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Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on school-based initial teacher education: Holding onto respectful assessment processes

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The context of this case study is a School Direct teacher education programme (2019–2020) with a group of 20 trainee teachers and three tutors. What was, pre-lockdown, an active and co-constructive approach to teacher education had to rapidly change to an online learning experience for the teacher education community of practice. Philpott explains that a community of practice is not ‘just about abstracted formal knowledge’ but ‘makes us look at different places for different things when we are trying to facilitate practice’ (2014, p. 44). Our purpose was to unpick the end-of-year trainee teacher final assessment process, identify recurring themes and see what emerged.

The Pen Green Teaching School Alliance (TSA) is one of three teaching school alliances belonging to the Two Mile Ash ITT Partnership, based in Milton Keynes. At the Pen Green TSA, our underpinning approach develops from the principles of andragogy: the methodologies that are concerned with helping adults to learn, as conceptualised initially by Knowles (1970). These principles acknowledge important factors relating to learner aspiration, commitment, motivation and involvement. As tutors, we recognise and value the prior knowledge and experience of individual participants and their diverse contexts.

The ITE (initial teacher education) programme is implemented over five face-to-face study weeks organised across the school year. The intention is to deepen the adult learning experience as well as create a safe space for the critical analysis of teaching experiences in school. The tutor team had to problematise how to hold onto andragogic processes that were perceived to be easier to implement in person, being mindful that every trainee teacher had to be confident to continue with the programme.

What happened

Updates from the Department for Education on 13th April 2020 stated that ITT providers were to ‘inform trainees of their trajectory and keep them informed for the remainder of the course’. As a tutor team, we captured the trainee teachers’ stories about how schools were responding to the experience of rapid change to their routines and pedagogies. Trainees were involved in designing and providing online learning: ‘maintaining regular contact with children and parents, as well as undertaking wellbeing checks for the children in my class’. Schools, evidently, did not want to overload parents: ‘we have advised parents to go with the child’s interests – bake, read, draw, make and PLAY!’ Trainees commented on how the pandemic brought school teams together: ‘We worked as a team, drawing on everyone’s strengths to support children of key workers and vulnerable children, planning, organising and leading engaging, enriching activities.’

It was recognised that a face-to-face study week just prior to the lockdown provided an important reference point for the trainee teachers. It had been advantageous because all three Pen Green tutors, the ITE administrator and the 20 trainee teachers had all met. The study week had a strong theoretical underpinning, and this knowledge and understanding is advocated in the ITT core curriculum guidance (DfE, 2019). This theoretical stance was replicated in the trainee teachers’ case study presentations created later for their final assessment process. The trainee teachers had especially benefited from an intensive two-day course: ‘Reconnect’ (Northamptonshire TSAs, 2019). With themes covering safeguarding, attachment theory and children’s wellbeing, the trainee teachers reflected on children’s diverse emotional and social needs.

Weekly contact was maintained with designated trainee teachers. Support had to be provided that would contain each student on their learning journey towards achieving qualified teacher status (QTS). Tutorial time had to include time for trainee teachers to reflect on their own home circumstances, alongside anxieties about their assessment process and what was happening in schools. Lenten describes this process as ‘the thoughtful critique of their own experience’ (2013, p. 56). From all the submitted documentation, the tutors identified lines of inquiry for the final interview process, the professional learning conversation, which Graham states ‘can be one of the most important learning experiences for the trainee’ (2013, p. 35).


The tutor team discovered that the trainee teachers’ documentation demonstrated how creative and well informed many had been in producing resources for online learning. The trainee teachers reflected on the unique situation in which they found themselves; not only did they consider the needs of the children they taught but they were also able to appreciate the dilemmas that parents were facing. The value of parents’ involvement in children’s learning is evidenced in Whalley et al.’s work (2001) and is integral to our ITE programme. The quality of the learning experience for some children exceeded expectations. Inevitably, not all families engaged in the learning, whether it was online or offered as a concrete resource. The trainee teachers’ documentation reflected the diverse settings and the individual strengths of each trainee teacher. This documentation provided a rich source of information to identify further lines of inquiry.

At the final interviews, the trainee teachers were able to demonstrate their theoretical knowledge and pedagogical stance. After the assessment process was over, the tutor team unpicked the recurring themes that documented and evidenced how the adult learners had reacted, responded and learnt. The following three themes emerged:

  • emotional wellbeing
  • the learning environment

The teacher trainee and tutor team voices were captured to exemplify the findings.

Emotional wellbeing

The notion of emotional wellbeing featured highly in the trainee teachers’ reflections.

