The success of student teachers studying on employment-based Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes partly depends on a synthesis of the influence of theoretical university inputs and professional standards with the specific, local requirements of the schools where they are employed. Improving the quality of student teacher learning, therefore, requires investigation of the kinds of learning taking place and how, if at all, this learning is influenced by individual school contexts. I carried out a small-scale study over six months in 2015 looking at what and how student teachers were learning on an employment-based programme of ITE and the extent to which this learning was influenced by variations in schools’ socio-cultural and historical context. Given the focus on socio-cultural and historical factors, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (Engeström, 1999) was used as an analytical lens through which to interpret and understand the data collected. The study, based on pragmatic qualitative and social constructionist approaches, involved a group of student teachers and school staff supporting them (n=4). Surveys and individual interviews were undertaken, coded and analysed using a thematic analysis, and conclusions were drawn, based on abductive reasoning. The study suggested that two main types of learning seemed to be taking place, the first related to learning how to be an effective teacher and the second related to the development of various professional identities, and the involvement of other professionals in student teacher activity. Tensions arising from the socio-cultural and historical context of the school led to a negotiation of space to learn and an elevation of student teachers’ professional legitimacy and confidence. Finally, the study concludes with a small number of recommendations that could be applied to programmes of employment-based ITE and more traditional forms of ITE more generally, to improve the quality and efficacy of student teacher learning.