroom are different from training situations; one cannot simply walk from the training session into the classroom with the skill completely ready for use – it has to be changed to fit classroom conditions. An old reference, but a relevant concept – we have to build the language bridge that transverses the valley between theory and practice, paper and the classroom, the training room and the real-life manifestation.

As we move from the Core Content to the Hinterland we expand the frames of reference for our trainees; we give them the tools to be autonomous, to be individual. Robin Alexander stated that teachers should be able to give a coherent justification for their practices, citing i) evidence, ii) pedagogical principle, and iii) educational aim rather than offering the unsafe defence of compliance – anything else is educationally unsound.

By deepening understanding, mitigating lethal mutation through shallow implementation, providing training and a knowledge base that supports the use of language appropriately, we give purpose as opposed to performance; we believe in what we are saying in formative, professional dialogue – we arent just paying lip-service to terminology.

Language identifies individuals but also helps to build coherent communities; trainees and mentors can still maintain their own identity and autonomy but operate within professional frameworks built on a core of shared understanding.

The evidence base on which the CCF – and therefore any accredited provider curriculum – is built has been contested, but it isnt a closed book; there are opportunities to enrich, broaden and strengthen to suit context. A provider must, I feel, grasp the chance to personalise their curriculum beyond the CCF by embedding their own choices of evidence.

Theres still room to develop trainees as critical practitioners, capable of using educational research to inform their own developing practice – subject-related educational research can play an important role in trainee teacherslearning since it provides a disciplined perspective from which trainees can derive new ideas and understandings related to their own developing practice as well as a critical basis from which to formulate, examine and justify their views through reference to a wider, collective pool of experience(Counsell et al, 2000, p.467).

Whatever decisions a provider makes, they must believe in them; standards, not standardisation, as Shulman said – monitor, support, assure and, above all, contextualise.

Remember to make assessment the curriculums servant, not its master; communicate regularly to ensure efficient and effective practice, and respond to the needs of the individual trainee – one size fits very few.

The key to effective implementation across the various aforementioned settings is understanding; as recent work by Windsor et al indicates; without understanding the different arrangements that both form and are formed by practices, professional development of teachers cannot be fully realised(Windsor et al, 2022, p.652).

It doesnt matter how knowledge rich, domain-specific, evidence-informedor cognitively aware the ITE curriculum is on paper; it is how the trainee teacher manifests this into effective and efficient classroom practice that matters.



Ayers, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hilary Burgess (2000) What future for initial teacher education? New curriculum and new directions, The Curriculum Journal, 11:3, 405-417

ITT Accreditation Criteria – accessed via

Counsell, C., Evans, M., McIntyre, D., Raffan, J; (2000); The Usefullnes of Educational Research for Trainee TeachersLearning; Oxford Review of Education; 26:3; 467 – 482

Joyce, Bruce R. and Beverly Showers. The Coaching of Teaching.” Educational Leadership 40 (1982): 4.

Windsor, S., Kriewaldt, J., Nash, M., Lilja, A., Thornton; (2022); Developing teachers; adopting observation tools that suspend judgment to stimulate evidence-informed dialogue during the teaching practicum to enrich teacher professional development; Professional Development in Education; 48:4; 642 – 656

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