SUPR: School - University Partnership Research Project

Principal Investigator: Dr Manuela Heinz

Research Collaborators: Dr Mary Fleming, Ms. Andrea Higgins, Dr Veronica McCauley, Dr Bonnie Long

Project Description:

During the academic year 2011/12, the School of Education in NUI Galway piloted a new and innovative Partnership School Placement Model for our Professional Diploma in Education (PDE) programme which was developed and implemented in close collaboration with 20 self-selected partner schools.  Under this new model, School of Education lecturers and tutors work closely with practicing teachers (‘practice educators’) in partner schools to support student teachers during their teaching practice.  Seminars, workshops and collaborative meetings take place at regular intervals to facilitate the sharing of approaches to both mentoring and supervision, the exploration of methods of lesson observation and feedback and to encourage dialogue about learning and teaching theories and practices.  Since its initiation, the NUI Galway School of Education Partner School Network has been reviewed on a yearly basis (in collaboration with all partners involved).  It has developed further as regards collaborative practices and grown to include more than 30 post-primary schools.

Innovative school placements and collaborative arrangements between universities and schools are integral to the Teaching Council’s  recently published policy document ‘Criteria and Guidelines for Programme Providers of Initial Teacher Education’ (2011), the blueprint for the accreditation of all ITE programmes in Ireland.  On publication of this document, the Teaching Council was requested to facilitate negotiations between all the stakeholders, with the aim of achieving greater coherence and clarity of roles and processes in the important area of student teachers’ practice learning.  This process is testament to the enduring challenges which Irish ITE providers have been facing in this area in the past and which have recently been further compounded by budget constraints and new pressures facing schools as a result of Ireland’s economic crisis.

The above described Partner School initiative is an pioneering project which can inform national policy reform.  It clearly addresses the Irish Teaching Council’s expectations and aspires to create educative collaborative partnerships between a university and its School of Education and post-primary schools to enhance the quality of learning and teaching in schools and in teacher education.  The bottom-up collaborative and action-focused approach taken by the School of  Education at NUI Galway to the design and implementation of the described new model of collaborative school-university partnership provides university tutors, practice educators and researchers with a unique insight into the dynamics of initiating and implementing inter-institutional change in a “hybrid learning space” (Miell, Phoenix and Thomas, 2002).

The SUPR (school-university partnership research) project explores (i) the needs, perspectives, role perceptions and experiences of the different participants (student teachers, practicing teacher, principals, HEI teaching practice tutors) contributing to this initiative; (ii) outcomes of the initiative particularly in terms of the development of collaborative mentoring approaches and student as well as teacher learning; and (iii) ethical and cultural platforms for school-university collaboration and their theoretical underpinnings.

Data has been ongoing since 2011 with data sources including minutes/notes from school-university partnership days and university tutor planning and reflection meetings, semi-structured narrative interviews with student teachers, cooperating teachers, principals and university tutors as well as ongoing reflections kept by the director of school placement.

Results of this research project can inform national policy on matters relating to initial teacher education and the teaching profession more generally.  They will furthermore make a contribution to research on practice learning and educational partnerships in Ireland and internationally.


€17,000 from NUI Galway Millenium Minor Project Fund (2013-2015).

Peer-reviewed journal papers

Heinz, M. and Fleming, M. (under review).  Balancing on a wobbly bridge of school-university partnership: A ‘simplex’ story of leading change in initial teacher education in Ireland.

Higgins, A., Heinz, M., McCauley, V. & Fleming, M. (2012).  Creating the future of teacher education together: The role of emotionality in university-school partnership.  Procedia-Social and Behavioral Journal.  Available at ISSN: 1877-0428.

Conference presentations

Heinz, M., Fleming, M. and Long, B. (2016).  Collaborative school-university partnerships – how cooperating teachers, principals, student teachers and university teachers see it.  Educational Studies Association of Ireland 41st Annual Conference, NUI Galway, 31 March – 2 April.

Heinz, M. and Chan, C. (2015).  School University Partnership in Ireland and Hong Kong: Two case studies exploring conceptualisations and practices in times of education policy reform.  British Educational Research Association 40th Annual Conference, Queens University Belfast, 15-17 September.

Heinz, M., Fleming, M. and Higgins, A. (2014).  New teacher education policy into practice: A critical exploration of the ethical dimension of school-university partnerships.  Annual Meeting of the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong - Policy and Educational Development in a Global Context.  University of Hong Kong, 28 February-1st March.

Heinz, M. (2013).  School-University Partnership Initiative at NUI Galway (2011-2013).  Invited presentation at Teaching Council School Placement Guidelines Stakeholder Meeting, Enfield, 7 June.

Fleming, M., Heinz, M., McCauley, V., Higgins, A. and Kennedy, J. (2013).  Theory into Practice: Building collaborative school-university partnerships in Ireland.  Educational Studies Association of Ireland (ESAI) 38th Annual Conference, Limerick, 28-30 March.

Higgins, A., Heinz, M., McCauley, V. and Fleming, M. (2012).  Creating the future of teacher education together: the role of emotionality in university-school partnership.  3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership, Brussels, 25-28 October.

Fleming, M., Heinz, M., Higgins, A. and McCauley V. (2012).  Building school-university partnerships to enhance student teachers' learning experience.  NUI Galway School of Education Research Seminar Series, Galway, 14 May.

Heinz, M. (2011).  Improving teaching practice experiences in Initial Teacher Education – the voices of student teachers, Reimagining Initial Teacher Education – Perspectives on Transformation, St. Patrick’s College, June.

Heinz, M. (2011).  Moving from informal school-university collaboration to partnerships in initial teacher education in Ireland?: An examination of perspectives, expectations and possible ways ahead.  Educational Studies Association of Ireland 36th Annual Conference, Dublin, January 2011.


Heinz, M. and Fleming, M. (2014).  School-University Partnership - Building and Cultivating a “Living” Community of Practice.  Initial Teacher Education: Critical Debates Day in School Placement – Problematising Partnership in Teacher Education in Ireland in 2014.  University of Limerick, 4 July.

Fleming, M. and Heinz, M.  (2014).  Constructing a Narrative of School-University Partnership in Ireland: Envisioning Futures and Exploring Paths to get there… Initial Teacher Education: Critical Debates Day in School Placement – Problematising Partnership in Teacher Education in Ireland in 2014.  University of Limerick, 4 July