Chapter 1. The role of initial teacher preparation

This chapter describes the background of the OECD Initial Teacher Preparation Study, discusses its methodology and presents its outputs. It introduces the Teacher Education Pathway Model that served as an organising framework to the Study. Further, the chapter explores the concept of initial teacher preparation both as part of the continuum of teachers’ professional learning and as a complex system encompassing a variety of stakeholders and artefacts. Finally, it lays out the key challenges of initial teacher preparation systems as they relate to the Pathway Model.


1.1. Introduction

Improving the quality of the teaching workforce has been a key policy objective in many countries in an effort to effectively develop students’ competences and help them reach their potential (OECD, 2015[1]). A variety of policy strategies and initiatives can be linked to this objective such as introducing accountability measures (teacher evaluation, teaching standards), making the profession more attractive (increasing salaries, introducing career stages), and perhaps most importantly, improving initial teacher education and professional development (OECD, 2015[1]; 2013[2]). Exploring the quality features of teacher education systems is thus crucial in supporting countries to achieve this objective.

Research investigating the impact of structural features of teacher education on teaching quality, has shown that certification, the type of qualification, degrees earned or years of experience matter for student learning (Darling-Hammond, 2000[3]; Hanushek, Kain and Rivkin, 1998[4]). Studies have also demonstrated the importance of substantive features such as course content, linking theory to practice, opportunities for reflection on teaching and learning, an emphasis on the clinical aspects of practice, and so on (Darling-Hammond, 2006[5]; Grossman, Hammerness and McDonald, 2009[6]). Research has also identified indicators applicable to different kinds of programmes, such as a clear and shared vision of good teaching; alignment of opportunities to learn both theory and practice with the vision, and opportunities to “enact” (i.e. practice) teaching (Hammerness and Klette, 2015[7]). While the body of research investigating the different features of teacher education has been growing, evidence is far from being clear and conclusive on what quality teacher education is like (Hammerness and Klette, 2015[7]; Low et al., 2012[8]). This makes it challenging for governments to make evidence-informed decisions about policy reform in this field (Low et al., 2012[8]).

This report aims to support educational stakeholders in critically considering some key features of teacher preparation systems. It intends to do so by analysing the resources produced in the OECD initial teacher preparation (ITP) study. This study was brought to life to provide countries with feedback on their ITP systems by identifying and exploring common challenges, strengths and innovations. Seven countries took part: Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States and Wales (United Kingdom).

The report complements the main output of the ITP study, the Teacher Ready! Platform, This interactive platform contains all the resources collected and produced in the study in a structured, searchable and easily accessible form for use by various stakeholders (policy makers, teacher educators, teachers, ITP leaders) and in diverse country contexts. Using the platform as a reference to the specific resources, this report aims to provide a cross-national and cross-thematic synthesis of these insights.

The study applied a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) policy diagnosis approach based on a conceptual framework, the Teacher Education Pathway model (see section 1.2). The SWOT diagnosis of each ITP system was established following an extensive review visit during which a group of experts conducted semi-structured interviews with a selection of all relevant stakeholders (national, regional, local authorities, schools, initial teacher education providers, professional associations, teacher unions, school boards, accreditation agencies, etc.). The diagnosis was based on desk research (e.g. studies, country reports, national data), interview notes and a validation process of initial findings with the ministry of each participating system (see Annex A. for details on the review methodology).

A second output of the study is the OECD ITP final conference that provided the opportunity to conduct a series of workshops and feedback sessions with a number of experts and stakeholders. These sessions brought together experts from the OECD review teams and stakeholders from the participating countries, including teachers, teacher educators, researchers, national and sub-national policy makers and others, as well as a few participants from other countries. The workshops were designed to:

  • share and discuss findings from all OECD ITP reviews

  • agree on the most common challenges in ITP systems in participating countries

  • identify approaches and strategies to address these challenges drawing on examples of “promising practices” identified by the expert teams

  • envision and identify principles of effective ITP systems.

This report – the third output – aims to provide educational stakeholders with a deeper analysis of the resources produced and collected as part of the reviews: background reports participating countries prepared prior to the review visits, the policy diagnosis established as a result of each of the reviews, examples for teaching pathways and policy practices in many areas of ITP, as well as a series of expert workshops conducted during the study and as part of the final conference.

In particular, the report explores:

  • concepts and features of ITP systems that are key for policy design

  • common challenges related to the design and implementation of ITP policies

  • possible strategies to address these challenges at different levels of the system (national, institutional, school, etc.).

