Letter from Lahore - A master's qualification for teachers will prove tricky

Dear Graham,

As you know, your Donaldson report on teacher education was interesting on the issue of getting more Scottish teachers to acquire master's-level credits. It is a complex matter.

In Pakistan I have worked with a wonderful chief executive officer of The City School (TCS): she had and has Donaldson-like views. Or, to be fair to her, you have Dr Farzana-like views.

Farzana Firoz has had at least 20 years of trying to advance her teaching staff to master's-level qualifications. In a private school market place, she does this for a very hard-headed reason, ie, competitive advantage. She worked out that one needed a flexible system of a) recognition of work-based learning; b) credit transfer from one university to another; and c) accrediting stuff delivered by non-universities, ie, by her own in-house Department of Professional Development. That was advanced thinking: at the time, some of your then HMI colleagues thought such ideas were a freakish form of rocket science.

She found that at least three UK universities were willing to do some of that. Unsurprisingly, she would ideally have preferred Cambridge, the university that runs the TCS O-level and A-level system.

One evening in Pakistan, when she was being benevolent to me and in great good humour, she said: "Iain, I was one night at high table with the vice-chancellor of Cambridge. I explained to him the progressive things that some UK universities are prepared to do. And said to him, 'When will the University of Cambridge be prepared to do such things?' She then added: "The V-C of the University of Cambridge said to me, 'Never, I hope.'"

Somewhere in here there is a cautionary lesson for you and for Petra (Wend), as you head down the hard implementation road. Different universities will have different views.

A Scottish master's qualification for teachers would indeed be a good idea.

1) It should be largely non-prescriptive. Prescribe a core and starter module that is about self-assessment, reflection and forward planning.

2) Prescribe nothing else - other than that all modules should be about improving teaching and learning.

3) Use 20-credit building blocks.

4) Abolish the Scottish Qualification for Headship in anything like its present form.

5) Do not listen to all the various special interest groups in Scottish education who will try to insist on more prescription.

6) And, crucially, think about how this might be funded.

Keep it all simple. But do get to the bottom of the funding issues involved, which actually are quite complex.

And also grapple with a conundrum: master's-level credit is fundamentally an individual attribution; but effective continuing professional development is fundamentally collective. The chartered teacher scheme got that wrong - although it got quite a lot right. That is a hard one, Graham. Trust me.

Yours, Iain

Iain Smith is an education consultant and former dean of education who is currently working for The City School (TCS) in Pakistan.

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