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Eight steps to career heights

To achieve excellence, teachers must take responsibility for self-development, Margaret Alcorn tells Elizabeth Buie

Margaret Alcorn has a year under her belt as Scotland's national co-ordinator for continuing professional development. If anything, she is even more evangelical about her mission than when she left Edinburgh City Council.

"CPD changes the world," she affirms.

Mrs Alcorn believes fervently that the changes envisaged under the Scottish Executive's policies of Ambitious Excellent Schools and the Curriculum for Excellence will be delivered only if teachers' capacity to implement these changes is developed. And that entails teachers grasping the opportunities for CPD that are open to them. She warns that schools, local authorities and national bodies that fail to build in the capacity to develop teachers will miss a very important opportunity.

"The value and impact on pupil learning is huge," she says. Research shows that while the performance of good pupils is improved by good teachers, it is worsened by poor teachers.

Are teachers up for the challenge of CPD? Are they motivated and hungry to fulfil the 35 hours a year of CPD required by their national agreement?

"I think all teachers, with very, very few exceptions, want to be better teachers and do a good job for the children," says Mrs Alcorn. "Are they up for it? On a Monday they might not be, but the next day they might. It's all about getting the timing right."

The best professional development is self-generated, she says. "CPD is not something you do for or to people." Thus, she emphasises the need for teachers to take responsibility for finding the courses that suit them.

However, she admits: "That's not always going to happen, so it's crucial that they have access to the right support structures. We should be ensuring that people have access to the right kind of CPD for them."

To this end, she has come up with a ladder of eight categories aimed at teachers at different stages in their careers and who have manifestly different needs.

The proposal is not set in stone and she is unsure of how it will be received within the education community, but it is an attempt to offer support to co-ordinators who might find it difficult to provide differentiated courses for teachers.

The eight categories are: 1 Probationers, a group with fairly obvious needs. However, there is concern that courses they take during initial teacher training and those they do as probationers go over similar ground and may even repeat material.

2 Newly-qualified teachers, who are maintaining and enhancing the Standard for Registration. They need specifically designed courses to keep them fresh and lively.

3 More experienced teachers, who need development that will keep them challenged and challenging.

4 Teachers who are interested in attaining chartered status.

5 Chartered teachers, who want to maintain and enhance that status.

6 Educational leaders, such as principal teachers, faculty heads and depute headteachers.

7 Depute headteachers, who are working towards the Standard for Headship.

8 Headteachers, who want to maintain and enhance the Standard for Headship.

Mrs Alcorn says: "We have to differentiate between those who are in a post because they want to be there and those for whom it is the next stage or stepping stone.

"Many teachers will want to dip into different categories. This approach allows us to look at various categories, demonstrating that we're not saying one size fits all."

Mrs Alcorn also acknowledges that teachers sometimes need good CPD just to remind them why they are doing the job and why it is a worthwhile profession.

"Teaching is a high energy occupation; you can't have off days.

"As teachers, we have huge power to influence and shape young lives. That calls for a high level of energy and commitment that's difficult to sustain over a long period. So we have to find ways to support teachers."

She accepts that before McCrone's report, teachers felt demotivated and not valued by society. Now, she says, there is a chance to renew teachers' sense of professionalism.

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