It is important to note that the analysis presented in this report does not aim at providing a comprehensive nor systematic approach to the topics discussed in each challenge, or in the policy strategies proposed to address these. Rather, it builds on the seven policy reviews to provide educational stakeholders with relevant snapshots of each context and identify key areas for policy action. Although these common challenges and policy recommendations aim at supporting the design and sustaining of effective and high-quality teacher preparation systems globally, the analysis is still limited to this set of contexts and some findings may not be entirely generalisable and thus applicable to any context.

The report is organised as follows:

  • The first chapter situates the discussion in the wider educational context. It discusses the relevance of investigating the quality of ITP systems, key definitions and conceptualisations of ITP and gives some perspectives on its key challenges.

  • The second to fifth chapters lay out the four key challenges that have emerged from the ITP reviews, workshops and final conference, describing the underlying evidence and data. These chapters also highlight a number of policy strategies and practices that were identified in the study and that have the potential to address these challenges. For easier reference, the practices are listed at the end of each chapter in a table with hyperlinks to the Teacher Ready! platform for further information.

  • The last chapter draws conclusions with regards to the effective governance of ITP and offers future directions for policy and research.

1.2. What is an initial teacher preparation system?

1.2.1. ITP as a continuum

Studies exploring the effectiveness of teacher education often conceptualised this as an individual teacher attribute looking at a narrow set of variables as proxies for teacher competences such as degree, certification or structural features (Hammerness and Klette, 2015[7]; König and Mulder, 2014[9]). As König and Mulder (2014[9]) underline, this is one of the reasons for a lack of understanding in how teacher education works. The authors propose an approach that models teacher education as a system, starting with the selection of teacher candidates, and including the development of relevant competences, as well as the allocation of teachers to schools (König and Mulder, 2014[9]). In the same vein, Roberts-Hull, Jensen and Cooper (2015[10]) highlight that for teacher policies to work coherently towards an objective, teacher education has to be viewed as a pathway in its entirety, “encompassing the selection of candidates, progression within a course, graduation requirements, registration and employment, induction and early career development” (Roberts-Hull, Jensen and Cooper, 2015, p. 4[10]).

Increasingly more policy documents promote a system-level approach that conceptualises teacher education as a continuum of teachers’ professional growth and development, and on which initial teacher education is an intrinsic part (European Commission, 2015[11]). The ITP study adopted this systemic continuum approach basing its framework on Roberts-Hull, Jensen and Cooper’s Teacher Education Pathway Model (Roberts-Hull, Jensen and Cooper, 2015[10]). Rather than a conceptual framework, this model serves as an organising frame to describe the different stages of ITP at which policy interventions can directly be targeted. Thus, the model was conceived to suit the purposes of the policy reviews of the ITP study: it served as a basis for the interviews, and for collecting and organising resources and practices.

Figure 1.1. Teacher Education Pathway Model
Figure 1.1. Teacher Education Pathway Model

Source: Adapted from Roberts-Hull, K., B. Jensen and S. Cooper (2015), A New Approach: Reforming teacher education, Learning First, Australia.

In the OECD Teacher Education Pathway model, initial teacher preparation encompasses pre-service education and preparation during the first years of teaching. The former is often also referred to as initial teacher education (ITE), while the latter can have different forms depending on the system, such as a formal induction programme, formal or informal mentoring schemes. The model (Figure 1.1) lays out four consecutive stages within the pathway for teachers from when candidates are selected into ITE programmes, complete the ITE programme, enter teaching and spend their first years in the profession. These stages are further divided into six more specific themes altogether. The model considers that selection starts with attracting candidates into teacher education. Progressing through ITE highlights two strongly interrelated factors: equipping teacher candidates with appropriate knowledge and skills, and ensuring that this happens in a high-quality manner.

The model also considers so-called “alternative” routes into the profession to account for the development of non-traditional pathways to teaching (e.g. Teach for All or second career fast-track training). Continuous professional development is the stage that follows ITP and is part of the model to emphasise the conceptual understanding of teacher learning as a continuum. However, the reviews in this study did not focus on this latter element, therefore this is not part of the current analysis.

