The McCrone settlement is a landmark in the development of the teaching profession in Scotland. It recognises that professional development is integral to the work of teachers and, by proposing the introduction of a new standard for the chartered teacher, it establishes a benchmark against which teachers can assess their own advances.
Arthur Andersen, the management consultants, in association with Edinburgh and Strathclyde universities, have been contracted by the Scottish Executive education department to consult widely with the profession and other educational interests and write proposals on two matters relating to the Standard for Chartered Teacher in Scotland: the range of qualities and capabilities that the chartered teacher should possess, and the programme of activities that teachers might pursue to achieve the new standard.
The project team strongly believes that teachers must play a key role in defining the standard and in shaping the programme which will lead to chartered status. For this reason, the team's first step has been to prepare a consultation paper which, with the co-operation of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, will be sent to every teacher and to a range of educational and other bodies in a consultation exercise of unprecedented scale in Scotland.
The consultation paper seeks views on how the chartered teacher should be described. Attempts have been made in other countries to specify the distinguishing features of "accomplished" or "advanced skills" teachers. Do these apply in Scotland? To what extent should the chartered teacher be expected to contribute to the quality of the work of the school as a whole as well as being an accomplished classroom practitioner? What kind of evidence will teachers require to show that they have the necessary capabilities and qualities to warrant chartered teacher status?
The paper also seeks views on how continuing professional development opportunities leading to chartered teacher status will be made accessible across the country. That implies that CPD will be richly diverse and will take a variety of forms. Indeed, a system that did not make a virtue of diversity, one that rigidly prescribed a uniform diet of CPD for all, would be disastrously inadequate.
How, then, given a commitment to diversityand flexibility of CPD opportunities, are we to establish a system in which the Standard for Chartered Teacher is the same in Thurso as in Dumfries and elsewhere? The consultation paper notes three approaches and wonders which is most appropriate.
One entails accreditation of all professional development by the GTC. That is appropriate for a professional body and, of course, the GTC has argued over the years - so far without success - for the power to accredit CPD provision in the same way as it accredits initial teacher education provision.
A second approach would be to require that all professional development is validated by universities. These institutions, often working closely with other providers, already operate a flexible modular scheme based on credit accumulation principles, which takes account of work-based learning and attracts several thousand teachers annually.
A third approach would be to stipulate that all CPD provision must be professionally accredited as well as academically validated, thus ensuring that there are two rigorous checks on quality.
One advantage of acknowledging the role of awarding bodies such as the GTC and the universities is that they would be expected to institute and maintain effective arrangements for the accreditation of work-based learning. Through such processes education authorities would be able to work collaboratively with an accrediting body, thus ensuring that wherever CPD was provided it would meet the quality criteria.
In addition, under such arrangements all kinds of CPD undertaken by teachers could be submitted for recognition as contributing to the requirements of an award. Flexible but robust arrangements for accrediting such learning would seem to be absolutely essential. Without them it will be impossible to protect diversity of provision, while also ensuring that every unit of study has national currency and equivalence.
The project team assumes that, in responses to the consultation process and in the interviews and group meetings being held across the country, teachers will help to point the way forward. Through that participation teachers will ensure that the new standard is rooted in teachers' professional experience and is a credible expression of their aspirations. What point would there be in introducing a standard with which teachers failed to identify?
Professor Gordon Kirk is dean of the education faculty, Edinburgh