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User research round 1 findings

Who we spoke to

We spoke to six school users responsible for coordinating initial teacher training (ITT) within their school or trust.

The research participants included:

  • 4 multi-academy trusts (MATs) and two single-academy trusts
  • 2 rural, two urban and two mixed rural and urban settings (within a MAT) spread across different parts of England
  • a mix of primary and secondary schools
  • a mix of religious and non-religious schools

Goals of the research

The goal of user research round 1 was to answer the following questions:

  • How do school users find the experience of entering the service for the first time to add their school’s placement and mentor capacity?
  • What information should go into creating a placement, and how should this work from a school perspective?
    What are schools’ expectations and needs regarding who can see their placement and mentor information?
  • How would schools like ITT providers to contact them about a placement opportunity, and is there value in contacting via the service?
  • How would schools update their mentor and placement information, and what would help them do that?
    What is most useful for school users to see when they sign in to the service as returning users?

What we tested

We tested the first iteration of the ‘Add mentor’ and ‘Add placement’ journeys and received general feedback on the overall service and its value to school users, building on the prototype produced as part of the Alpha phase.

Add mentor flow
Add mentor flow
Add placement flow
Add placement flow

Key insights

Insight 1

Most participants were optimistic about the service’s potential (it could help with a current pain point). Still, its value relies heavily on other factors, such as ITT providers not requesting the same information separately and the new mentor training requirements not being the barrier some participants expect them to be.

Supporting detail and evidence

As found during the Discovery phase, different ITT providers currently have various ways of requesting a school’s placement and mentor information. Some use a digital tool or send a digital form. In contrast, others request the information in a spreadsheet or word-processing document. Schools need to repeat this task for each provider they work with, which is time-consuming, and updating this information after they’ve submitted it is also a challenge.

“This might stop the last-minute panics that we sometimes receive from people whose placements have collapsed because somebody’s resigned or whatever. And the training is meant to start next week, and they’ve got nowhere to send them, and they’re frantically phoning around going, ‘can anybody help?’ Having a centralised hub might stop that so they can at least see.”

However, the service’s appeal depends on ITT providers no longer requesting the same information separately so that the service replaces what it currently does rather than being additional. There were also concerns from some participants that other pressures on mentor availability which participants also highlighted during the Discovery phase will reduce the amount of placements schools are willing to add to the service or make the information less reliable.

“My colleagues in schools who just take placements aren’t considering mentor training. They will just be used to getting emails and phone calls from universities and SCITTs saying they can have a placement and offering what they can offer. That’s based upon very little mentor training and they don’t know yet that you need to have 20 hours.”

Insight 2

We must define ‘placement’ more clearly within the service and consider different ways to connect mentors and placements to avoid confusion and duplication.

Supporting detail and evidence

Participants often did not realise that the service required them to enter each placement individually. Some participants felt it would be better to enter their placement capacity as part of one set of screens rather than repeating the ‘Add placement’ journey for each placement.

Some participants confused the ‘Select all that apply’ instruction on the ‘Subject’ screen for secondary school placements. They interpreted it as saying they should select all subjects relevant to the school rather than only those applicable to the individual placement. In most cases, there will only be one subject for a single placement, but there are exceptions, such as for French and Spanish placements.

Secondary subjects
Secondary subjects

Insight 3

Adding a mentor before being able to add a placement is viewed as an unnecessary barrier.

Supporting detail and evidence

We set up the prototype so that participants need to add at least one mentor before being able to add a placement. Participants felt this constraint was an unnecessary barrier, as the choice to offer a placement often happens before they confirm a mentor. They said they would likely just add one mentor to get around this restriction rather than adding all of their mentors before adding their first placement (which was the intention behind the design),

Screenshot of ‘Placements’ tab with instruction to add a mentor first
Screenshot of ‘Placements’ tab with instruction to add a mentor first

“I often wouldn’t know who the mentor is, or it might change, so it’s a bit silly doing it now. I can understand what it’s asking me to do but it’s putting the cart before the horse because it can change frequently.”

Insight 4

The service feels familiar because schools use other DfE services that look and work similarly, although this increases the potential for confusion between the different services.

Supporting detail and evidence

Participants found the prototype service easy to navigate, and many commented that it worked similarly to other DfE services, which was a positive development.

“That’s exactly the same as the trainee applications service. So there is a sort of continuity there if you’re used to other DfE services – it’s very similar.”

However, a negative was that—at specific points—some participants got confused about the difference between the school placements service, the Publish teacher training courses service, and the Manage training for early career teachers service because they look similar and are all part of the broader teacher training journey.

Insight 5

Based on the prototype tested, providing the required placement and mentor information is a manageable task for schools. However, we need to get ITT providers’ perspectives, as any additions to satisfy their needs might increase the effort of adding and maintaining the information for schools.

Supporting detail and evidence

Four of the participants from this round were from Multi-Academy Trusts, and even for MATs with 10+ schools, adding their placements and mentors to the service was not viewed as a significant amount of effort as long as they do not still have to provide this information separately to ITT providers (i.e., this service replaces what they currently do rather than being additional).

“It’s not effort; it’s just that you don’t want to duplicate it. I’m already duplicating it for three providers, so this would be a fourth. So if this replaces what I’m doing for them, then great, because I’m doing it once, not three times. But if it’s just adding to that, then it’s pretty pointless from my point of view—there’s no benefit to me.”

Hypotheses to test

Hypothesis 1

We think that a landing page with guidance content might help orientate school users before entering the service.

We think this because some research participants were confused about how the school placements service differs from other teacher training-related DfE services and how ‘a placement’ is defined within the service.

We will test this by seeing if participants in future research rounds experience less confusion when they see the landing page before using the prototype.

Hypothesis 2

We think that a different design pattern for adding multiple subjects to an individual placement will make it more straightforward for schools to add placements.

We think this is because the currently-used checkboxes and the ‘Select all that apply’ instruction led most participants to believe that they should select all subjects they could offer placements for (rather than the subjects relevant to the individual placement).

We will test this by seeing if participants in future research rounds understand that each placement needs to be added individually despite it being possible to create a placement with more than one subject (for example, a placement for French and Spanish).

Hypothesis 3

We think that ITT providers do not need to know the mentor’s name when looking at a placement opportunity—it would be sufficient for them to see whether the school has assigned a mentor.

We think this is because we are unaware of why ITT providers would need to know the mentor’s name at the initial enquiry stage, and de-personalising this information would avoid the concern raised by one participant that ITT providers might start contacting mentors directly.

We will test this by seeing if ITT providers provide a reason they need to know the mentor’s name during user research round 2.

Hypothesis 4

We think that guidance text explaining to school users that they can edit a placement after publication and allowing schools to preview what the placement looks like to ITT providers might provide additional reassurance.

We think this because although all the participants we spoke to in this round were comfortable with their placements being visible to all providers as soon as they are published, some school users have reservations, and similar are available in other Becoming a Teacher (BAT) services.

We will test this by seeing if research participants raise this need for reassurance or react positively to additional guidance and a preview option.