‘The positive feedback I was able to give the children about their individual pieces of work… helped to support the children’s wellbeing and keep their motivation levels high in these difficult times.’

‘I am really proud of how confident I feel. I know the checking-in and the whole experience at Pen Green has given me so much confidence. I have grown as a person.’

The tutor team’s priority was to ensure that all trainee teachers were supported under exceptional circumstances.

‘Quite a number of trainees are finding it more demanding… this is also due to the emotional impact the Coronavirus has on all our lives.’

‘Those remote conversations were so emotive, there were tears of joy and loss.’

Learning environment

The physical learning environment featured in several ways. Firstly, there were concerns for the children who attended school during the national lockdown: how to maintain a balance between health and safety and still provide physical resources for pupils to manipulate. Home learning appeared to either support children to engage or created a barrier to school learning.

‘I ensured I followed all health and safety procedures and ensured the children kept a safe distance from each other. I regularly disinfected surfaces throughout the day to ensure the children were as safe as possible while in our care.’

‘Outdoor learning has been very important. Really tried to follow the children’s interests. Fewer toys and more nature… has actually helped to stimulate their imagination.’

‘I understand the importance of keeping in touch with children and their families. Parents have said how much the children have enjoyed seeing staff faces on the online learning platform.’

‘It is hard for me as the teacher to ascertain just how much adult input and support that child has had. However, this isn’t in every case as a lot of the parents routinely stated how much support they had given their child.’

‘It has been a challenge setting work for children and then being unable to support them with any misconceptions.’

‘I feel this new way of working has really highlighted the digital age in which we find ourselves and its importance. It has definitely made me appreciate and understand the importance that technology has.’

The learning environment changed for the trainee teachers themselves. All trainee teacher–tutor interaction was online. On reflection, we were surprised that it was still possible to personalise our teaching through online learning. However, we acknowledge that these communication processes take their toll. They are intense for all participants.


Engagement during the final assessment process was heightened emotionally, intense and exhausting, yet the trainee teachers demonstrated their strong ethical and pedagogical stance. Overwhelmingly, it was the notion that this is a group of adults who believed in children, who were respectful of all children and their families; whatever their starting points in life, whatever the child brought to the learning experience, these teachers were going to find a way to ensure that children were safe, happy, engaged and achieving. But not only was there a sense of belief; this was also underpinned by knowledge and understanding of theory. This was evidence-based pedagogy supported by our andragogy.

Identified strategies

An outcome of this small-scale research study has been to identify the strategies that supported the trainees to be successful in their final assessments and consider their relevance for future practice on our initial teacher education programme.


It was important to sustain respectful and responsive andragogy to ensure that each trainee teacher was supported in a way that was personalised, co-constructive, challenging and celebratory. We have decided to further embed the case study presentations to run throughout the academic year 2020–2021, alongside developing the use of video to capture teaching, which can then be shared online with trainee teachers, school- and centre-based tutors for critical analysis and dialogue.

The community of practice co-constructed aspects of their pedagogy that they intend to hold onto in light of this unique experience – principally, the impact of stronger working relationships with parents to strengthen what happens for children in respect of their learning within development.

Value of evidence-based teaching and learning

The tutor team’s understanding of andragogical processes and the trainee teachers’ growing confidence in their developing pedagogies were supported by underpinning theoretical knowledge and understanding. Ensuring that pertinent research is a thread throughout the core curriculum continues to be a teaching focus.


Department for Education (DfE) (2019) ITT core content framework. Available at: (accessed 23 March 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Coronavirus (COVID-19) initial teacher training. Available at: (accessed 13 April 2020).

Graham S (2013) Enhancing professional learning conversations. In: White E and Jarvis J (2013) School-Based Teacher Training: A Handbook for Tutors and Mentors. London: Sage Publication, pp. 33–40.

Knowles MS (1970) The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy Versus Pedagogy. Chicago: Association Press, Follett Publishing Company.

Lenten P (2013) Providing the right mix of support and challenge. In: White E and Jarvis J (2013) School-Based Teacher Training: A Handbook for Tutors and Mentors. London: Sage Publication, pp. 52–59.

Northamptonshire TSAs (2019) Reconnect Northamptonshire: Attachment Awareness for Schools. Corby: Pen Green Centre for Research, Professional Development and Training.

Philpott C (2014) Theories of Professional Learning: A Critical Guide for Teacher Educators. Northwich, Cheshire: Critical Publishing.

Whalley M and Pen Green Centre Team (2001) Involving Parents in their Children’s Learning. London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Winnicott, D. W. (1960) The theory of the parent-child relationship. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41: 585 – 595.

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      Author(s): Bill Lucas