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Fresh start for novices

The McCrone report highlighted the deficiencies of the probationary system and finally changes are being made. Matthew MacIver and Myra Pearson report.

This year a new induction system is being introduced for all new teachers in Scotland. The change is long overdue. The McCrone report used its strongest language when describing the present probationary system as "nothing short of scandalous", with probationers on short-term contracts, lurching from school to school, receiving little or none of the additional support they needed.

It was within that context that the General Teaching Council for Scotland accepted the Scottish Executive's proposals to offer a training post to each new teacher. In particular, the GTC was pleased that the post would mean a maximum 70 per cent of their time would be spent in class, with 30 per cent available for professional development. Especially acceptable was the allocation additional funding (0.1 full-time equivalent) to enable a school to provide support, advice and guidance.

Regardless of the difficulties that the proposals present, this is the first time in 25 years that new teachers will have a guaranteed one-year post, guaranteed support in school and from their employer, and guaranteed access to professional development experiences to help them achieve the standard for full registration.

The new induction process begins in May, when local authorities and other employers know which new teachers will be working in their authority or school next session. Staff within a local authority, for example, will begin to introduce their new group of teachers to the general aspirations and work of the authority, the education policies and the ways in which new teachers will be supported. They will also introduce them to the staff who will provide them with support and guidance during their induction year.

In August, when the new school session begins, staff who will be responsible for guiding and supporting probationers will begin to deal with how the school operates, what is expected of new teachers and each teacher's programme of professional development.

So, who will decide on what are appropriate experiences for a teacher? The starting point for determining the type of experiences their programme will include is the profile for entry to the teaching profession that each new teacher brings with them from their initial teacher education programme.

This profile identifies the new teacher's strengths and areas where further experience and development may be useful.

Once the new teacher is settled into the routine of the school, individual self-evaluation, regular weekly meetings with the supporter and feedback from observed teaching sessions will help to determine future professional development experiences. More formal reviews of progress will be made at regular intervals throughout the year.

The induction programme for new teachers will provide a framework of opportunities and experiences that new teachers should be able to access locally. This framework is likely to include four key elements: core experiences, specific experiences, opportunities to gain a broader understanding of the work of the school and enhanced planning and preparation time.

The set of core experiences that all new teachers will need to address at some time during their induction year could include topics such as classroom organisation and management, promoting positive behaviour and working with parents. These experiences could be offered by the school, by the local authority or by another provider and will be linked to the new teacher's specific development needs, identified through self-evaluation and regular discussions with the supporter.

Giving new teachers the opportunity to gain a broader knowledge and understanding of the work of the whole school is of fundamental importance. It provides an ideal opportunity to give new teachers the chance to team teach with experienced colleagues in other stages of the school or in other departments, gain experience in teaching a second subject or a particular aspect of the curriculum, or work with support for learning teachers or with children in the pre-school environment.

The final element in the framework is enhanced planning and preparation time. In the early stages of the induction year, while new teachers are still finding their feet, it is likely that they will need additional time to prepare their work and become familiar with the resources they are using.

The induction programme will provide an experience that is professionally stimulating, challenging and rewarding for all our new teachers. It is an opportunity to take the lead as a country that values education and understands the contribution that a well-trained and contented teaching profession can make to society.

It will not be cheap; it was never going to be. It has to be funded properly. If it is, what a message Scotland is sending out about how much we value education.

Matthew MacIver is chief executive and registrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and Myra Pearson is depute registrar (education)

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