1.2.2. ITP as a system

Initial teacher preparation does not stand in a vacuum, it is governed as part of the education system as a whole, and is embedded in the wider social, cultural and economic context of a country. Education systems are complex systems (Burns and Köster, 2016[12]), defined as the ensemble of multiple agents that influence the different elements by interacting at multiple levels (Burns and Köster, 2016[13]). An ITP system, as a subset of education can thus be defined as “the multi-layered and loosely-boundaried group of people and things that contribute to the learning of teacher candidates” and teachers in their early career (Ell et al., 2017, p. 331[14]). The following section demonstrates the complexity of the ITP system by looking at how the interactions of different agents – including human actors, organisations and material artefacts – shape it.

Today’s education systems are characterised by a greater number of stakeholders than ever before (Burns, Köster and Fuster, 2016[15]). Almost all educational stakeholders can play a role in shaping ITP, which makes it challenging to identify and appropriately address the interests of all key actors.

Figure 1.2. Potential actors and artefacts in ITP systems
Figure 1.2. Potential actors and artefacts in ITP systems

Source: Adapted from Burns and Köster (2016[12]), “Modern governance challenges in education”,, pp. 25.

Considering Figure 1.2 from the point of view of teacher education, training providers are certainly key players. However, ITP also takes place in schools (during teaching practicum and induction), making school leaders, teachers, mentors but even parents and students important actors. For example, teachers can be mentors for teacher candidates or newly qualified teachers, that is, teacher educators themselves, but they can also shape new teachers’ learning by simply playing key roles in their socialisation into the profession as teacher colleagues (Simmie et al., 2017[16]; Paniagua and Sánchez-Martí, 2018[17]).

Similarly, researchers can also potentially shape the system through producing evidence relevant for policy, for example, on the effectiveness of teacher education and professional development (Révai and Guerriero, 2017[18]). They can also play multiple roles being at the same time teacher educators, or having policy-advisory or consultancy roles. These multiple roles allow researchers to act at multiple points of the system.

The local, regional, national authorities (e.g. ministry, agencies, inspectorate) play a crucial role in shaping ITP systems, for example, by setting teacher standards, regulating selection into teacher education and qualification or licencing, setting up accountability systems for teacher education institutions, and so on.

In addition to the three main sites – ITE providers, schools, and authorities and governing bodies – there are a number of other actors who can play different roles depending on the system. For example, private businesses in many countries provide non-formal learning opportunities for teachers including in their early career. International organisations, NGOs, labour unions, other professional organisations and the media can exert influence on different aspects of ITP. These include influencing the status of the teaching profession and different ITP policies through providing data, conveying perceptions and opinions, or directly participating in certain policy mechanisms such as standard setting, accreditation processes, etc.

Besides human actors, an ITP system also encompasses a number of artefacts (represented in blue in Figure 1.2). Teaching standards, teacher education programmes and curriculum, school curriculum, accreditation criteria, regulations, and various other documents can become agents of change. For example, teaching standards can directly or indirectly, through accreditation processes, influence the content of teacher education programmes (Révai, 2018[19]). Regulations of entry into teacher education can influence its curriculum (e.g. if a degree in a specific subject is required to enter teacher education, less or no focus can be given on subject content knowledge). Similarly, a change in the school curriculum can have an impact on the content of initial and continuous teacher education courses. The artefacts exert their influence through processes in which actors (the stakeholders described above) engage with them and interact with each other. The nodes and interconnections of the network of the diverse ITP stakeholders and artefacts will depend on the education system of a particular country.

Analysing education systems in general, and ITP specifically, through the lens of complexity is particularly helpful to understand change (Mason, 2016[20]; Ell et al., 2017[14]). A complex system is changing as a result of interactions among its elements. This evolution is driven by “feedback loops”, as interactions provide feedback on the elements, their relationships and actions (Snyder, 2013[21]). Feedback can move the system closer to an objective (positive feedback), but it can also impede change and “lock” the system in a stagnant state (negative feedback) (Snyder, 2013[21]). For example, when new teaching standards are introduced, these can set new requirements for initial teacher education, and can induce change in what and how teachers learn. Estonia is an example for such a positive feedback loop: one of its major ITE providers revised its teacher education programme based on new teaching standards (Révai, 2018[19]). On the other hand, when teaching standards are not revised, they can also impede change in teacher education, when institutions have to respond to accreditation criteria based on fixed or outdated standards. Feedback loops also include the way in which the continuous exchange of information among ITP stakeholders drive system change. For example, Singapore updated its ITE curriculum based on feedback from schools. Ensuring positive feedback loops is thus vital to successful educational change (Mason, 2008[22]; Snyder, 2013[21]).

To sum up, in order to identify the obstacles to establishing and sustaining a high-quality ITP system at the root, and to understand how change can occur, this report examines ITP not as an isolated component, but as the start of the teacher learning continuum and as an integral part of the whole education system.

