There is a broad field of literature and research on professional staff in education – namely teachers, trainers, school leaders, guidance and counselling and support staff. It is often found that they make a significant difference to educational attainment and are among the key actors in improving the educational outcomes for disadvantaged learners. Nevertheless, there are shortages of qualified teachers in many European countries and the overall popularity and prestige of the teaching profession is declining.
The changing teaching context in Europe – stemming from, among other things, the daily usage of ICT, inequality in achievements found across different groups of students, as well as increasing numbers of multicultural and multilingual – call for better teacher preparedness and training tailored to the specific needs of teachers. TALIS 2013 revealed that teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting is among the top five areas in which teachers report the highest need for professional development to tackle related issues and shortcomings. A comprehensive and continuous system of initial teacher education and continuing professional development is crucial for equipping teachers with the necessary competences, skills and judgement to manage and respond to the evolving and increasingly diverse school environment. As a result, initial teacher education creates a foundation for the professional experience of the educator. While continuing professional development for educators is essential for inclusive education to be effective, it is often insufficient, unsystematic and fragmented in the European context.
Research has found that it would be useful to make further progress in redefining teaching as a high-level profession and consequently rethink the content of teacher education to attain higher quality in teaching. Firstly, the design and curricula of teacher education should be context-specific, and modelled to meet the specific needs of teachers. Likewise, re-evaluation of the role of practical field experience in teacher education to include or further develop a practicum during initial teacher education is needed. This is important as teaching practice helps to familiarise aspiring teachers with the classroom and therefore prevent reality-shock at the beginning of their teaching careers, links pedagogical theory with practical problems, and constructs sound professional identities. Research shows that soon-to-be teachers that have had extensive training in schools perform better as teachers than their peers without this additional experience. It is also recommended to continue supporting the trend towards higher qualifications by placing teacher education at the Master’s level within the Bologna process of the European Higher Education Area, as is already the case in countries such as Germany and Finland. Finally, it is suggested that standards be established to systematically certify teachers, and/or to have teacher education providers go through an accreditation process, as this can lead to more consistent quality, clarity and overall higher standards in teacher professional development.