Last year the Sutherland Report on Teacher Education and Training in Scotland exposed many of the shortcomings in the provision made for the continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers.
The Government responded to that critique with a consultation paper which is the most radical and wide-ranging document it has produced on teacher education for many years. The central assumptions of the paper will be widely shared: the quality of education - including the achievements of pupils - depends crucially on the quality of our teachers; and the quality of our teachers depends not only on rigorous programmes of initial teacher education but on systematic professional development throughout their careers.
The central proposal is the establishment of a framework of linked "standards" of achievement. The first of these would be the standard, based on the familiar competences, that would mark the completion of initial teacher education. The second would be the standard that would mark successful conclusion of the probation period. Beyond that, standards would be established for each of the specialist roles in teaching - in special educational needs, in guidance, in learning support, in curriculum development and assessment, and in management. Indeed, there is no reason why standards should not be established for every role.
Each standard would derive from a functional analysis of the role and would entail an explicit statement of the key tasks associated with that role and the capabilities and qualities required for effective performance of the role. The standard for headship, which already has been developed, is invoked as an exemplar and we would be doing very well if all other standards were as lucid and authentic.
We are invited, then, to contemplate a comprehensive framework in which standards of achievement for all key roles in teaching are fully delineated. Moreover, all of those aspiring to any of the roles would require to demonstrate that the necessary standard had been achieved. That is a perfectly reasonable expectation: why should it be assumed that performance of a specialist role in education can be undertaken without training? What kind of professionalism is it that assumes that demanding capabilities must be picked up on the job?
The consultation paper seeks views on whether each standard should be tied to a formal qualification. Why not? Each of the standards envisaged is intended to qualify a teacher to perform a particular role and each standard will be national in the sense that it will apply across the country. It would make sense to tie each of these to Scotcat, the national qualifications framework already operating in Scotland's higher education institutions. The advantage of Scotcat is that it can accredit work-based learning, which is bound to feature prominently in the new arrangements. Indeed, to tie each standard to a formal qualification would be a way of ensuring that each standard was academically well-grounded in relevant theoretical studies.
The advantages of such a framework are obvious. From the Scottish Office point of view, its establishment could strongly influence, if not determine, the allocation of resourses and perhaps forestall some rigorous questioning by the National Audit Office on how the pound;30 million currently allocated annually to continuing professional development is spent. More importantly, it will enable teachers to chart their own professional development as their career aspirations crystallise. The existence of the framework, by tying roles to particular qualifications, will strongly imply that all teachers have an entitlement to CPD and will affirm, much more effectively than any kind of legislation, every teacher's obligation to pursue CPD.
Who then should develop and oversee the framework? Obviously, the General Teaching Council has a key role to play and that is partly acknowledged by the consultation paper's proposal that the standard for probation should be developed by that body. For many years the GTC has campaigned to have its powers extended to enable it to oversee the CPD of teachers. That is an understandable aspiration for a professional body. The Government would be undermining the standing and authority of the GTC if it did not place responsibility for the CPD framework with the GTC. But, of course, the GTC would require to work in partnership with education authorities and with teacher education institutions in exactly the same way as it does in initial teacher education.
As long as Scottish Office acknowledges, as it seems to, that its proposals will call for significant additional resources, the broad thrust of the consultation paper is likely to be welcomed. There is, however, one feature of the paper that will ruffle some feathers. Among the standards identified is that which relates to an advanced professional teacher, the "superteacher" of the "advanced skills teachers".
The thinking behind that proposal is laudable: a way has to be found of recognising high levels of professional performance in the classroom teacher in order to counteract the tendency for such teachers to be "promoted out of the classroom", attracted by the extra money or enhanced status associated with various non-classroom roles.
The consultation paper reflects a consensus that action is required "to keep good teachers in the classroom". How is that to be achieved, though, without incentives? The consultation paper proposes establishment of a standard reflecting "the performance levels of very good classroom teachersIas a standard toward which teachers should aim through appropriate training and development". Such teachers might, for example, perform key curriculum leadership roles and also play an important role in teacher education and the professional development of colleagues.
The teaching profession in Scotland has not responded sympathetically to such suggestions in the past. A few years ago I proposed a system of awards for outstanding teachers. The consultation exercise which followed showed almost total opposition from schools, from teachers' professional associations, and from authorities, and, understandably, the idea was dropped. More recently, the government's proposals to establish awards for outstanding teachers, apparently acceptable south of the border, were rejected by the GTC as totally unacceptable in Scotland.
That stance might be explained by the strong professional solidarity shared by teachers in Scotland which, combined with out pronounced egalitarianism, makes us oppose any initiative that might be interpreted as divisive. And yet, the teaching profession in Scotland is already characterised by distinctions of various kinds, not all of them obviously justifiable. It would be ironic if the GTC, so strongly committed to continuing professional development and so anxious to play a leading role in the operation of the new framework, were to balk at the idea of recognising the profession's most accomplished performers.
Professor Gordon Kirk is dean of the faculty of education, Edinburgh University