1.3. Key challenges in initial teacher preparation and how to address them

The ITP reviews conducted in the study identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats linked to each of the six stages of the Teacher Education Pathway Model. This approach was adopted in six of the participating countries (Australia, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, United States). The purpose of the review in Wales had a more specific aim, namely to support the Welsh Government in its endeavour to strengthen evidence-based pedagogical principles in ITE, and to help building greater capacity for research in teacher education. Because of this more specific objective, the analysis only looked at the stage of Equipping teachers in Wales. All the 37 theme- and country-specific SWOT analyses are available on the Teacher Ready! platform.

In order to identify those “key nodes” of the system that are the most crucial to be targeted to create high-quality ITP, the SWOTs were analysed and discussed with a number of stakeholders and experts. While ITP systems are characterised by the unique contexts of the country including the institutional structures and cultures, this exercise revealed a certain number of common challenges across the seven participating countries, as well as some emerging strategies to address these (see Figure 1.3).

The first of these challenges is a global one: how can we establish an evidence-informed ITP system? Designing and implementing policies based on evidence is a key aspect of the whole teacher education pathway. However, there are also a number of more specific challenges that are connected to certain stages of the pathway. Thus, a second challenge is ensuring a balanced educator workforce. While this is a systemic challenge, when translated to ITP, it is mostly directly connected to attracting, selecting, and certifying and hiring teachers. The description in Chapter 3 will nevertheless illustrate the ways in which it also connects to other pieces of the teacher education pathway. The third challenge – regularly updating the content of ITE and ensuring quality learning opportunities – is at the core of equipping teachers with appropriate knowledge and skills, as well as quality delivery. Finally, ensuring an appropriate support system for teacher candidates and new teachers is a specific challenge of the last stage of ITP and it plays a fundamental role in creating a smooth transition to professional practice and setting the ground for a coherent experience of career-long learning.

Figure 1.3. The four greatest challenges of ITP systems
Figure 1.3. The four greatest challenges of ITP systems

In the process of policy making, these challenges can easily be translated into key policy objectives. Bringing about educational change requires clearly defined objectives and the implementation process is complex (Viennet and Pont, 2017[23]). It has to build on a coherent strategy that has many different facets and that has to take into account the context (Viennet and Pont, 2017[23]). To facilitate the complex process of policy implementation, this report proposes a number of strategies to address each of the challenges.

The policy strategies draw both on the evidence available in the international literature and on the practices identified in the ITP reviews in this study. However, these strategies have to be treated with caution for two reasons. First, evidence on the effectiveness of certain policy strategies is still scarce and sometimes controversial. This issue is discussed in regards to the global challenge of evidence-informed ITP systems in Chapter 2, and the report explicitly points to evidence gaps in most other sections as well. Second, while some of the practices collected in the reviews seem promising in the sense that stakeholders reported positive perceptions, many had not been comprehensively evaluated at the time of the review. In fact, the review team identified a number of ways to improve all practices. Details on why the practices were perceived as promising as well as suggestions to improve them further, can be found on the Teacher Ready! platform.

The policy process necessitates continuous interaction between the different actors – policy makers, implementers at different levels, and those working in institutions and schools (teacher educators, school leaders, teachers, etc.) (Viennet and Pont, 2017[23]). For such interaction to happen, engaging stakeholders in a conscious, deliberate and inclusive manner is fundamental (Viennet and Pont, 2017[23]). To facilitate reflections in this direction, the report offers strategies not only for policy makers, but also for other actors playing a role in the implementation process. Who these stakeholders are of course varies depending on the challenge and the kinds of strategies considered. Thus, in some sections the reader will find suggestions for professionals (teacher educators, teachers), in other sections for institutions (ITE, schools) more generally, and, in certain cases, strategies will only focus on one stakeholder group or type of institution. Nevertheless, the suggested strategies for the given groups may not be relevant for each system and context, because the relevant stakeholders in a certain policy process largely depend on the system (e.g. whether teachers have room for manoeuvre over certain aspects varies greatly across countries).

Finally, a last point of caution: due to the complex interconnections among the agents (both human actors and material artefacts) described in section 1.2, the challenges identified will inevitably overlap with one another. Similarly, the policy strategies proposed to address these challenges cannot be entirely disentangled. A number of cross-references throughout the report make the synergetic and complementary nature of the challenges and policy strategies visible.


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