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Letter from Lahore - Do we have good teacher development plans in store?

Dear Graham,

As you will know, working in an overseas education system often makes one think about one's own. So it is with me, here in Pakistan.

Almost all 5- to 16-year-olds in Scotland go to school and, on any one day, some 19 out of every 20 are actually at school. In Pakistan, a recent survey suggests that only three-quarters of Pakistani 5- to 16-year-olds ever go to school. And three-quarters of those drop out of school completely before the age of 14. Half of the government primary schools have no toilet.

Some of Pakistan's teachers are privileged: they belong to "ghost" schools. A ghost school may, or may not, have a school building (if so, it is often used as a granary store). It certainly has no students: its main function is to have a payroll of real but non-working teachers. Even the McCrone settlement did not envisage such conditions of service: pay but no duties.

The diversity in schools is astonishing. At one end are these non-existent schools; at the other end Karachi Grammar School (alumna: Benazir Bhutto) and Aitchison College (alumnus: Imran Khan) are world class.

If the latter are the Harrods of Pakistan schools, mine can best be described as resembling John Lewis. Literally so: our 55,000 students are spread across Pakistan. Like John Lewis, we often refer to our "branches". Our main competitor has about 110,000 students, again across hundreds of sites. We are big. If Glasgow High vanished tomorrow (heaven forbid), that would be sad: but it would have no system-wide implications. If Beaconhouse and The City School vanished, it would be a national disaster for Pakistan.

And now the challenge for Scotland, and for you and Petra. I work with a team of 16 curriculum developers (focusing on curriculum and assessment development). My colleague Dr Javed has about nine professional development experts. And we have more such people out in our four regional offices. Between us, Dr Javed and I work in complementary ways on teacher development. When, if ever, did Glasgow or Edinburgh (roughly the size of Beaconhouse and TCS) have such teams?

Like Glasgow High, we do not exist to make money; but, like Glasgow High, we have to make money to survive. Yet our CEO does not stint on investing in teacher development. It is not bricks and mortar or staff-student ratios that are her top priorities. She focuses on improving learning and teaching - and to her, teacher development is key.

I think she must be a reader of our favourite author Richard Elmore - and his insistence on managers focusing on professional development. You and Petra could do worse than dish out his work across Scotland.

Yours, Iain

Iain Smith, Former dean of education, is an education consultant currently working for The City School in Pakistan.

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