Interview with: Jan Rowe, head of initial teacher education at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU)

By Hannah Fowler

Educate chats to Jan Rowe, head of initial teacher education at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) about her role in producing the next generation of outstanding primary and secondary teachers. And with a glowing Ofsted report under its belt, the future looks bright…

Jan’s intention was to only stay in Liverpool for a year while studying for her PGCE at the University of Liverpool. 34 years later and Liverpool is very much home.

“Liverpool drew me in and I grew to love it very quickly and the schools within it and I wanted to stay,” says Jan. Starting her career teaching modern languages in secondary schools, Jan then worked for the local authority as the Liverpool languages advisor. Moving in to teacher training always felt like the next step and Jan has now been at LJMU for over five years.

“I always saw it as ripples in a pond,” she explains. “That as a classroom teacher I could influence my classes, as a head of languages I could influence more classes but in this particular role, if you’re sending out 550 excellent teachers every year who are then going out and having those ripple effects in their own classroom then that’s a really big impact that can be had.”

LJMU offers a range of teaching programmes, from secondary postgraduate training in a huge choice of subjects to primary undergraduate and postgraduate courses. With students spending a significant amount of time within schools, a big part of Jan’s role is ensuring students are receiving a high quality experience.

“We’re not a university that gives people recipes,” she explains. “We don’t give you microwave meals, we help you to understand the ingredients of good teaching and what children are like so you can put together your own fantastic lessons.”

Jan also spends a substantial amount of time on building partnerships with its 200 primary school, secondary school and college partners across the North West, plus 15 lead schools for its School Direct training programme.

LJMU’s approach is paying off, as it was recently graded ‘outstanding’ for its primary teacher training partnership and ‘good’ across all aspects for its secondary partnership.

Ofsted noted that LJMU and its partner schools are dedicated to training a supply of ‘well-qualified, committed and socially engaged teachers who are prepared to make a positive difference to the life chances of pupils across Merseyside and beyond.’

“We are absolutely delighted with what Ofsted had to say,” says Jan. “It’s really good news for the city and for all of our partners within the region.

“You can only effectively grow a partnership by being a quality provider and one of the really delightful things about Ofsted is that we can now say it’s not just us that thinks that we’ve got something quite special, Ofsted are saying it too.”

Since joining LJMU, Jan has worked on raising the profile of teacher training at the University and developing its collaborative partnerships with schools. “I think it’s about integrity,” explains Jan.

“It’s us promising things to schools, following them through, listening to schools when things aren’t going the way they think they should and responding. Then schools feel like they are part of something, they are not just a placement, they are part of the partnership.”

In 2014, LJMU introduced a ‘Home School’ model for its postgraduate programme which lets schools take greater ownership and responsibility for its trainee teachers. Students are now in one school for the majority of the year and Jan says they now see trainees as “theirs much more than ours”.

“The students feel that they are a member of staff because they are staying there all year and I think the biggest beneficiaries, and the most important beneficiaries are the children,” she adds.

Type ‘teacher training’ in Google and you’ll be met with startling headlines about the ongoing crisis within the profession. I ask Jan whether LJMU has found it more difficult to recruit students on to the teacher training courses.

“Our numbers have grown,” she says. “That’s a really positive indicator that people do want to train to teach, we’ve seen growth year on year.” Jan says her team work really hard to “talk up teaching”.

“We talk about the importance of teaching, what teaching has done to impact on lives and that teachers are ordinary heroes. “I always start our interview talks by saying congratulations on choosing teaching. I think we need to change the narrative and we work hard to do that, because we believe it. None of us would be in this job if we didn’t.”

But Jan’s well aware of the issues within the profession. “I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture and say that teaching isn’t tough, but we need the positive stories as well as the stories about people who have had a difficult time,” she adds.

One way LJMU supports its trainee teachers is through pairing them with school mentors who help them on their journey to becoming fully qualified. At the end of each year, LJMU hosts a partnership celebration where students can nominate their mentors.

“The mentor at the end of (the programme) knows that the young person wouldn’t be a teacher without them and there is something very powerful about being acknowledged to being key to that person becoming a teacher,” says Jan.

A staggering 81% of teachers said they have considered leaving the profession in the last year because of the pressures of workload (National Education Union). So LJMU has also took steps to reduce trainees’ workload – an area which Ofsted commended the University for.

“We work hard to make sure that the academic work that our students do – which is a requirement of teacher training – has an absolute impact on their practice,” explains Jan. “We have tried really hard to talk to schools and the students themselves about what’s important and get rid of the things that aren’t.”

Despite their recent successes, Jan and her team aren’t resting on their laurels. “We never stand still,” she says. “There are always things that we look to improve and develop. We’re trying to expand the amount of opportunities we can offer to schools in terms of supporting them in enhancing the opportunities that their children have.

“But it is also quite nice to take a deep breathe because we’ve been waiting for that Ofsted report for five years.” Finally, I ask Jan what she would say to someone thinking of getting in to teaching and considering studying at LJMU.

“Training to teach in Liverpool is a joy, young people in Liverpool are fantastic fun to teach and the communities of teachers in Liverpool schools are hugely supportive of each other and of the children,” she says.

“I would like to think that what we add is a real commitment to all learners in all schools, to supporting our students really intensively and them always feeling that there is somebody that can help them out if they’re finding learning to teach a struggle.”

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