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User research round 2 findings

Who we spoke to

We spoke to six initial teacher training (ITT) providers responsible for identifying placement opportunities and matching trainees to placement schools and mentors.

The research participants included:

  • 3 higher education institutions (HEIs), two school-centred (SCITTs) and one teaching school hub (TSH)
  • a mix of smaller/regional and larger/national organisations
  • 2 paired sessions to get the perspective of different roles within the same ITT provider – meaning we spoke to 8 participants in total across the six research sessions with ITT providers

Goals of the research

The goal of user research round 2 was to answer the following questions:

  • How do ITT provider users find the experience of entering the service and browsing the available placement and mentor options?
  • What mental models do ITT providers use when searching for a placement, and does the service align with them?
  • What is the minimum amount of information an ITT provider needs to decide whether a placement is potentially suitable?
  • How important are the mentor’s details when looking at a placement?
  • What are ITT providers’ expectations and needs around how their school partner network will be represented and managed within the service?
  • Is there value in allowing ITT providers to contact schools via the service rather than using a contact email address?

What we tested

We tested the first iteration of the ‘Find placement’ journey and got general feedback on the overall service and its value to ITT providers – building on the prototype produced as part of the Alpha phase.

Find new placement flow
Find new placement flow
Placements list
Placements list
Partner schools list
Partner schools list

Key insights

Insight 1

More prominent school location information and location-based search functionality are required, which is critical to match placement.

Supporting detail and evidence

Searching based on a trainee’s location was the most common scenario for participants to see themselves using the service. Placements need to be a ‘reasonable commute’ for the trainee, and this often significantly limits the available options, so location is the first criterion used to narrow down the possibilities.

The type of commute the trainee has can significantly affect the placement’s viability and satisfaction. So location-related placement information and functionality need to be more prominent, e.g., the school postcode visible in the search results (without needing to click through to the placement details screen), the ability to order search results by distance, and potentially a map view within the service.

The tested prototype only allowed participants to search based on straight-line distances. Depending on the trainee’s circumstances, ITT providers would need to check the travel time by car or public transport, so anything that can support or remove this separate task would be valuable.

“Where we struggle sometimes is the ease with which somebody can get to work. The school might look close by, but there’s a big river in the way, so it’s not just always about the point-to-point distance – it’s the commutable distance. If they’re next to an exit of a motorway, then that distance could be quite far because they can travel a long way in a short period of time. Then you’ve got those that can’t drive and public transport options might make the nucleus quite small for that person. It sounds quite mundane and practical but it’s perhaps the biggest single thing that we have to battle with.”

Insight 2

Some gaps exist, but the current placement information provides most of what ITT providers need at the initial enquiry stage. However, further work is required to visualise the most critical data.

Supporting detail and evidence

Key stage and school size information is essential for primary school placements as they can be used to determine whether the placement suits the trainee or to ensure sufficient contrast between a first and second placement.

“For me, because it’s such a big deal for the where we’re going to put people, where it says primary, it would be helpful to have key stage 1 or key stage 2 or early years because I think that, if a school is primary but they’ve only got placements in keys stage 2, there’s no point in me emailing them if I need a key stage 1. So the compliance part of that would have to come first and that would have to be the year group or certainly the key stage. So to break that down into key stage would be really useful.”

As previously identified in research with placement schools, providers need extra detail for certain secondary subjects, like design and technology, to know which subjects are offered (for example, food technology and resistant materials).

On the placement details screen, the placement point of contact should be nearer the top of the screen as this was the first thing participants looked for, with contrast factor-related information made into a more explicit section lower down as providers use it less frequently and the purpose of that information was not always clear.

Insight 3

Mentor details are not critical at the enquiry stage. However, ITT providers are concerned that schools will not understand that offering the placement is a commitment to provide a trained mentor.

Supporting detail and evidence

All of the ITT providers we spoke to in this round said they did not need to know who the mentor was or whether a school has assigned a mentor to decide whether to contact the school about a placement. They felt that by adding a placement to the system, the school was committing to ensuring a mentor was in place before the placement started, which was sufficient for them. However, they are concerned that some schools will not understand the new mentor training requirements, so they might not allow enough time for that training before the placement starts, and it could lead to placements falling through.

“Usually, what we would do is: once the school has said that they would be willing to host a trainee, at that point, we would then contact the main point of contact and ask them who the mentor would be for the trainee. I think it’s making sure though that, with the new ITT quality requirements around mentoring, the main point of contact understands that, if it’s a new mentor or an inexperienced mentor, they’d have to do 20 hours of training. So I think, as long as schools understand what they’re signing up to and understand the mentor requirements, we don’t need that information up front.”

Insight 4

There’s the need to have a ‘school view’ of placement capacity and look at individual placements.

Supporting detail and evidence

ITT providers want to know a school’s broader experience hosting trainees before offering to take a placement. Hence, they need to see what other placements the school has or plans to host besides any individual placement. Also, there are significant benefits if this highlights the opportunity to place multiple trainees in the same school:

  • trainees have additional peer support available within the placement school
  • there are economies of scale with the time spent onboarding and managing a school relationship for multiple placements within a single school rather than a single placement. This time-saving benefits both the ITT provider and the school

“We do work with a lot of schools and, in some cases, schools will have multiple trainees in several subjects. In others, they will have 1 trainee in 1 subject. So the amount of work involved in managing 1 placement is more or less the same as managing 9 placements in a different school.”

Insight 5

Allowing ITT providers to add their school partnerships to the service has potential value, but the benefits of this feature need to be fleshed out more and retested in later user research rounds.

Supporting detail and evidence

ITT providers manage a network of partner schools and will prioritise opportunities in schools where they have an existing relationship where possible. However, based on the current prototype design, participants needed clarification on the benefit they would get from adding these relationships into the service. They also felt that this service would be most useful when searching for placements outside their partner network, so it did not make sense to have the placements on the placements list filtered only to show placements from partner schools as the default.

When adding a partner school, ITT providers expect that schools should be notified and have control over who their ‘partner’ is. However, there was concern about a grey area where it’s difficult to say whether the school is or is not a ‘partner’ – for example, if the ITT provider placed a trainee at that school multiple years ago and has not again since. Some schools would be ‘partners’ (the school and the ITT provider work together regularly, and there’s a partnership agreement in place), but there can be varying levels of partnership between them.

Hypotheses to test

Hypothesis 1

Schools will likely need the service to prompt them to keep their placement information current.

We think this because getting placement information from schools requires numerous reminders from ITT providers.

We will test this by seeing if participants in future research rounds react positively to additional features that support schools in keeping their placement information current.

Hypothesis 2

Having the placements list filters update the available options dynamically based on other filters that users have selected to avoid showing irrelevant options will help streamline the experience of finding a placement.

We think this because participants were confused by, for instance, school type filter options only relevant to secondary schools being shown after a primary subject was selected using another filter.

We will test this by seeing if adding dynamic filters avoids this confusion in future research rounds.

Hypothesis 3

We think school type, gender, religious character and Ofsted rating might not be needed as filter options on the Placements tab.

We think this because better location-based search functionality might make the list of available placements small enough that providers prefer to look at each option and make a judgement on the level of contrast, using the information on the placement details screen, rather than narrow the search criteria using these individual contrast factors as filters.

We will test this by seeing if participants in future research rounds mention the need for these filters when a version of the prototype without them is shown.