Subject specificity is central to e-Qualitas’ Initial Teacher Training (ITT) curriculum, with designated subject leads in English, maths and phonics in primary education. Ashleigh Bruce is e-Qualitas’ Subject Lead for Primary Phonics, having worked on developing and delivering our SCITT’s curriculum to trainee primary teachers.
We caught up with Ashleigh for an insight into her background and experience in education, as well as her thoughts and values around teacher training:
(e-Q) What is your background prior to joining e-Qualitas?
I’ve previously taught across all the Primary school age phases in many inner-London schools. When I became a leader, I was seconded to a school that was in special measures, which is where I developed my love for improving teaching.
Special measures quickly became a passion of mine and I became Assistant Head and then Deputy Head within that school. In all these roles I was leading Assessment, Phonics and English across the Primary phase.
Up to this point I had really specialised in Key Stage 1 and Early Years; later, after I started a family I came out of schools and began to specialise in consulting. This led me to becoming involved in assisting schools in improving in areas like assessment, planning or more generally developing practice. More recently I worked with e-Qualitas as a visiting tutor, which led me to the position of Phonics Subject lead.
What do you enjoy about educating the educators of the future?
My background in special measures has made developing teachers and improving teaching a real passion of mine.
I think the exciting thing about working with trainee teachers is that they are learning from scratch. I love the enthusiasm that new trainees bring into their Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Sometimes there is an element of naivety to it as well, about what teaching entails, so I like that I can open their eyes as the year progresses. I love that I can have an impact and make things better for them and the children they teach starting from day one.
The wider impact is that they will achieve better results with their students, so that is something that is always important in teacher training. I also really enjoy the coaching and mentoring side, where you get to see the impact on trainees in the classroom; for example, if you work on behaviour strategies, you can see a trainee’s improvement in that specific area when you next see them in the classroom. Each trainee brings their own style to an area like this, so it’s always interesting to see what they do with the coaching you give them – how they make it their own.
I also think it’s nice to think about how we, as tutors, can help to develop the trainees’ subject knowledge. Collectively we have years and years of experience and so much that we could easily take for granted, so it is great to work alongside the trainees and re-evaluate information from a newcomer’s perspective.
How much importance does wider subject knowledge have in teaching phonics?
It’s important for any primary teacher to know the basics of Phonics, because even if a student is writing in English class, they can model how to spell and sound out the words they use. All the strategies you use in Phonics can be applied to English to help improve a students’ level of spelling or writing. These skills are then fundamental to all subjects; for example, a maths question often needs to be read before a student starts applying maths to solve it. Phonics is integral to all areas of a student’s wider learning.
I think it’s important for primary teachers to make links between all the different subjects and not to look at them in separate boxes. I think that cross-curriculum attitude to teaching generally adds more meaning to all subjects, including Phonics. This gives children a context to put their learning into.
Primary education really lends itself to a cross-curricular approach to learning, deepening children’s learning and giving them more opportunity to practice their skill. Phonics can be integrated across the whole curriculum, anywhere there is reading or writing.
Which areas of phonics could be most challenging for trainee teachers?
Having strong subject knowledge around phonics is essential and is something that needs to be acquired in training and continually built on after gaining QTS.
Thinking about the phases of phonics and planning around these can be particularly challenging for trainees because phonics exists in its own unique cycle. There are many different schemes that schools can adopt, so there isn’t a single way to plan for delivering phonics. The solution to this is to build a strong level of subject knowledge, this way trainees can adapt their teaching to suit their school’s delivery of phonics.
Trainees might also find it challenging to apply their knowledge to the different subjects as well, because it is easy to assume that children’s learning is all stored in ‘one box’. Understanding the bigger picture of a child’s learning can be challenging. It is important to think of phonics being a bit like a tree that branches into all the other subjects.
Phonics can be tricky for trainees because of the pace of teaching. You might only have a very short lesson, so to get the whole cycle of ‘recap, teach, apply review’; this can be tricky for trainees. The pace of teaching is often fast and in phonics, some words might need more time to be understood and read back by the children. Managing the time available and tailoring phonics to your classes’ requirements can be a challenge. The terminology is vast and there is a huge amount for trainees to learn regarding this, this terminology must also be used with the children therefore trainees must be confident in their knowledge before teaching.
Challenges like these are all part of the ITT experience and, with guidance, trainees grow into their role, developing their skills through the year.
How did your teachers inspire you in your own education?
When I was in year three at Primary school, I had a fantastic teacher; he was the deputy head of the school. He gave everything we learned a purpose and all the lessons began with a practical element. For example, if we were learning about life cycles, we began by looking at tadpoles in the school pond as a reference. So, everything we did with him was always started from an experience. Also, he always linked a key theme throughout the curriculum. Basically, we were learning about life cycles, but we did science, we did English, we did maths and problem solving through it. He showed us practical applications and took a cross-curricular approach to the things he taught us.
He had a great understanding of what teaching was – and although the curriculum is a little more prescriptive now, one can teach from an experience in the same way.
What do you look forward to about the new academic year?
I’m really excited about having in-person sessions with trainees. During the pandemic trainees and students in general were very alone. I’m really looking forward to having those face-to-face sessions and then being able really get to know trainees, sharing experiences and just helping to build a support network for them.
I’m really looking forward to delivering e-Qualitas’ curriculum and content and ensuring sure that it’s fresh and meets the needs of all of our trainees.