Don't skip this lesson on values and how to behave

New professional standards have made it clear how teachers should act: we must be champions of quality

Wednesday 13 March 2013 may, in time, be acknowledged as a historic day for Scottish education. For it was on this date that the General Teaching Council for Scotland's revised suite of professional standards was published.

The landmark development in this dry-sounding document is the "values" section - it is highly significant that there is now a prescribed set of values and related behaviours to which all teachers must subscribe.

This represents a huge shift in that it now sets down explicitly how an educator should aspire to act when working in an educational environment with children and young people.

Scotland is a country with a strong, historic and much-discussed values base - perhaps an influence resulting from the long-term social and cultural impact of the religious reforms of the 16th century.

In Scottish education, we express our values in a wide range of contexts, from agreeing the value set we want to see in our education establishments to promoting values-based leadership. However, until 13 March 2013, we had never explicitly articulated a set of values that we hoped would underpin the work of all teachers in Scottish classrooms.

The Standard for Full Registration, the Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning and the Standards for Leadership and Management have filled this gap and describe exactly what these values should be, as well as the behaviours that should follow.

A key quotation from the Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning is: "Professional values are at the core of the Professional Standards. The educational experiences of all our learners are shaped by the values and dispositions of all those who work to educate them. Values are complex and are the ideals by which we shape our practice as professionals. Starting with us as individuals, values extend to all those for whom we are responsible and to the world in which we live."

The narrative then goes one step further by outlining the behaviours necessary to realise these values: "They (the values) are integral to, and demonstrated through, all our professional relationships and practices and all that we do to meet our professional commitments and obligations as teachers registered with GTC Scotland." These are some powerful statements.

But what about the values themselves? Are they the right ones that we should all promote? They are broken down into four key headings: social justice; integrity; trust and respect; and professional commitment. I would suggest that they are exactly fit for purpose and reinforce the wider professional role of a teacher in leading learning and teaching, while also taking increased responsibility for playing a full role in promoting the wider needs of young people in their care.

Those promoting the Getting It Right For Every Child (Girfec) policy will be delighted by the values section of the standards as they help to legitimise the view that all educators have a moral and ethical responsibility to promote the Shanarri indicators (safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included) as part of the core business of teaching.

This is, I would suggest, a hugely positive step forward that fully acknowledges what the key role of a teacher should be in the 21st century.

Another significant factor resulting from the revised standards is the reinforcement of teaching and educational leadership as a sophisticated exercise requiring highly qualified, committed and inspirational people to teach our children and young people, and to manage our schools. Such recognition, in my opinion, helps to strengthen the resolve in Scotland to resist emulating the practice developing south of the border of recruiting teachers who are unqualified or who have undergone only a six-week training programme. The recent recruitment in England of a 27-year-old head, who is not a qualified educationalist, further illustrates the potential outcome of provision bereft of standards.

In increasingly austere times - the worst of which are still to come - we must continue to invest in our teachers to ensure the best-quality educational opportunities for our young people. This is emphasised in Teaching Scotland's Future (2011) when we read: "The most successful education systems invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who are able not simply to teach successfully in relation to current external expectations, but who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change."

By embracing the revised professional standards, and the values that lie therein, as the benchmark for the teaching profession, we will go some way to achieving this aspiration.

The launch of the standards was relatively low key, but their significance as a champion of the quality of the profession may, over the next few years, be greater than anyone could have predicted on that afternoon in Clerwood House.

Andrew Sutherland is director of education for Falkirk Council Education Services.

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