Supporting construction trainers to develop their teaching skills

Maersk Training, Tyne Metropolitan College, East Durham College & Stockton Riverside College

Let's aim for teachers being the best they can beThis project was initiated at a College whose Apprenticeship Construction Training experienced very high turnover of trainers, leading to new trainers experiencing significant immediate teaching challenges. The project leader initially engaged two other colleges to explore approaches for developing new trainers’ more confident use of responsive, student-centred strategies. However, the substantive project then focused on helping Construction trainers employed by an independent training provider to adopt more active learning.  The introduction of new approaches was achieved by engaging the commitment of an experienced trainer who had credibility with his peers to help design new resources.  The project leader, who was responsible for internal quality assurance, was able to give cautious new trainers “permission” to assess learners more holistically through structured learning activities.  A limited but tangible resource, introduced to individual trainers on an individual basis, provided the foundation for new trainers to build their confidence with adopting learner-centred, active approaches.


Construction trainers are typically employed for their industrial skills and knowledge and new trainers are not expected to have teaching experience. There are challenges of for those learning to teach “on the job”.  There are challenges for new trainers who are expected to teach learners where some learners may have low levels of maths and English skills, in groups of very mixed abilities (sometimes working towards different levels of qualifications). In some providers, this had led to high trainer turnover, which then impacted upon student attendance, retention and progression. This project aimed to encourage new Construction trainers to adopt peer-review and “lesson study” approaches to share good practice and develop trainers’ confidence to adopt more active learning.   However, the barriers to establishing “lesson study” approaches meant that revised approaches were adopted.

Project Approach and Outputs

As there were variations in the four training contexts being researched, each centre developed and shared a different approach. College A focused on developing trainers’ awareness of differentiation needs and responses, and in weekly meetings the new trainers were encouraged to share strategies which they had developed to inspire “hard to reach” learners. The trainers were then encouraged to observe a peer who was using this strategy, guided by a modified Lesson Study proforma (See Appendix 1). College B focused upon the development of English and maths within the trainers’ specialism, and the teacher-educator linked this focus to their in-service teacher-training assignments.

At College C, two trainers worked closely with the teacher-educator as mentor to explore how trainers might differentiate effectively in Construction sessions. In the extension project which focused upon trainers at the independent training provider, the project lead and a lead instructor collaboratively designed an activity to make it more student-centred whilst also generating evidence to address multiple assessment criteria. This was then evaluated in use and the resources and results were shared by the project lead with other instructors on an individual basis. The combination of trainers reflecting on their practice setting whilst being supported by the Project Lead’s teaching expertise was intended to help trainers to take confidence from adopting “what works best” for learners.

Professional Learning

Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices.

Trainers from both phases of the project appreciated the focus on practical experimentation. Trainers from the three centres met at College A for a research and development day where they shared and exchanged experiences. Trainers at College B realised the benefits of the collaborative research element of their teacher training programme as their teacher educator’s focus helped them appreciate their learners’ barriers. This was reinforced in College C where each trainer drew on sustained support to refine dedicated strategies and resources. In the training provider, instructors were supported to progress from teacher-led Power-point presentations and direct instruction, and to begin designing students’ problem-solving activities based on labelling exercises. (See Appendix 2)

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisational practices

At College A, where regular scheduled meetings were held, the group of 11 trainers exchanged resources which they had designed and discussed strategies to adapt them more closely into their practice context. At College B, new trainers used their teacher-education class as an opportunity to open their research findings to teachers and trainers from their own college and other local providers. The trainers from College C found they were frequently redeployed to cover different classes at short notice; the sustained support from the teacher-educator provided stability in retaining their focus both on “what works” and “why it works”. At the Independent Training Provider, the Project Leader drew on her role and experience as Internal Quality Assessor to promote changes that enabled more student-led assessment activities which she consolidated through joint development activities with the participating tutors.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression.

Trainers on all strands of the project provided evidence of their learners making more assured progress in Construction activities and related theory as a consequence of their trainers’ more informed strategies and resources. At all centres, both trainers’ reports and teacher-educators’ observations indicate that a wider range of learners were being engaged and challenged using the shared resources. There is evidence from trainers’ lesson plans and trainees’ workbooks that both lower and higher-achieving students’ needs are being meaningfully addressed through more confident use of resources. Trainers are increasingly investigating the reasons for their learners’ disadvantages. At the Independent Training Provider, the high success rates have been sustained (July 2018), and both trainers and learners record improved satisfaction and better working understanding of concepts where student-centred assessments have been introduced.

Concluding Remarks

Learning from this project

  • Because Construction is a shortage skill, there were significant frustrations in attempting to arrange appropriate cover for trainers to attend project meetings in timetabled teaching time. Almost all contact with the trainers had to be scheduled in twilight and evening sessions.
  • Trainees’ commitment to the project and the prioritising of the sustained gathering of data was more evident when it was integrated into a formal procedure such as a teacher-training qualification or programme quality assurance process. Trainers needed to clearly see the practical relevance of any research and development activities.
  • The practical sessions began by investigating strategies and resources. However, several trainers began to develop an interest in following-up the underlying social and psychological causes of learners’ difficulties with the subject matter; this suggests that the trainers were securing more of a professional identity as teachers.
  • Retention of Construction staff remained an issue across the project. Although there is evidence that those who remained were providing an enhanced provision for their learners, at College A, of the 8 trainers who began the programme, 4 had left by the next academic year.