LISTEN: What is Scottish education's greatest success?

In the latest Tes Scotland podcast, Glasgow education boss Maureen McKenna talks about positives in Scottish education

Tes Scotland podcast: What is Scottish education's greatest success?

The "probation" scheme for teachers is the greatest success of Scottish education in recent years, according to one of the sector's leading figures.

In the latest Tes Scotland podcast, Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna says the approach – which is officially known as "induction" and offers a guaranteed one-year supported training post in schools to teaching graduates  – is a huge change from her days as a teaching student, when graduates were thrown in at the deep end.

"I think the best thing we've ever done in Scotland is the probationer programme," she says. "When I started [as a teacher], you just went in...I don't remember anyone ever coming in to watch me teach in my first year."


Tes Scotland Podcast: Episode 3 – Maureen McKenna 

Tes Scotland Podcast: Episode 2 – Rowena Arshad

Tes Scotland Podcast: Episode 1 – Welcome to the Tes Scotland Podcast

Background: Scotland's 'probation' scheme for teachers


She adds: "I don't remember getting any kind of [training in] pastoral care – nothing."

In a wide-ranging interview, Ms McKenna also tells us why she didn’t like school as a pupil, and about the "vicious" type of character you could encounter in some school staffrooms when she was a young maths teacher in the early 1980s.

Scotland 'delivers a very good, rounded education'

The former president of education directors' body ADES – a  two-year role which ended earlier this month –  also takes issue with recent criticism of Scottish education and explains why the qualities required of a teacher are the same wherever you are in the world.

"If it was that awful [in Scottish education], why would we have these visitors coming from all over the world to see what we're doing?" she asks.

She adds that "data shows that our children get a very good, rounded education" and that there are "proportionately loads more young people achieving qualifications that previously never did before".

She concedes, however, that there can be a danger of an echo chamber operating in Scottish education. She adds that the politicisation of education in Scotland "stifles the opportunities to be innovative and creative, because people are too concerned about what the backlash might be".

Ms McKenna, who has been Glasgow's education director since 2007, says that teachers are increasingly seeing children coming to school hungry, and explains why going straight into class in the morning may not be good for some children.

She reveals why she tells teacher to stop the "fluff" – a term she uses for anything done in schools that deviates from the "core business" of education. She warns them to steer clear of "snake-oil salesmen" with lofty promises of what, for example, a "fancy reading scheme" could do.

"If it doesn't add value, if it doesn't improve children's learning, then stop doing it," she says.

Ms McKenna defends the controversial mass rollout of iPads in Glasgow schools and speaks about being forced by budget cuts to propose action that she does not believe in.

She also reflects on why it is right that school exclusions are now so rare in Scotland,  the unique challenges that teachers face in Glasgow, how you nurture a love of maths,  the "lifelong challenge" of sectarianism, and the astonishing sexism she faced as an international basketball referee.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

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