The Professional Learning Continuum: Mentoring In Initial Teacher Education

This Estyn report focuses on the development of student teachers’ critical thinking, reflection and evaluation as vital skills for professional learning, the mentor’s role in developing these skills, and how involvement in mentoring in ITE impacts on and relates to professional learning in schools more generally.

The report: 

  • focuses on mentoring in ITE in primary and secondary schools in Wales 
  • examines the role of the mentor and what makes effective practice in mentoring 
  • explores the relationship between professional learning in school and effective mentoring in ITE 
  • looks at how student teachers develop the skills and attributes of career-long professional learning, and the role that effective mentoring plays in this process 
  • considers the roles played by higher education institutions (HEIs) and schools in developing effective mentoring practice 

Main Findings: 

  • The most effective mentoring takes place in schools where there is an established culture of learning. In these schools, there is a strong focus on developing effective teaching. These schools see themselves as ‘learning schools’ and that the practice of developing student teachers is part of the same process as developing practising teachers. 
  • In the most effective schools, mentoring has a high status. Headteachers identify mentors strategically. They ensure that mentors have the leadership skills to develop others. However, in many schools, even where there is an emphasis on developing and coaching teachers, mentors do not apply the skills they have learnt through whole-school professional development activities to their mentoring of student teachers. 
  • The mentor training currently provided by the centres of ITE places too much emphasis on completion of documentation rather than developing the skills, knowledge and understanding required to mentor successfully. As a result, ITE centres do not have robust enough processes to identify the strengths and weaknesses in mentoring, nor do they share best practice effectively enough. 
  • Mentors view their role mainly in terms of supporting students to meet the standards for QTS and assessing their progress towards this goal. 
  • The few most effective mentors have a good understanding of how to build students’ knowledge and experience incrementally, starting with more structured and supported learning activities and developing students’ independence, reflection and criticality as they become more experienced. 
  • These effective mentors are often actively engaged in professional learning activities, research, or higher-level study. In particular, their learning about interpersonal skills, team-building and developing others has helped them to develop the emotional awareness to provide feedback to students that is sensitive, encouraging and stimulating. 
  • Effective mentors provide accurate written feedback that captures students’ progress fairly and holistically. 
  • Currently, there are too few links between the university-based and school-based aspects of ITE programmes and too few opportunities for students to connect educational theory to teaching practice. 
  • Very few students are able to identify the skills and behaviours that they need for career-long professional learning. 
  • A majority of students benefit from undertaking research projects that require them to reflect on teaching and learning and to connect this valuably to educational research. 
  • In the main, students do not reflect critically enough in the written evaluations of their teaching and progress against their targets. They do not present evidence of deeper thinking, such as making connections between other learning experiences, or draw upon research and wider reading. 


ITE partnership schools should: 

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