The article reports a critical examination of the results of a Scottish Office Education and Industry Department sponsored research project, 1994‐96, ‘Students’ Perspectives on the Utility of Educational Studies’. Additional funding from the Open University supported the production of this article. It examines the ways in which students construe the value of educational studies. Data were gathered principally by semi‐structured interviews involving a sample of very able and average students as well as ‘mature’ and ‘young’ students. The results suggest that educational studies plays a variety of functions in facilitating teaching competence; different groups attach particular weights to these functions. Also, very able students, in terms of classroom teaching, were found to be significantly better than average students in terms of academic course performance. A detailed discussion of students’ comments, however, problematises the received terms within which controversies about initial teacher education have been debated. The article challenges the ‘New Right’ rhetoric that theoretical studies of education are dispensable and has implications for ‘on the job’ approaches to partnerships between higher education institutions and schools. Issues are raised about the implications of student teacher socialisation for the meaning of critical autonomy.