A PARTNERSHIP MODEL FOR THE DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION OF AN INNOVATIVE MODEL OF PRACTICUM
School-based practicum is an integral component of initial teacher education programmes nationally and internationally. Although guided by national policy requirements the actual design of practicum is the responsibility of the accrediting higher education institute (HEI). The Teaching Council of Ireland issued new guidelines for School Placement in 2011. Consequently all initial teacher education programmes in the State were to include an assessed practicum period of ten weeks duration in one school setting. The Teaching Council also required HEIs to begin to develop innovative models of partnership with schools. This was a period of change for initial teacher education in Ireland which saw longer programmes of initial teacher education at both undergraduate and post graduate level. It was also a period of change for schools with increased demands for more placements for pre-service teachers, and in particular, longer placements. Situated within Bastiani’s (1993) theoretical framework of partnership, this action research study explores how, over a two year period, the research team constructed a partnership model for the design and implementation of an innovative model of practicum. The study also synthesises different perspectives from schools, relevant literature and programme requirements with a viewing to developing a practicum model that was sound in content, approach and assessment. The ultimate goal of this study was to investigate the impact the new practicum design had on host schools. The literature underpinning this study was drawn from international best practice in work-based learning with a specific focus on school-based practicum, programme design models and theories of change management. This study charts the process undertaken by the research team to work in collaboration with schools on the design of the ten week practicum for final year pre-service teachers at both undergraduate and post graduate level. A five-stage process was undertaken which included a consultation process with schools, practicum design, a pilot process, practicum implementation and finally practicum review. Data was collected by means of an online survey with over 180 schools and faculty reflective journals. It was analysed using Dey’s model of cyclical analysis (1999) involving description, categorisation and connection. Overall, this study reports that the collaboratively designed practicum model had a positive impact on schools and found that a close partnership between the HEI and schools is required to design a practicum model that fulfils system, school and HEI requirements. The study also found that this collaborative process resulted in the design and implementation of an innovative school-based activities block as part of the 10 week practicum which saw students engaging in activities outside of formal teaching in order to gain a real understanding of the breadth and complexity of the role of the teacher and a better understanding of how schools work as well as making a contribution to their school community. The study gave a number of insights into improvements that could be made to the practicum model especially in the areas of school/ HEI communication, managing change and practicum structure. This study is relevant to those working in initial teacher education and in particular those working towards innovative models of practicum design, implementation and assessment.